Steam Deck: Everything We Know
The Steam Deck is Valve's answer to the Nintendo Switch, a portable PC with built-in controllers launching later this year. Here's everything we know.
Valve surprised the gaming community this week with the announcement of the Steam Deck, a new foray into dedicated PC gaming hardware. The portable device bears more than a passing resemblance to Nintendo's popular handheld-console hybrid, the Nintendo Switch, given its general size and form factor. But unlike the Switch, the Steam Deck is built to play your Steam library on-the-go, and the impressive-looking piece of tech is launching this December.
Steam Deck comes in three different versions, but each of these offers the same level of performance--you won't need a more expensive version in order to play games with more demanding system requirements. Where they differ is in their storage options: There are 64GB ($399), 256GB ($529), and 512GB ($649) models, with some additional perks coming with the pricier models (such as an anti-glare etched screen on the 512GB model, and a Steam Community bundle for the top two models).
However, that only tells part of the story. Only the 256GB and 512GB models are equipped with NVMe SSDs, with the larger of the two also featuring a faster drive. The 64GB model, by contrast, is equipped with eMMC storage, which as we've written elsewhere means the cheapest Steam Deck is equipped with much slower storage than you'd expect. While all three can be expanded with a microSD card, buying the cheapest model locks you into this slower, non-NVMe storage solution, so it's worth considering one of the larger models if you're concerned with load times and general usability.
The Steam Deck comes preloaded with SteamOS, a modified version of Linux that gives you an easy, straightforward user interface to browse and select games from your Steam library. If you're a Steam customer, you may already have a wide array of games that will be available to play on Steam Deck from the very start.
But Valve has also emphasized that Steam Deck is, at its core, a PC. That means that you can customize your experience similarly to any standard desktop or laptop PC, including installing your own operating system and going outside of Steam for games. You could, for example, hypothetically install Windows and use that interface to load up the Steam client for your Steam games, and other game clients for other PC games. This may be less elegant than the built-in SteamOS, but there's no reason that we know of why it wouldn't work.
The subject of what games you can play on the Steam Deck is a situation that will change between now and launch (and, indeed, after launch). As it stands, there are a number of big-name games that aren't supported on Linux and Proton--which Valve is using to get certain games running on Linux--doesn't offer a solution for. These include Apex Legends, Destiny 2, and Rainbow Six Siege. However, it's entirely possible that support for these will come--we can't even rule out support at Steam Deck's launch.
Beyond that, there's the issue of storage space: Some games are simply too big to fit on the Steam Deck, at least in its 64GB incarnation. You can use a microSD card to expand that space and store larger games, but if we're talking about what it can literally play out of the box, games with large storage space requirements won't be compatible, depending on your choice of model.
As is obvious from a single glance, the Steam Deck strongly resembles the Nintendo Switch, with a 720p touchscreen in the middle and what are essentially halves of a standard game controller flanking it on either side. Unlike the Switch's Joy-Cons, these cannot be detached from the system itself, meaning you'll need a separate controller of some sort if you plan to dock the system and play on an external display. It can connect to any standard Bluetooth controller, though, so you should be able to use any regular Xbox, PlayStation, or third-party controller.
The system itself also features some notable features. On the back are four programmable "grip buttons" not unlike what you can find on the Xbox Elite controller. On the front, the full-size analog sticks are equipped with capacitive touch sensors (letting it know when your fingers are on them). There are also trackpads on both sides of the screen, which in theory should serve as substitutes for the lack of mouse input. And the Steam Deck itself has a gyro sensor built in for motion controls and a built-in mic for voice chat.
When using the device, you can press the power button to suspend gameplay and put the system into a sleep mode, which you can then quickly resume from. However, this shouldn't be confused with Quick Resume on the Xbox Series X|S consoles; you aren't able to suspend multiple games at a time and jump between them.
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Steam Deck is equipped with a 40 watt-hour battery, which should top out at 7-8 hours of use by Valve's estimate. However, you can expect that to decrease significantly depending on what you're playing and your chosen graphics settings--this may go as low as two hours for the most intense games, according to what Valve told IGN.
In terms of hardware, the Steam Deck is impressive in a number of ways, particularly for the price. It remains to be seen how it will handle a wide variety of games, particularly if you seek to use features like ray tracing, but it's worth noting this has been designed to facilitate 720p gameplay. This will likely not provide the most high-fidelity experience, particularly if you're connecting to a large external display. Here's a look at the tech specs:
- AMD APU
- CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
- GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
- APU power: 4-15W
- 16 GB LPDDR5 RAM (5500 MT/s)
- 64 GB eMMC (PCIe Gen 2 x1)
- 256 GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4)
- 512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4)
- All models include high-speed microSD card slot
Controls and Input
- A B X Y buttons
- L & R analog triggers
- L & R bumpers
- View & Menu buttons
- 4 x assignable grip buttons
- 2 x full-size analog sticks with capacitive touch
- HD haptics
- 2 x 32.5mm square trackpads with haptic feedback
- 55% better latency compared to Steam Controller
- Pressure-sensitivity for configurable click strength
- 6-Axis IMU
- 1280 x 800px (16:10 aspect ratio)
- Optically bonded LCD for enhanced readability
- 7" diagonal
- 60Hz Refresh Rate
- Touch enabled
- Ambient light sensor
- Bluetooth 5.0 (support for controllers, accessories and audio)
- Dual-band Wi-Fi radio, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, 2 x 2 MIMO, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- Stereo with embedded DSP for an immersive listening experience
- Dual microphone array
- 3.5mm stereo headphone / headset jack
- Multichannel audio via DisplayPort over USB-C, standard USB-C, or Bluetooth 5.0
- 45W USB Type-C PD3.0 power supply
- 40Whr battery. 2 - 8 hours of gameplay
- UHS-I supports SD, SDXC and SDHC
- External connectivity for controllers & displays
- USB-C with DisplayPort 1.4 Alt-mode support; up to 8K @60Hz or 4K @120Hz, USB 3.2 Gen 2
Size and Weight
- Size: 298mm x 117mm x 49mm
- Weight: 669 grams (approximate)
- Operating System: SteamOS 3.0 (Arch-based)
- Desktop: KDE Plasma
The Steam Deck supports microSD cards for memory expansion, which may be especially necessary if you purchase the base model that comes with 64GB of internal storage. Valve has also promised that a dock is coming--price to-be-announced--which will allow you to plug the device into your TV or monitor and play on a bigger screen. Each model also comes with its own carrying case, though only the most expensive ($650) includes what Valve has characterized as an exclusive carrying case.
Other PC accessories--your mouse, keyboard, etc.--will be compatible, as will Bluetooth controllers and headphones. Valve has also confirmed that you'll be able to use a USB-C hub to further facilitate the use of multiple accessories with the Steam Deck.
Preorders are now available through the official site and Steam. For the time being, preorders are simply reservations, requiring a $5 deposit that will be put toward the final purchase price at a later date. It's unclear how long Valve will keep reservations open, so keep an eye on our Steam Deck preorder guide for the latest details.