Since Valve was first founded in 1996, the iconic video game developer, publisher, and distributor has been at the center of the online gaming industry. From their development of gaming platform Steam to their role in the creation of such popular franchises as Half-Life, Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Portal, and beyond, Valve is undoubtedly one of the most important companies in gaming today. This fact was further bolstered by the release of the Steam Deck in 2022. However, we should warn you: You shouldn’t buy a Steam Deck until you read this guide.
Steam Deck: The Basics
|Product Type||Handheld Video Game System|
|Release Date||February 25th, 2022|
|System-on-Chip||Semi-custom AMD APU (codename “Aerith”)|
|Memory||16GB (88 GB/s)|
|Size||298mm x 117mm x 49mm|
History of the Steam Deck
As any loyal follower of Valve will be able to tell you, the Steam Deck is not the company’s first foray into the handheld gaming industry. In 2015, the company released the Steam Machine: a product intended to bring PC gaming to the living room by offering a console-like experience with the power and flexibility of a full-fledged PC. First announced in 2013, the Steam Machine ran on SteamOS — a Linux-based operating system developed by Valve. The Steam Machine also featured a unique controller that bridged the gap between traditional console controllers and desktop setups.
Despite its innovation, the Steam Machine did not take off as expected. From a lack of exclusive games to difficult competition from established consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox to the sheer cost of the Steam Machine itself, the product failed to gain traction and was eventually discontinued in 2018. However, the lessons learned were not forgotten. Valve took the pros and cons of the Steam Machine and applied them to the Steam Deck, which functions not unlike the Nintendo Switch.
The Steam Deck runs on the same Linux-based SteamOS as the Steam Machine, but Valve made a number of key improvements to make it simpler and easier to use. The Steam Deck allows users to play Steam games while docked to a desktop PC or via handheld mode that can be used on the go. It’s a powerful little device, capable of running AAA games in handheld mode with ease, and it’s made all the better for its ability to dock to a computer or a television. That being said, there’s still more to know before you buy a Steam Deck.
What’s Included When You Buy a Steam Deck
Let’s take a look at what’s included in a full-fledged Steam Deck setup. This includes both the hardware and the software behind the Steam Deck. What do you need to enjoy your Steam Deck? What comes in the box, and what will you need to pay extra for? Let’s dive in.
Steam Deck Hardware
APU power: 4-15W
CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz
GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz
|RAM||16 GB LPDDR5|
|Storage Options||64 GB eMMC|
256 GB NVMe SSD
512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD
|Additional Storage||MicroSD slot|
|Controls||A B X Y buttons|
L & R analog triggers
L & R bumpers
View & Menu buttons
4 x assignable grip buttons
2 x full-size analog sticks with capacitive touch
2 x square trackpads with haptic feedback
|Display Resolution||1280px x 800px|
|Display Aspect Ratio||16:10|
|Display Type||LCD Touchscreen|
|Display Size||7 inches|
|Display Brightness||400 nits|
|Display Refresh Rate||60Hz|
Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
|Battery||40Whr battery (2-8 hours of play)|
|Size||298mm x 117mm x 49mm|
As you can clearly see, the Steam Deck is the most technologically advanced product that Valve has released to date. (It has to be this way if it wants to support AAA gaming on the go.) From its large screen to its fast storage and memory to its powerful processors and every other hardware spec in between, the Steam Deck is built to deliver an efficient handheld gaming computer that can keep up with the demands of the latest and greatest games on the market. Couple this with its ergonomic and comfortable controls, and it’s clear to see why someone would buy a Steam Deck.
Steam Deck Software
|Operating System||SteamOS 3.0 (Arch-based)|
Thanks to the development and release (and eventual discontinuation) of the Steam Machine, the Steam Deck had a head start on its software specs. Equipped with the Arch-based SteamOS 3.0 operating system and relying on KDE Plasma when docked to the computer, the Steam Deck’s OS is sleek and functional. You’ll have no problem browsing Steam, looking through your library of games, or seamlessly transitioning from device to device without interruption. It’s compatibility combined with ease of use — pretty much all a person could ask for from a handheld console such as this.
The Steam Deck Docking Station
|Docking Station Specifications|
|Peripherals||Three USB-A 3.1 Gen1 Ports|
|External Display Support||DisplayPort 1.4|
|Size||117mm x 29mm x 50.5mm|
One thing you won’t find in the hardware or software when you buy a Steam Deck? The Steam Deck Docking Station. An integral part of the Steam Deck’s marketing, the Docking Station is nevertheless an add-on to your basic Steam Deck setup. You’re going to have to pay extra if you want to enjoy the advantages of a Docking Station. Available for an additional $89.00, the Steam Deck Docking Station supports your Steam Deck whenever it’s connected to an external display, a wired network, a USB device, or a power source. A Docking Station will definitely come in handy, even with its cost.
Steam Deck Extras
In addition to these hardware and software specs (plus the addition of the Steam Deck Docking Station), there are some other extras that come with the Steam Deck that have not been previously mentioned. Depending on the model you purchase — the 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB version — you can expect to open up the box and see some bonus items included inside.
For the 64GB model, this includes a carrying case. The 256GB model includes the case and an exclusive Steam Community profile bundle. For the 512GB model, this includes an exclusive carrying case, an exclusive Steam Community profile bundle, a stronger anti-glare etched glass screen, and an exclusive virtual keyboard theme.
Steam Deck Reviews
By now, it’s safe to say we have a solid understanding of what the Steam Deck is and what it entails. But what about its reviews? More than a year after its release date, what are people saying now that they’ve been able to play around with the Valve device for many months now? For starters, in the early hours after the Steam Deck’s announcement, the reception was mostly positive. People were excited at the prospect of a Nintendo Switch-esque device that could handle AAA games not available on the Switch. However, the tone changed slightly once the product dropped.
A vast majority of the product’s mixed or negative reviews have to do with its battery life. While Valve claims the battery can last from two to eight hours — which is right around what the Nintendo Switch battery has to offer, to be fair — players soon noticed the battery drained a lot faster than that with the brightness up and a newer game being played. Some were seeing their Steam Decks dying in as little as an hour. While this isn’t an issue when the device is docked, the handheld capabilities are still a core part of the device. As such, a bad battery is a valid concern.
Despite this big qualm, there’s plenty to love about the Steam Deck. It’s incredibly powerful, it runs enormous games with ease, it functions as a great game emulator, it connects to televisions and computers very easily, and it makes LAN file transfers simpler than ever. Still, that battery life — paired with its lone USB-C port and its somewhat bulky size — is something anyone looking to buy a Steam Deck should keep in mind. All in all, it’s a great product, but these concerns are enough to make you yearn for something even better.
Should You Buy A Steam Deck?
So, should you buy a Steam Deck? Or are you better off purchasing the more affordable and universally acclaimed Nintendo Switch (despite its lack of AAA PC games)? In the end, the choice is ultimately yours. If you have a gaming computer already, you probably won’t need a Steam Deck. All you’d be gaining is an hour or two of handheld gaming at most, which probably isn’t worth the price.
However, if you’re someone without a proper gaming computer who isn’t interested in the Nintendo Switch, then the Steam Deck could be a great investment for you — especially the more affordable 64 GB model in the $400 range. When all is said and done, the Steam Deck has plenty of loyal supporters (as does Valve). The Steam Deck is unlikely to let you down, even with that short battery life.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Dorota Szymczyk/Shutterstock.com.