Over the past few years we’ve seen a number of handheld gaming computers, with the most recent examples including the AYA Neo, ONEXPLAYER, and GPD Win 3. One thing they have in common? They come from small Chinese companies that are relatively unknown outside of enthusiast circles.

Big name PC makers including Dell and Lenovo have toyed with the idea of releasing their own versions. But so far they have yet to come to market. But now it looks like the company behind the popular Steam game client (as well as popular games including Half-LifePortalCounterstrike, and Dota) may be planning to launch its own game console.

Update 7/15/2021: It’s real, and it’s called the Steam Deck. It’s up for pre-order starting July 16, 2021, and begins shipping in December.

Valve co-founder Gabe Newell hinted earlier this month that the company could be developing some sort of game console. Today folks at @SteamDB discovered some more clues about an upcoming device, code-named “SteamPal.” And then tech blog Ars Technica weighed in, with an exclusive report confirming that a Steam handheld gaming PC could launch by the end of 2021.

Prototypes are described as looking sort of like a Nintendo Switch with a wider screen and non-detachable controllers. But these are full-fledged computers capable of playing PC games. They’ll probably ship with Intel or AMD chips, and while the operating system is expected to be Linux-based, it’s possible that we could see Windows models (or that users could load it themselves).

There’s no word on pricing yet and it’s not clear how the new devices will stack up against the competition… but it’s also not entirely clear if the competition is hardware from smaller names like GPD and One Netbook, or big names like Nintendo.

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  1. Wow, if the SteamPal actually gets released, I’d 100% get it over anything from GPD and the other small players.

    That’s with me knowing this doesn’t have a physical keyboard where I’ve been hesitant paying ~$1,000 USD for a “gaming only” device. However, being from Valve with likely less issues out of the box, I can justify a “gaming only” handheld PC.

    I hear the Valve Index VR headset is great so Valve can definitely make quality hardware. I still use my Steam controller too.

  2. For people that were on the fence about the GPD Win 3, Aya Neo or One Xplayer, I think this will be the one to entice them, especially if they can reach that supposed $399 price tag, with competent specs.

  3. I think it would be really interesting to see this use an ARM chip, and encourage a flood of development in the Steam market towards ARM support.

    An Nvidia Tegra X1 SOC would be a good decision, because there’s already lots of suitable games built for the Switch, and presumably it would make ports easier.

    1. There’s a chicken and egg problem there. The console probably won’t be very popular if it launches with support for almost no games, and if it’s not very popular, then why would developers port their apps?

      Valve has already been somewhat successful, meanwhile, in getting developers to offer native Linux versions of some games. And more importantly, the company’s Proton software allows many Windows games to run on Linux with no changes.

      So shipping with Linux and an Intel or AMD chip isn’t nearly as risky as shipping with ARM.

      1. That’s definitely true. An ARM launch would be very risky, unless this was coordinated with developers, or perhaps had a soft-launch with Dev kits or something first. This is mostly just wishful thinking on my part.

        It will be interesting to see what kind of angle Valve takes at this, as an x86 powered handheld will need to be $750-$1100 to offer enough performance to attract gamers. They don’t exactly have a history of keeping hardware products around long. Most of their efforts have been short lived (Steam controller, Steam Link box, etc). Maybe they have a hardware partner like they did with the Vive.

        I think if they aim any lower than $750, they’re going to run into performance comparisons like “This $500 handheld PC plays Skyrim at a lower FPS than the $199 Switch Lite”.

        I’m also secretly hoping they’ve been working with AMD, and we might see some kind of custom Zen 3 system, like we’ve seen on recent Xbox and Playstation models.

        1. I read some more rumours about this, and some people are saying that there’s leaks about it being an AMD powered device, with a $399 price point. If this is true, it’s pretty exciting. Sounds like an absolute death knell for GPD and friends.

    2. Ordinarily I’d have an issue with any ARM device due to customary locking of bootloaders, but Valve did a ton of work on WINE to make playing games on Linux viable, so they might be willing to have the bootloader unlocked and contribute whatever is needed to get the device into the mainline Linux device tree.
      I agree that it would be neat especially in terms of possible battery life (maybe squeezing out enough to replace a smartphone if you can use a smartwatch for all things cellular modem, given some decent cameras), but to attract customers (who want “it just works”) they’d basically need to make some kind of rosetta-2 tier engineering miracle that’d require a custom SoC, or to recompile every single binary hosted on Steam. Getting windows games with DRM to work on Linux is still often quite difficult without an architecture change.