Gaming PCs tend to get more powerful every year, with new desktop and laptop systems arriving annually with the latest chips from Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA. But Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo game consoles tend to get upgrades every five years or so. This allows companies to sell the same hardware for a longer time, while game developers can design their titles to meet specific hardware capabilities throughout the life of that console.
Valve’s Steam Deck is a handheld gaming device that blurs the lines between PC and console. It’s technically a handheld computer with many of the same components you’d find in a laptop. But all Steam Decks sold to date have the same basic specs, despite some variations in storage speed and capacity. And it looks like that’s likely to continue to be the case for several years: Valve has no plans to release a next-gen Steam Deck with higher-performance hardware for at least a few more years.
That’s according to Valve designer Lawrence Yang and engineer Pierre-Loup Griffais, who spoke with Rock Paper Shotgun on the 1-year anniversary of the Steam Deck’s launch.
The Steam Deck features a 7 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel IPS LCD display, a custom 4-15 watt AMD processor with four Zen 2 CPU cores and 8 RDNA 2 GPU cores, 16GB of LPDDR5-5500 memory and either 64GB of eMMC storage or 256GB or 512GB of PCIe Gen 3 NVMe storage.
While there are certainly higher-performance chips available these days, those specs are good enough to let users play thousands of games on the Steam Deck. In fact, over the past year we’ve seen over 8,000 games listed as “playable” or “verified” through Valve’s Steam Deck Verified program.
That’s partly due to the efforts of Valve’s software developers. The company may not plan to release new hardware anytime soon, but Valve regularly pushes software updates with bug fixes, performance enhancements, new features, and fixes that allow specific games to run properly.
The Steam Deck is capable of running Windows, but ships with SteamOS, a custom GNU/Linux distribution designed for gaming that puts Valve’s Steam user interface front and center and includes Valve’s Proton software that allows thousands of Windows PC games to run on Linux with no modifications.
It’s hard to come by sales figures, but the Steam Deck is almost certainly the most successful handheld gaming PC to date. Valve may not have been the first company in this space, and competition continues to grow, but the Steam Deck offers strong performance, compatibility with many of the most popular PC games, a user interface optimized for handhelds, and strong software support at a very attractive price point.
And the Steam Deck has only gotten better over time. The list of supported games continues to grow. The company is also focusing on bringing new features including hardware-accelerated ray-tracing and HDR graphics to some supported titles.
In addition to Valve’s frequent software updates, we’ve seen third-party software developers create apps that let you do things like easily launch non-Steam games on the system. And first-party and third-party docking stations and other accessories have helped expand the functionality of the little computer.
So it’s easy to see why Valve would want to stick with the same hardware for a few years, giving the company an opportunity to continue optimizing performance and giving game developers the chance to continue targeting the same specs for at least a few more years before launching a 2nd-gen version.
It also means that folks who buy a Steam Deck today probably won’t feel like they’re using outdated hardware a year or two from now.
That said, the Steam Deck’s specs might eventually hold it back. Some newer PC games with demanding system requirements are already nearly unplayable on the system, and that problem is likely to increase over time.
It’s certainly possible that the popularity of the Steam Deck could lead some game developers to ensure that their latest titles offer a lower-performance mode that runs well on the Steam Deck, but it’s also possible that in a few more years there will be a bunch of popular AAA games that are unplayable on the Steam Deck. And that’s a problem you don’t typically see with a true game console because those titles wouldn’t be released until next-gen hardware is available.
Meanwhile folks who are chasing the best possible performance in a handheld form factor will continue to have other options. Companies like AYA, AYN, GPD, and One Netbook are trying to compete on specs by launching new handhelds with Ryzen 6000 or 7000 series processors, 12th-gen Intel Core chips, up to 32GB of RAM, and other features that help their systems stand out from the Steam Deck.
But those systems tend to sell for 3-4 times as much as a Steam Deck, while the companies offer a fraction of the software and hardware support that you’d get if you bought Valve’s handheld.
There’s currently a 10% off Spring sale across all variants on Steam to celebrate the first year of Steam Deck…I wonder whether there’ll be even more off on Cyber Monday.
Since it’s about to start being sold in retailers as well, I wonder whether there’ll be Boxing Day/New Year’s Day sales of the Steam Deck.
Smaller more portable “lite” version please.
I’ve stopped buying from the smaller x86 handheld companies even if on paper they provide what I want.
I just hope that they make a revision with non-performance upgrades. Like a 90-120hz screen. Or a smaller overall design.
I hope for a smaller version too. I sold my Steam Deck. To me, it’s not really portable.
As long as there is a good OEM part supply, I don’t really see this as an issue. Someone will come out with an OLED screen replacement and maybe even a motherboard replacement for it, if it sticks around that long. That’s okay with me.
Well I dont see this relevant , if its going to launch 3-4 years from now , by then the competition will be much more matured in terms of software, the hardware will be MUCH more powerful and you will even have the option to buy current models from the competitors at a lower price with much better performance than the current deck , for me I already have one Ayaneo2 and a Onexplayer mini which I love .
I’d like to see a smaller Steam Deck. Steam Deck Lite. Same performance but actually portable (in my eyes at least).
Same here I find the deck to big for traveling.
You have my vote.
Handhelds that are over 220 mm wide are to large. For me having a laptop or 300 mm device does not make a big difference, in any way I need a bag.
For instance I do not use smartphone for calling. Just recently I bought a Q668 smart watch, cause I do not need to put a phone in a pocket … with 2,08 inch is more than enough.
Definitely something more compact without sacrificing any performance
It’s large but not large too. If you carried it in your arms, compared to an iPad it’s much of a muchness. And a direct comparison with the GPD Win-3 or Win-4 will quickly show that none of them fit inside a pocket, and all of them fit neatly in a backpack.
What I’m concerned about is it’s price, timing, and performance. The v1 was absolutely a great product for Q4 2019, but production problems meant it basically hit the shelves in Q2 2022. In that period, it was a good product but not as stellar as it would have been.
I believe a 6-8 year period is too long for a device if this nature. Whilst 2-3 years is too short for game developers. So the sweet spot is for 4-5 year periods.
So at the very earliest, we should expect a v2 in Q4 2023, for it to be a Stellar Product. At the very latest it we should expect it in Q2 2027 for it to be a Good Product. Anything in between will make it a Great Product, as long as they can maintain availability, manage price, and competitive performance.
With that all said, I’m excited either way.
I’d prefer a bigger screen, without that godawful bezels. Maybe they can fit an 8” screen on the same frame. PC and console games aren’t designed to play on a 7” screen, it’s just too small.
However, I foresee a smaller model as you want. Thanks in part to reduced manufacturing processes, the same SoC will be smaller and will require less cooling. And maybe with the same 7″ screen, but without bezels.
i’d happily take a v1.5 with no other changes but:
1. a better 8″ screen
2. longer battery life