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.

Handheld gaming PCs
Clockwise from top left: Valve Steam Deck, GPD Win 3, OneGx1 Pro, Aya Neo, GPD Win Max 2021

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.

via Steam (1)(2)

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  1. I pre-ordered and got Q1 2022 estimated shipping.

    Even though I won’t have it for about a year, I’m already thinking about what I want the Steam Deck 2 will have:
    – Built-in 4G. Killing my phone’s battery is not great.
    – Built-in kickstand. Preferably a long flap instead of a small stick.
    – Second USB Type-C port on the bottom.
    Officially user replaceable SSD.
    – Pogo pins and magnets on the bottom for a Surface-like keyboard accessory. Might be usable for the dock?
    – Smaller if they don’t compromise screen size and ergonomics.
    – Of course, generally better specs.

  2. Even the 512GB one is much cheaper than the competition and completely smokes them, specs wise. It’s a no brainer purchase from me. That’s if I can even get one this year, which is looking unlikely. This thing is going to sell like crazy; maybe no where near as well as Switch, but far, far better than other handheld PC’s on the market. It might even sell at a similar pace to the Xbox Series consoles, because the appeal for such a device is really broad, especially once Valve starts selling to Asian territories.

  3. A lot has been confirmed already yesterday and contrary to some reports, most of the hardware is finalized and is not in a state of flux at this point. Valve has confirmed in multiple communications now at least two things that people are getting confused about.

    This is–repeat–a full-fledged PC (meaning, for example, it can be installed with an alternative OS via bootable media), so you can install whatever OS and software you want. There is zip, zero, nada locked down here. So putting Linux and Windows petty rivalries aside for a brief moment, if you prefer the pure Windows experience, go ahead and install it. Or if you want a different Linux distro than the stock one from Valve, that’s totally up to you too. Or stay pure with SteamOS 3.0 and add any additional software you want.
    The SSD is 2230 M.2 NVMe slot that Valve claims is “not intended for end-user replacement” and is surrounded by an EMI and thermal shield. Let me dispel some fears here. Don’t get tricked by semantics! They are saying it is not intended to be upgraded though it most certainly can with minimal effort. That way, you doubt the ease of upgrade and you jump for the highest model and they preserve the upsell. In fact, Microsoft used the same lingo to describe the Surface Pro X and Pro 7+’s serviceable SSD. In reality, on those two Surfaces, it is just ONE screw and a flex-metal housing away from removal. Lastly, don’t let the EMI and thermal shield terminology scare you. It is in reality likely just a clam shell covering the SSD to reduce EMI radiation in order to pass FCC requirements. It is probably just like the Surface Pro 7+’s EMI and thermal shield which is trivial to remove.

    1. Decent 2230 SSDs seems to be hard to come by it seems though.

      Anyway, I preo-ordered. GPD sucks.

  4. Reserved in the first minute, I am glad I stuck to my guns and never stepped into GPD hardware minefield. Truth bomb: GPD build quality was trash for longevity. The only reason they charged what they did was because they could. Steam Deck already won the graphics performance war because it has Navi 2, which has DOUBLE the performance per watt of Vega, and 5500 MHz LPDDR5, meaning 30 to over 100% more memory bandwidth than competing devices. To top off the dynamic APU duo, a quad-core Zen 2 CPU is more than enough for 720P. GPD and others may have done some complimentary market testing for Valve, but their days are now numbered. No one wants their crappy, slow boat overseas warranty support any more where you have sometimes pay $100+ just to send it back. No one wants to have been given the wrongly spec’ed system only to be told you can either be compensated a minimal sum or have to solder it up yourself. Good riddance to them, and welcome to the next level.

  5. Hopefully the folks on here that wanted one, managed to snag one. I started trying to get a 256 GB model within seconds of it going live, managed to cart one and it took nearly an hour to check out. Interest in this portable is hot.

  6. I’ll keep my eye on these things, but I’ve already got more computers than I know what to do with.
    But it does have some interesting possibilities.
    If SC-Controller works well enough, you could use the controls with any OS. You could plug the computer into a lapdock, but it might not improve battery life by much (even the pinephone will drain its battery faster than my nexdock can charge it, but that could be a software problem).
    I could imagine using the entire computer as a controller for my desktop, but I have steam controllers already.
    I could use Phosh, Plasma Mobile, and Anbox applications, but I already have a pine phone, and that can make phone calls and roughly geolocate itself.

  7. Simply put…I’m in. This is a must buy in my opinion. Although…one comment in the article did surprise me.

    Brad? Arch with a KDE desktop, that sounds like the pinephone? When I was playing around with Steam OS a few years back, it was based on Debian. Did they switch to Arch?

      1. Thanks…
        I had no problems checking out this evening with my $5 pre-order. Looking forward to checking this handheld out. My last one was the first series of the PSP.

  8. I wonder what the current PC handheld companies will do to compete now.

    The ones with physical keyboards could be a differentiator for a few, I guess. Although, that may not be enough to go against just the Valve brand/name recognition. Let alone HW only comparisons.

    1. At IGN there’s a clip from an interview with Gabe, where he strongly implies that they’re selling these below cost (the price point is “painful”) because he wants to create a broader market. Valve doesn’t want to dominate hardware sales, he wants to prove that the market exists and encourage other companies to offer competing products. He knows that more PC gamers directly translates into more money for Valve.

      I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work for Aya or GPD or whoever, though — Valve has more money than God and can afford to subsidize purchases. With these available, why would I possibly spend 50-100% more on competitor?

      1. By “other companies”, I’m guessing that’s more geared towards other large companies who have more resources and partnerships like Dell, ASUS, Lenovo, etc.

        I believe GPD, One Netbook and AYA will have a difficult time competing if they don’t do anything different from what they’re doing now. Especially if other large companies enter the market too.

        1. Agreed, the AYA NEO was a decent deal if you managed to get in line for early delivery. At the current price it should be DOA for most people.

          1. Besides that, Navi 2 is far superior to Vega 8. It’s has double the performance per watt. And there is massively increased memory bandwidth, to the level of a GTX 1050. Exceptedly, most are pegging performance at the level of a GTX 1050. So at this point, the Aya Neo is not even in the same gaming performance league. The two extra CPU cores Aya Neo has, while nice for benchmarks, are overkill for 720P gaming.

  9. Too bad there isn’t a 4G option. Would be useful for me since I don’t like tethering my phone and killing the battery.

  10. Does Steam allow installing games onto external USB drives that may not always be connected without issues when they’re not plugged in? It’d be faster than SD cards and could be usable in some scenarios even including portable use cases.

    1. The hardware and the OS will certainly support it. The only question would be if the Steam UI on a device would support it, but I don’t see why not. At least in the “PC-mode” I would expect the full Steam experience and if I remember correctly it was possible to do.

      1. Steam has a concept of “libraries” (game installation directories). By default you have a single Library on your primary storage device, but you can easily make one on another device. I know the Desktop interface has commands to move a game between libraries. I’m 80% sure that Big Picture, the controller-friendly interface that almost certainly forms the basis for the one used in the pictures, also has the same commands available.

    2. I’m interested in this. Especially the part with how Steam handles when the drive is not connected and then later connected.

      1. The most sensible thing would probably be to have a “hot” library on internal storage and a “cold” one on an SD card. You could put games on a (faster) USB drive but the whole point of the thing is to be portable, and anyway the sole USB-C port is in a terrible position to use for expansion.

    3. On top of the other comments about this, I think it’s also worthwhile to bring up the performance implications of running games from a MicroSD.

      MicroSD cards don’t have terrific read/write performance, so even the fastest cards out there are outperformed by average mechanical HDDs. I’d recommend shopping for a MicroSD card based on a balance of sequential read/write performance, AND random read/write performance.

      I’d be prepared for loading times similar to what you experienced before the days of SSDs (if anyone remembers Skyrim’s loading screens on a mechanical HDD).

  11. I’m pre-ordering tomorrow. Was looking at the Win Max 2021 refresh but a device from Valve trumps any potential HW/form factor advantage the Max would have.

    I’m sure AYA, One Netbook and GPD will be losing potential sales due to this. They’ll have to up their game to compete even if the Steam Deck has issues.

  12. Goodbye GPD. What a crappy company.

    Hello Steam Deck. While there are some design decisions I don’t like, I’ll be pre-ordering tomorrow.

  13. With 64 GB eMMC storage for $399 what you actually get is a fancy paperweight with a screen. GPD Win 1 had the same storage all the way back in 2016. It is embarrassing.

    1. It is embarrassing but I get why they had to design down to that price point. The next tier up is obviously the sweet spot, since you can fit at least a couple of modern games (or one copy of Flight Simulator, hah) on the fast drive, then put the rest in “cold storage” on an SD card to shuffle on when you need them.

      1. For $399 I would rather have an option with no storage at all, but where I can put the SSD myself. If you get the 64 GB one you are stuck with it and all you can change is the SD card which are slow. What someone should design is an “expansion slot” which you can connect to the top USB port, so you can glue it to the back with a SSD in it and maybe a pass-through, so you can still charge the device. If you look at the pictures of the back there is plenty of room there for something like this.

        1. Including a user-serviceable m.2 slot would be amazing, but I’m sure they made the choices they did to improve the durability of the unit (it is portable, after all) and performance of the cooling solution. The pricing on the 256GB model seems pretty reasonable to me, especially compared to some of the competition.

    1. I think they will now focus on clamshell designs with a keyboard to differentiate themselves again. WIN 3 was probably the first and last Windows candy bar design gaming handheld for them

  14. As disappointing as eMMC is, it’s understandable that eMMC was needed to get the base model to $399 (it’s really a shock that they were able to reach $399 at all, even without any storage).

    I really wonder if there’s an empty M.2 slot on the motherboard on that model. Something tells me that they removed it. It would be really nice if they position the $399 model as a “bring your own SSD”, but if it’s eMMC-only, then I’ll be avoiding that model.

    Aside from that, the only other concern I have about this device is the 16:10 aspect ratio screen. That’s an unusual choice for a gaming device, I’m sure lots of gamers will complain about that. Personally, I love this choice because I’ll likely be playing lots of older console emulators and DOS games, which were all designed for 4:3.

    1. They support USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) so possibly it should work good with a proper thumb drive. The problem is the form factor, but there are now some possibilities to get a small USB-C/USB-A pendrive. Still – it will stick out, maybe in the future there will be more options when this picks up.

      1. I’m still reading coverage elsewhere but I’m pretty concerned about the port thing. Having the port on top means that anything you plug in is naturally going to strain the connector due to gravity. It also looks like maybe there’s no dock hookup on the bottom, in which case the “dock” is actually a cradle with a pigtail you have to plug in manually, which would be a pretty big bummer.

  15. Wow, I never thought I’d be interested in this general product category but… This looks actually really interesting. Quite curious to see how well they implement it.

  16. $399 (or even $529) sounds pretty good even if you are going to dock it and use it as a compact desktop. I’m quite tempted to get this.

  17. This could have been an absolute slam dunk except for two things: 1) The EMMC storage on the base model 2) the controller layout. Man that controller layout looks…..interesting to say the least.

    1. If one were to be optimistic, one might imagine that you could unscrew the case and install an NVME drive at any time. But I don’t know that because I don’t see any photos of the bottom.

    2. The base model’s price point and storage size and type basically puts it into direct competition with the Switch OLED model. For just $50 more you get a vastly faster machine with more control options that can also double as a living room PC and media box. I think Valve is targeting prospective Switch customers by having the price so low while the higher storage models are for power users and the UMPC crowd.

    3. Coverage on IGN says that they were very skeptical of the control layout as well but it wound up being a lot more comfortable than they expected. I’d still much prefer being able to hold one in person prior to purchase, but I’m not at all sure how likely these are to show up at retail.