Valve is getting into the handheld gaming space with the launch of the new Steam Deck. It’s basically a gaming computer that you can hold in your hands… or a PC that looks a bit like a Nintendo Switch.
The Steam Deck goes up for pre-order starting July 16th, 2021 at 1:00PM Eastern, with prices starting at $399 for a model with entry-level specs. But customers can pay more if they want additional (and faster) storage. The Steam Deck should begin shipping in December.
The Steam Deck features a 7 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel touchscreen LCD display sandwiched between two game controllers. The screen has a 60 Hz refresh rate and supports up to 400 nits of brightness.
Under the hood, the Steam Deck features 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, 64GB to 512GB of storage (more on that in a moment, and an unnamed low-power AMD processor which features:
- CPU: AMD Zen 2 with 4 cores, 8 threads (2.4 GHz to 3.5 GHz and up to 448 GFlops)
- GPU: 8 x AMD RDNA 2 compute units (1 – 1.6 GHz and up to 1.6 TFlops)
- Power consumption: 4 – 15 watts
The system measures 298 x 117 x 49mm (11.7″ x 4.6″ x 2″) and weighs 669 grams (1.5 pounds) and packs a 40 Wh battery that Valve says should be good for up to 7-8 hours of web browsing or several hours of game play.
You can charge it via a 45W USB Type-C power adapter, and the Steam Deck’s USB-C port also supports DisplayPort 1.4 Alt-mode, meaning you can connect it to an 8K/60Hz display or a 4K/120 Hz display if you want to game on the big screen.
Other ports include a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card reader, and the Steam Deck has dual microphones and dual speakers.
The game controllers feature most of the usual buttons you’d expect including dual analog sticks, X, Y, A, and B buttons, shoulder trigger buttons, and a D-Pad. But there are also trackpads on each side of the screen, which can come in handy if you’re playing games that normally require a mouse. This is a carry-over from Valve’s discontinued Steam Controller.
There are also View & Menu buttons which could be useful for navigation.
If you’re wondering what exactly you’ll be navigating, other than games, it’s Steam OS. Valve’s computer will ship with a custom GNU/Linux distribution based on Arch Linux and featuring the KDE Plasma desktop and Valve’s custom user interface.
Steam OS first debuted years ago when Valve was making a push to work with third-party PC makers to deliver “Steam Machines,” or compact desktop computers that customers could use like game consoles, but with support for PC games downloaded from the Steam store.
Steam Machines never really took off. But Valve did port the Steam game client to work with Linux, encouraged many developers to port their games to Linux, and even built on existing open source tools to release Proton, a tool that allows many Windows PC games to run on Linux without any modifications at all.
And that all could give Valve an edge in the handheld gaming PC space over competitors… and there are competitors. In recent years two Chinese companies have released a number of handheld gaming computers that feature the guts of laptop stuffed into compact chassis designed to be carried around.
GPD and One Netbook have sort of dominated this space, with a little recent competition from AYA, but their devices are also aimed at enthusiasts willing to drop as much as $1,000 on a handheld gaming device from a Chinese company with limited presence outside of their home countries.
You can see how the Steam Deck stacks up against the competition in our comparison table.
Valve’s Steam Deck is a little more expensive than a Nintendo Switch (even the new OLED model, which sells goes up for pre-order today for $350 and ships October 8th). But it’s cheaper than most GPD or One Netbook devices, and it’s also backed by a company that’s made a name for itself in gaming. Steam OS may not support all Windows PC games, but it will support many of them.
And since the Steam Deck is basically a PC, you can install Windows or other operating systems on it, as IGN confirmed.
And if the little computer doesn’t have enough horsepower for the titles you want to play, you can always use it to stream games from a more powerful PC using Steam’s remote play service.
I don’t expect GPD or One Netbook to give up without a fight. But positioning the Steam Deck as a mobile gaming PC with a starting price of $399 will put a lot of pressure on those companies to offer lower-cost devices and/or features that Valve’s handheld doesn’t match.
That said, the entry-level version of the Steam Deck has just 64GB of eMMC storage. If you want more & faster storage, you have to pay extra. Here are the pricing options:
- 64GB eMMC for $399
- 256GB PCIe NVMe for $529
- 512GB PCIe NVMe for $649
All three models have an M.2 2230 socket, so you could theoretically buy the cheapest model and add your own SSD. But Valve does say that the SSDs are “not intended for end-user replacement,” suggesting that you’ll have to open the case and potentially void your warranty to perform upgrades, since there’s no easy access slot.
All three models also come with a carrying case, but the most expensive model also comes with “premium anti-glare etched glass” and has an “exclusive virtual keyboard theme” if that’s something you think you’ll need.
Valve will also sell an official dock accessory that’s basically a USB-C hub and stand that gives you additional ports including HDMI, DisplayPort, and Ethernet jacks. Pricing and availability details haven’t been announced yet.
The Steam Deck will be available in the US, Canada, UK, and European Union at launch, before expanding to additional markets next year.