Nintendo Switch Gets New Rival With Valve’s Portable Steam Console
Closely held video game publisher Valve Corp. introduced portable gaming the Steam Deck device Thursday that resembles the Switch but will have technical capabilities comparable to a gaming PC or console, according to the company.
The Steam Deck, which will be available in December starting at $400, will allow users to play sophisticated computer games on the go. The device has buttons, joysticks, and small mousepads. The form is almost identical to the Switch, which has sold more than 84 million units since its release in 2017.
While the Switch, which is also a portable device, is low-powered compared with competing gaming consoles, the Steam Deck promises to run the highest-end games. Footage of the device showed titles such as Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order running on the Steam Deck, which wouldn’t be possible on the Switch. Valve said it has partnered with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on a custom chip capable of running “the latest AAA games in a very efficient power envelope.”
Valve’s online game store, Steam, is the most popular way to play games on PCs. Valve says the new device will allow users to play all of their current Steam games as if they are using their account on a different computer.
“We think Steam Deck gives people another way to play the games they love on a high-performance device at a great price,” Valve chief executive officer Gabe Newell said in a statement. “As a gamer, this is a product I’ve always wanted. And as a game developer, it’s the mobile device I’ve always wanted for our partners.”
Steam Deck: Specs and everything you need to know
What is Steam Deck?
The Steam Deck is a portable device designed by Valve, the parent company of Steam. The Steam Deck allows players to access their Steam account, library, and friends in a handheld device powerful enough to run modern games like Control or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. You can still tweak the graphics settings and framerate caps like you would normally, though naturally, a lot of higher-end settings won't be available given the limited horsepower compared to high-end GPUs. The settings you run games at will also have a massive impact on battery life. As an example, Valve notes that if Portal 2 is played at 30 FPS, players will likely get around five hours of continuous play. The screen is capped at a 60hz refresh rate, meaning you won't be able to see the benefits of games running at 120 FPS on this hardware.
Steam Deck technical specs. Valve has published the full list of Steam Deck technical specifications.
Operating System: SteamOS 3.0 (Arch-based)
Display: 7-inch diagonal, 1200x800 px
Brightness: 400 nits
Refresh rate: 60hz
Processor: AMD APU, Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz
Graphics: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz
Memory: 16GB LPDDR5 RAM
Storage: 64GB eMMC / 256GB SSD / 512GB SSD
Expandable storage: Yes, microSD card slot
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0Wi-FiDual-band Wi-Fi radio, 2.4GHz, and 5GHz
Headphone jack: k3.5mm stereo headphone/headset jack
Charging input: 45W USB Type-C PD3.0 power supply
Battery: 40Whr battery, 2 - 8 hours of gameplay
Size: 298mm x 117mm x 49mm
Weight: Roughly 669 grams
The Steam Deck uses symmetrical thumbsticks, with standard A/B/X/Y buttons, two trackpads, a D-pad, power button, volume buttons, R1/R2/L1/L2 triggers, and four assignable grip buttons on the back of the device.
Can Steam Deck play all my games? The Steam Deck uses the latest version of SteamOS, a type of Linux operating system that works with software called Proton. Proton works as a compatibility layer so that even Windows versions of games can run on Linux. With that in mind, there are still compatibility issues so support for every single game cannot be guaranteed. Regardless, Valve promises that any games you have running on SteamOS will have no problems running on the Steam Deck.
Steam Deck uses SteamOS With SteamOS, players have access to Steam Chat, notifications, and other features they've come to expect from using Steam. Remote Play is also supported, so a game can be streamed from your PC to the Steam Deck. The store ensures that you don't have to buy something elsewhere before you can play it on your Steam Deck — it's all one smooth experience. Cloud Saves also mean that if you do start playing something on your regular PC, you can continue playing it on your Steam Deck without any problems, so long as the game supports Cloud Saves as a feature.
It goes further than just these features though, with Valve explaining that you can do anything on a Steam Deck found on a Linux computer, including browsing the web.
Can I pair my Steam Deck with my favorite accessories? As long as a device has Bluetooth support, you can safely expect to use it with your Steam Deck. This means that if you have a favorite Bluetooth headset you'd like to pair, or you prefer using controllers like the DualSense, you can do so. Anything that requires a wired connection may not be compatible, however, given the limited ports available on the Steam Deck. You can use a USB-C hub with the Steam Deck, however.
What is the Steam Deck dock? Valve is also producing a first-party dock for the Steam Deck. This dock allows users to plug the device in and connect to a TV or monitor, similar to how the Nintendo Switch can be played portable or docked. It provides flexibility in how users choose to enjoy your games, so you don't have to hook a bulky desktop up to your TV to relax and enjoy your Steam library from the comfort of your couch.
Here are the technical specs for the Steam Deck dock:
Peripherals: 1 x USB-A 3.1 Port, 2 x USB-A 2.0 Ports
External display: DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0
Power input: USB-C
Size: 117mm x 29mm x 50.5mm
Weight: Roughly 120 grams
Right now, Valve has not committed to a price for the Steam Deck dock or even a release window, meaning that there's no guarantee the dock will be available at the same time as the device itself. Valve does note however that most third-party docks meeting the compatible specifications should work.
Questions you should ask before getting a Steam Deck
Since this was a surprise announcement by Valve, there are still a lot of questions about the device. We're here to answer some of those questions you might have.
How long does the Steam Deck battery last?
Valve says the Steam Deck battery will last for seven to eight hours, depending on what games you play. More graphics-intensive games require more power, especially if they're set at a higher graphics setting.
The game Portal 2, for example, can be played for four hours at 60 frames per second. But if you drop the FPS down to 30, it'll last for six hours, according to Valve.
How long the battery will last for nongaming activities is still unknown.
Can I add more storage to the Steam Deck?
Yes. The Steam Deck has a microSD slot allowing for upgraded storage. What we don't know yet is what kind of microSD cards are required. Some cards have faster read and write speeds than others.
We're also unsure if it will support the largest microSD cards out there, such as a 1TB card, which can cost almost $200.
Can I use my Xbox or PlayStation controller with the Steam Deck?
Thanks to Bluetooth, a variety of devices can work with the Steam Deck. These include Bluetooth controllers and earbuds, to name just a couple.
Will the Steam Deck output 4K to a TV?
The Steam Deck can actually go up to 8K through its USB-C port. It supports 8K at 60Hz or 4K at 120Hz.
Can I use the Steam Deck as my main PC?
Sure. The Steam Deck is itself a portable PC. It uses Valve's SteamOS, which is based on Linux, so people familiar with that system can jump right into using it as a PC.
Those who aren't familiar with Linux can install Windows, thanks to a compatibility layer called Proton. When Windows is installed, Proton takes all that info Windows uses to run and translates it into something Linux can understand.
Now, whether the Windows experience on a Steam Deck will be the same as on your desktop or laptop is still unclear.
Should I risk buying from a company that doesn't have the best hardware track record?
This depends on whether you want to put your money behind a company that's done amazing things with its software but has made some questionable decisions with its hardware.
In 2014, Valve revealed it was getting into the hardware business with its Steam Machines. Excitement for the Steam-focused gaming devices was initially high but petered out when it became clear they would only come with SteamOS and not the typical Windows operating system, thus making the devices unable to play even the newest games because they weren't compatible with the operating system.
With the Steam Machine came the Steam Controller, a customizable controller that could work with a variety of games, but it had a steep learning curve, making it unpopular among gamers. In 2019, Valve sold the Steam Controller for just $5 during one of its sales, seemingly to clear out its inventory.
Steam Link was another device from Valve that was designed to stream computer games to your TV. While it did work, a gaming PC still had to be part of the equation, and there was an issue with input lag. Valve eventually replaced the hardware with its Steam Link app, but it's still not the smoothest experience.
While Valve's track record might not be ideal, portable gaming devices are of interest to hardware companies, thanks to the success of the Nintendo Switch. The Razer Edge and Nvidia Shield were the first attempts at this design back in 2013. Last year, Dell tried its hand with the Alienware Concept UFO prototype.
Considering the Steam Deck reservation platform bogged down Valve's site when it first went live, there is a clear demand for portable gaming devices to play PC games.