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When Nintendo Switch launched in 2017, it got hold of the handheld market. Not that Nintendo wasn’t at the top of that pile, but the Switch solidified it. Yes, the Steam Deck is here, or rather it’s been here, but now with the chip shortage coming to an end it is readily available to gamers.

So, what is this new handheld device and how is it changing the game? Here is everything you need to know about the Steam Deck!

5 Facts about Steam Deck 

Let’s start at the top. The Steam Deck has several amazing features but the below stand out from the crowd. 

  • The Steam Deck comes in three versions 512 GB, 256 GB, and 64 GB, each at different price points
  • It is much bigger than a Switch at 11.7 inches across the entire surface. For context, the Nintendo Switch is 9.4 inches across.
  • The Steam Deck does have expandable Micro SD storage.
  • Steam Deck can act as a true PC, unlike the Nintendo Switch.
  • Not all games are compatible with Steam Deck at this time.

Steam Deck Specs

front side of a black Steam Deck
A handheld gaming device, the Steam Deck is an incredibly impressive piece of hardware

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You can’t understand what the Steam Deck is until you know those sweet, sweet specs.

Design

First off, the Steam Deck feels great. It is huge but its size and weight don’t hinder its comfort. It is 11.7 inches long and weighs about 1.5 pounds so it is significantly larger and heavier than the Nintendo Switch. That is felt in the design.

The grip is very comfortable and feels good to play. The surface has a matte finish with a sleek look and the button layout is very conducive to play. There are the standard two joysticks, four face buttons, and right and left bumper/trigger combo. Where the steam deck is different can be seen in the start and select buttons, oddly placed D-pad, touch sensors, and additional back triggers.

Steam Deck has two operation buttons, Steam, and options, represented by three dots. The Steam button opens Steam OS where you can buy and play games. The options take the place of a traditional start button. The D-pad is a weird one, it is solid in terms of design but the placement to the left of the joystick is awkward. Still, it does the job even if it is a little hard to orient around.

Finally, the back triggers are completely optional, and they feel like an afterthought. They can be mapped to different operations but frankly its hard to remember they even exist. They don’t feel great and they add nothing to the overall gameplay experience.

That said, the Steam Deck’s overall experience doesn’t need these extra triggers to be stellar. The buttons all have a great tactile feel and satisfying return. The joysticks are smooth and responsive and snap back to the center almost immediately. Even twitchy shooters and intense roguelikes are easy to address on the Steam Deck.

a lady gaming on steam deck
Someone playing Steam Deck

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Hardware

Next up, let’s take a look under the hood of this beast. It has an AMD APU processor, which means it makes use of intergraded graphics. The CPU is made with the Zen 2 architecture and runs up to 3.5 GHz on the boost clock. The GPU is made with the RDNA 2 architecture and can reach up to 1.6 TFlops.

So, it’s pretty beefy but that isn’t where the magic stops. The screen is better than any handheld device has the right to be. The Switch OLED is beautiful but the Steam Deck has managed to match and, in some ways, surpass that beauty.

It uses a 16:10 aspect ratio on its 1280 x 800 px screen, rendering colors wonderfully and maximizes the level of detail in games like Hades and Doom Eternal. This incredible screen is accented by equally impressive sound. The Steam Deck has a hard-hitting, immersive sound that offers a good an experience as TV audio. It’s not winning any awards against sound bars or advanced stereo setups but for a handheld, damn does it sound good.

Games

The game lineup is where the Steam Deck starts to lose its sheen. As stated, it supports some amazing games, but has some noticeable gaps that might give some gamers pause. Valve is fully aware of this issue and has made efforts to inform players. They have a system that evaluates games by their performance levels on Steam OS.

Games that have a green check mark have been approved for great performance, yellow marks are playable but might have some issues. Then there is grey for unsupported games which are a total crap shoot and finally games that won’t play at all which are very rare.

For the most part, your best experience is going to be in Steam OS although some games can play well on Windows. Still, huge games like Fortnite still have a long way to go before they are a good experience on Steam Deck.

Software

If there’s one thing that truly sets Steam Deck apart, is its software. The device runs on SteamOS. You can install and use Windows just like you would a laptop. The trackpads on either side of the device make navigating the traditional Windows landscape a breeze.

The OS itself runs pretty well on the system and you can do standard things like access the internet and manage files seamlessly. The rub is when you get to downloading third-party gaming apps. The Epic store, Game Pass, Uplay, and others are all playable on Steam Deck.

The games, however, are hit in miss in their performance. As previously stated, Fortnite has to run on lower settings and doesn’t look as good as on a traditional console or even desktop PC. There are also issues with lag and even some crashes when using the Windows OS and not Steam OS.

That said, it is still possible to have a reasonably good time on Steam Deck with Windows OS. But for the best Steam Deck experience, it is best to stay on the proprietary OS.

Steam Deck: Where to buy

Steam Deck is hot right now and getting your hands on one might prove a challenge. However, with the supply of chips replenishing, now might be the best time to reserve the device.

You can pick up the Steam Deck directly from Valve on the Steam website. There are three options depending on storage, 512 GB at $649, 256 GB $529, and 64 GB at $399. The 64 GB might seem low in terms of storage, but you can also upgrade space using a micro SD card, just like on Switch.

If you want to buy new, you have to go through Valve at the moment. Due to shortages, you will be added to a reserve list. The wait used to take months but now there are reports of gamers receiving their Steam Deck in as little as a week after the order. Your mileage my vary but it is a good time to jump on it.

The History of Steam Deck: What to know

Steam Deck can be great for those looking to fine tune their gaming experience.

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Steam Deck is a brand spanking new in the context of other consoles on the market. Still, it has an interesting, albeit brief, backstory.

The Steam Deck is the culmination of years of R&D on the part of Valve. In fact, the Steam Deck is their second attempt at creating a console, the first was the Steam Machine released in 2015. The Steam Machine fell well under sales expectations and gamers were slow to adopt this new console. It received some critical praise but most people were skeptical and confused about the new system.

Looking back, the Steam Machine was ahead of its time and had some issues they were unable to overcome. The main issue was the use of Linux as an OS. Valve wanted Steam Machine to be open source and to do that they used OS most conducive to that goal. But this meant that gamers, many of whom had never used Linux, would have to adopt the system. That did not go well.

Valve tried to smooth things out for gamers but ultimately decided to scrap the product. It was discontinued in 2018.

The Steam Deck

Valve had failed to get the Steam Machine off the ground, but fans of the legendary gaming company were still clamoring for their next attempt. CEO Gabe Newell hadn’t lost faith in the idea of a Steam-powered console so Valve when back to the drawing board.

They were able to take what they had learned from the Steam Machine and incorporate the positives it into the Steam Deck. They also had heard what the fans’ complaints were and worked to smooth those issues.

Rumors started swirling in early 2021 that Valve was hard at work on a second attempt to enter the hardware market, this time with a handheld. No doubt seeing the smashing success of the Switch was a factor, but it was also something that Valve had always been interested in.

The Steam Deck shipped in February 2022 but there was one final hurdle, the chip shortage. It was available to be reserved with several-month wait times. Still, sales were strong despite the shortage and the number of reservations was a positive sign for the console’s reception.

Steam Deck Versions: Each Edition

To date, Steam Deck has only had one version. Still, it does come in three variations that are slightly different.

Mostly, they are different storage sizes as mentioned previously. The 512 GB and 256 GB are both NVMe SSD storage that runss at PCI Express 3.0 x4. The lower 64 GB is eMMC storage running at PCI 2.0 x1.

So, with that version not only are you getting less space but the speed of the drive might also hinder performance and load times. For our money, it is really worth going with the two higher-end versions.

The Public Response

With the Steam Deck, it seems Valve might finally gain a foothold in the hardware market. Critical reception was mostly positive, and the overall design of the device has been celebrated for its quality.

Some critics have called it a relatively limited library compared to a traditional desktop PC and its problems running Windows OS. Battery life has also been a major issue for many players. Running on Steam OS battery life is acceptable but not good. Running Windows OS battery life is frankly abysmal.

Still, Steam Deck seems to be a hit and it is still a very young player in the console game. Other than the Switch, there is no other handheld that comes close to the Steam Deck in performance and quality. Time will tell if Nintendo will be toppled by the newcomer.

Next Up…

Check out some of our other content:

What is Steam Deck? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the Steam Deck?

Steam Deck is a new handheld console from Valve, the legendary gaming company that created Half-Life, Portal, and the gaming service Steam. It is their second attempt at a console.

Is the Steam Deck a Hybrid Console?

Yes, like the Switch it can be played handheld or connected to a monitor or TV for extended play. It doesn’t include a docking base or extra controller attachments like the Switch. You can buy third-party controllers for the Steam Deck including Dualshock and Xbox controllers.

How much is the Steam Deck?

Steam Deck has three prices for three different versions. There is the 512 GB version for $649, 256 GB version for $529, and 64 GB version for $399.

Can you get a Steam Deck right now?

Getting your hands on a Steam Deck has been difficult but wait times are getting better. Since the chip shortage has started to ease up, Steam Decks are more readily available. Gamers still have to reserve one instead of outright buy but most consumers are reporting short wait times until they can pay for and receive the device.

Who many games are available on Steam Deck?

At its core, Steam Deck is a PC so you can play any game you can on a traditional desktop. Games that work best with Steam OS have a green check mark attached to their launch screen. Those with a yellow exclamation point are also playable but might you encounter some issues. Then there are games that are not supported or don’t exist in the Steam store.

Players also have the option of using Windows OS to access other gaming services like the Epic Games Store or Xbox Game Pass. These experiences are hit and miss though and not up to the quality of the games played on Steam OS.

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More from History-Computer

  • Steam Available here: https://store.steampowered.com/steamdeck
  • IGN Available here: https://www.ign.com/articles/steam-deck-review
  • The Verge Available here: https://www.theverge.com/22950371/valve-steam-deck-review
  • Polygon Available here: https://www.polygon.com/reviews/22949326/steam-deck-review-pc-gaming-portable
  • The Verge Available here: https://www.theverge.com/2021/7/18/22579747/valve-steam-deck-steam-machines-editorial