The Valve Steam Deck is the answer to "what happens if you cross a Nintendo Switch with a PC." While it may look like the aforementioned Nintendo hybrid console, the Steam Deck is quite a different machine, effectively aiming to make PC gaming genuinely portable.
Valve's Steam Deck is basically a machine built around the custom SteamOS and custom processor and graphics tech from AMD. And it aims to dlevier the functionality of a gaming PC in a handheld from, with it tipped to eve be able to run Windows 10 or Windows 11.
With that in mind, here's what we know about the Valve Steam Deck so far.
Steam Deck latest news (updated October 4)
- Benchmarks for the Steam Deck have been leaked and it's looking like a portable powerhouse. We're rather keen to try one out.
- Valve is readying Steam Deck for Windows 11 — with help of AMD.
- Valve has confirmed the Steam Deck will not get performance boost when docked, unlike Nintendo Switch.
Valve Steam Deck specs
|Price||$399; $529; $649||Same processor/RAM, different storage|
|CPU/GPU||AMD Zen 2 + RDNA 2 APU||4-core, 8-thread with 8 RDNA 2 compute units for GPU. CPU: 2.4 to 3.5GHz; GPU: 1.0 to 1.6GHz|
|GPU Compute||1TF to 1.6TF|
|Screen||7" 1280x800 LCD Display||512GB model to include anti-glare etched glass|
|Battery||40-watt hour||7-8 hours for 2D games/web browsing|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Storage||64GB; 256GB; 512GB||256GB and 512GB models will use faster NVMe SSD storage. 64GB will use eMMC.|
|Expansion||Micro SD Card slot|
|Max Power Draw||20W (including display)|
|Other||Built-in microphone, ambient light sensor|
Steam Deck price and release date
The Steam Deck will begin shipping in December 2021, but only for early buyers. Reservations are already live, and new buyers can expect shipment sometime in either Q2 or Q3 2022. After placing a $5 reservation for a specific Steam Deck model, customers can only buy that mode, so choose wisely.
The Steam Deck will be available in three different varieties. The 64GB eMMC storage model will be the cheapest at $399, and will include a carrying case.
The $529 middle-tier model will include 256GB of NVMe SSD storage, with a carrying case and an exclusive Steam Community profile bundle, although we're not entirely sure what that is.
The highest-end model, which will run for $649, will include 512GB of NVMe SSD storage, premium anti-glare etched glass, an exclusive carrying case, an exclusive Steam Community profile bundle and an exclusive virtual keyboard theme.
Current state of Steam Deck reservations
There's tremendous demand for the Steam Deck. That demand is butting heads with the ongoing global chip shortage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. That's forcing buyers to temper expectations as to when their Steam Decks might arrive.
At the moment, reserving a Steam Deck now means waiting until after Q2 2022, which is after June. Interestingly, it seems that Valve is updating its reservation page with availability updates. So, for example, the base Steam Deck was scheduled for after Q2 2022 in late June, but was briefly moved to Q1 2022. It's since been, along with all the other models, moved to "after Q2 2022."
What does this all mean? Well, unless you're willing to pay an inflated rate on eBay or elsewhere, you will have to wait until the latter half of 2022 to get your own Steam Deck.
Steam Deck design
The Steam Deck comes housed in what appears to be a black plastic shell with a matte black finish. There's a standard array of buttons, such as A, B, X, and Y, along with two analog sticks and both primary and secondary shoulder buttons. The buttons look to be of the clicky variety, and not the spongey ones found on the Game Boy Color.
The R2 and L2 shoulder buttons do seem to be spring loaded, with analog-style compression. This is unlike the Nintendo Switch, which features single-click shoulder buttons.
Around the grips are additional macro buttons which can likely be programmed for custom functions. Also around the back is the Valve logo along with a vent to exhaust out heat. Towards the top is the power button, USB-Type C port, another vent, a headphone jack and volume controllers.
Interestingly, on the face of the device are two flat touch pads, a callback to the ill-fated Steam Controller from 2015. There are also menu, options, and a Steam button cornering the device. And next to the screen are two speaker grills. The Steam Deck will also feature gyro controls, which can make aiming in shooters easier when playing on a handheld.
Valve also went out of its way to mention that the Steam Deck is designed for comfortability. There's a rotating GIF of an analog stick, suggesting that Valve is not expecting gamers to run into Joy Con drift, a common problem on the Nintendo Switch.
Based on a looping video on the Steam Deck website, the device looks substantial, a bit taller than a Switch. And unlike the Nintendo Switch OLED, the Steam Deck does have a chunkier bezel than what's expected on hardware being released in 2021. Granted, this could all be prototype hardware subject to change.
Steam Deck display
According to the Steam Deck hardware page, it will sport a 7-inch LCD touchscreen, on par with the upcoming Nintendo Switch OLED model. Although, it should be noted, OLED displays tend to produce more vibrant colors and deeper blacks than LCDs. IGN was able to get an early hands-on with the device and have confirmed the screen will have a decently high 1280x800 resolution.
While this might seem low, even when compared to the best budget phones out right now, it's a solid pixel density for gaming on such a small screen.
Steam Deck performance and battery life
The Steam Deck is being powered by an AMD processor that, according to Valve, has been "optimized for handheld gaming." It's running on a Zen 2 + RDNA 2 architecture, so hardware similar to what's found on the Xbox Series X. RDNA 2 is actually one of the few differentiating factors between the Xbox Series X and PS5, potentially giving Microsoft's console an advantage.
According to Valve, this processor is "more than enough performance to run the latest AAA games in a very efficient power envelope." I guess we'll have to see how it fares against demanding titles such as Cyberpunk 2077.
Steam Deck, unsurprisingly, links with Steam. So anyone who buys a Steam Deck should rest assured that almost of all of their Steam library will be available to download immediately, thanks to Proton.
The Steam Deck can also be spec'd with either 64GB of eMMC storage or 256/512GB of NVMe storage. There's a microSD card slot for additional expansion.
The device will house a 40 watt-hour battery, which promises several hours of play for "most games." Lighter games or web browsing should net 7-8 hours of battery.
According to the FAQ, the Steam Deck is ultimately a PC running Steam OS, and "you can install third party software and operating systems." In a video interview by IGN, Valve developers confirmed that because the Steam Deck is running Linux, it will also be possible to install the Epic Games Store. We've got an explainer on Steam OS and the underlying Proton technology that will allow the Steam Deck to play many Windows-only games.
Steam Deck Games
While Valve is leveraging its expansive Steam marketplace as a major selling point of the Steam Deck, it seems that all games may not be playable. This is due to anti-cheat software needed for some popular games. Because Steam Deck runs on the Linux-based SteamOS, games like Destiny 2, Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds may not work out the gate. But, of course, Valve will likely update its Proton tool to ensure more games are compatible with SteamOS.
To check if your favorite game works well on SteamOS, head on over to the ProtonDB website and type in a title. It'll show it as either Native, Bronze, Silver, Gold or Borked. The former four means the game works with either no or varying levels of crashes, while Borked means the game doesn't run at all.
Still, expect a vast majority of games to work.
Steam Deck Dock
Like the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck will also work with a docking accessory. The dock will allow gamers to connect their Steam Deck to a television or monitor. It will also give gamers added expansion slots, which could come in handy when wanting to connect one the best fight sticks for playing Street Fighter V at a LAN event or esports cafe. The dock will be sold separately at a later date. But remember, this is a PC, so it can work off of any other USB Type-C hub.
Steam Deck FAQ
Can you upgrade the Steam Deck storage?
Internal storage is not user upgradable, at least not officially. Valve's Gabe Newell has confirmed that inside is a normal internal M.2 2230 SSD slot which, theoretically, can be swapped out. It will take an experienced PC modder to replace it though. Plus, it will likely void any warranty. All Steam Decks do have a micro SD card slot, however.
Is NVMe SSD worth it?
The Steam Deck comes in two different storage types. The cheapest $399 model has eMMC storage, which is most similar to an SD card. The more expensive variants have fast NVMe SSDs. NVMe SSDs have greater read/write speeds, and will translate to faster load times for games. For most gamers, the upgrade will be worth it.
What is the best Steam Deck to buy?
Whether you buy the base $399 Steam Deck or the most expensive 512GB $649 model, know that all units have the same computational and graphical horsepower. The major difference is storage size and speed. The base unit will have slower eMMC storage while the $529 and $649 models have 256GB and 512GB of fast NVME SSD storage. For most, we feel the middle $529 model will suffice.
Does Steam Deck have 5G or cellular connection?
No. Steam Deck is Wi-Fi only.
Does Steam Deck come with a dock?
Unlike the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck dock will not be included. It will be sold separately. A price has not been confirmed.
Does Steam Deck support keyboard and mouse?
Yes. The Steam Deck is ultimately a PC. You can plug in, or wirelessly connect via Bluetooth, both a keyboard and a mouse. It will be easier to plug peripherals in via a dock.
Does Steam Deck support VR?
Technically speaking, yes. The Steam Deck can worth with the best VR headsets, but is not designed for virtual reality in mind. Remember, the Steam Deck is a handheld system meant to play games at 720p resolutions. For VR, you'll need some more horsepower.
Does the Steam Deck have a kickstand?
No. The Steam Deck does not have a built-in kickstand. A dock or some other solution will be required.
Valve Steam Deck outlook
The Valve Steam Deck wasn't a machine we had been crying out for, but not that it's made an appearance, the idea of a portable gaming PC from one of the best game companies around is rather appealing.
We'd need to go hands-on to get a proper impression of the Steam Deck, but it could be a sleeper hit device of late 2021 or 2022. We just hope that its specs can deliver enough gaming power to last more than a few years.