Just a matter of days after Nintendo unveiled the Switch OLED, Valve has announced its own handheld console, or really a ‘portable PC’. Here’s everything you need to know about the Steam Deck.
What is the Steam Deck release date?
At the moment Steam has said the Deck portable PC will be shipping ‘December 2021’ so it will no doubt go on many Christmas wish lists. We’ll update this article once we have a specific date.
It will launch in United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom with more regions coming in 2022.
How much does the Steam Deck cost?
Perhaps surprisingly, the Steam Deck isn’t much more than the Switch OLED with a starting price of just £349/US$399 with 64GB of storage and there are two higher-specced models to choose from.
These come with 256- or 512GB SSDs and other benefits I’ll outline below. They cost £459/US$529 and £569/US$649 respectively.
How do I reserve a Steam Deck?
Although there are a few months to wait for the Steam Deck, you can reserve your machine via the Steam store on 16 July at 10am PDT, which is 6pm BST.
Stream says: "When you submit a reservation, you will be put in a queue. Once inventory is available, you will be emailed in the order the reservations were made." and "We are aiming to start sending order invitations by December 2021."
The queue is regional and you can only reserve one per customer. If you weren't quick then you can still reserve one but the expected availability is now much later on the UK store with the 64GB at Q1 2022 and the other models at Q3 2022. You might get one earlier if there are cancellations, though.
There is also a £4 reservation fee which is essentially a deposit as it counts towards the cost of the device. You can cancel within 30 days for a refund to your chosen payment method, but after 30 days the refund will be made to your Steam Wallet.
One final thing to note is that you need to choose which model you want as this can’t be changed once you’ve made a reservation.
Learn more in our separate guide: How to pre-order the Valve Steam Deck.
What are the Steam Deck specs?
With the complicated reservation system covered, we can look at the specs of Steam’s handheld PC starting with the custom AMD APU. It features a 4-core, 8-thread CPU using the Zen 2 architecture and 8 RDNA 2 (Radeon DNA) compute units for the GPU.
This is backed up with a healthy 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and like the Switch OLED, the display on the Steam Deck is 7in. However, it’s an LCD panel with a resolution of 1280x800 - standard 60Hz refresh rate – with multi-touch input.
With a total APU power of about 2 Teraflops and support for things like Ray Tracing and Variable Ray Shading, Valve says you should be able to any play games in your library at 720p without any issues. 2 Teraflops put it around the same level as the PS4 and Xbox One.
As you’d expect, the Deck has various input options including joysticks on either side of the screen and these are capacitive, so the device knows when you’re touching them. There’s also a D-pad, a set of ABXY buttons and also two trackpads for mouse input. Another four buttons on the front are for Steam, Quick access, View and Options.
On the top are four shoulder analogue triggers/bumpers and hidden at the back are a further four customisable grip buttons. The Deck also has HD haptics, stereo speakers, dual mic array, a 6-axis gyro and an ambient light sensor.
Following Nintendo's lead, there is a docking station, although this will be sold separately. It can be used to connect a monitor, wired internet via ethernet and various USB peripherals. It will be a neat solution, but you can simply use a USB-C dock just like you would with a Windows laptop instead.
The Deck also has Bluetooth 5.0 so you can connect things like a headset wirelessly and there’s also dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (11ac). Physical connectivity includes a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C with 45W charging.
With all of this onboard, the Steam Deck is fairly big at 298mm x 117mm x 49mm and 669g. The width is roughly the size of two PS Vita consoles.
As mentioned earlier, there are three different storage capacities to choose from on the Steam Deck and you’ll need to choose wisely if you want to install big games. For example, Red Dead Redemption 2 won’t even remotely fit on the entry-level option.
All three do have a microSD card slot you can install and run games from, but this table explains the difference between the three beyond basic size.
|eMMC (PCIe Gen 2 x1)||NVMe (PCIe Gen 3 x4)||NVMe (PCIe Gen 3 x4)|
|Carry case||Carry case||Exclusive carrying case|
|Exclusive Steam Community profile bundle||Exclusive Steam Community profile bundle|
|Premium anti-glare etched glass|
|Exclusive virtual keyboard theme|
Finally, the software is a custom version of SteamOS 3.0 designed to work on the Deck. However, it’s not locked to simply logging into Steam and playing games in your library. This is a fully-fledged PC and in desktop mode you can install and use other software such as a web browser.
This isn’t a Windows machine though, as the software is Linux-based. If you like, however, there’s nothing stopping you from wiping the Deck and installing Windows. In fact, Valve has since said "Multi-boot is supported - you can have multiple OSes installed and choose which one to boot into. Users will have access to the BIOS menu."
You can even boot off an SD card if you like. Steam Deck microSD cards use ext4 with casefolding, says Valve.
However, you might not want to do that as the SteamOS makes it simple to log in and get your games with the made-to-measure interface. Plus it supports cloud save so you can save and quit on another machine then pick up the Deck and continue, with all your key bindings and mods intact.
It can also suspend games indefinitely like the Nintendo Switch, although you can’t do this with multiple games. Of course, Steam Chat, notifications, the store and remote play, so you can stream games from your main PC, are all there.
Thanks to a new FAQ posted by Valve in September 2021, we now have some more details on the Deck we didn't know at first.
For starters, Valve has confirmed that you can run non-Steam games on the Deck. This will be possible via Proton, a tool that allows Windows games to run in Linux. Details of multi-booting OSes are mentioned above.
You'll also be able to use the Deck as a controller to play games on a different PC via Remote Play.
If you're wondering about using some extra power from something like an eGPU, perhaps for VR, then there's bad news. The Deck does not support external GPUs are not supported.