Valve’s Pre-Release Teardown of the Steam Deck Shows You How to Replace the SSD

and Warns Against it

Valve published this video to YouTube today demonstrating how to open up a pre-production Steam Deck, replace the custom analog stick modules, as well as the SSD, and very much warning against doing so:

I’m not sure how I feel about the warnings. In the past I’ve definitely felt bad about breaking or inadequately modifying things that I’m working on but that is also a necessary part of learning how to modify, fix, and build electronics. The parts in modern electronics are delicate and often made to be unserviceable by the companies who design them, this is “for our protection” as users but it is also clearly for their benefit. The longer things are usable and repairable, the less money these companies make on new sales.

That also doesn’t mean the executives at these companies want users to have a bad experience. I can’t be sure of this, but from my experiences my understanding is that these decision makers want users to have a great experience and be motivated to upgrade by new features as well as repairs that are so expensive they make recycling broken hardware a better option.

Valve is also not in a great position with regard to supporting the users of their hardware but may be getting better. It’s one thing for a huge company like Apple who has physical retail stores to lock users out of repairs, there is an argument there that I disagree with from Apple that Apple can provide the best support. Valve has none of that retail presence to repair, replace, and even just troubleshoot hardware near their users. I think that’s why they made this video, essentially arming the more experienced hardware repair technicians to have access to repair these devices when they start breaking down. Valve even makes a promise in the video about upcoming Steam Deck part availability for people doing repairs.

As an example, according to a friend in Australia all Valve hardware sales and returns are done through the local EB Games chain. Apple does the same thing. In several countries where Apple does not have a physical retail presence they train third parties in how to service iPhones, iPads, and Macs. I once started but did not complete that training before my life took me elsewhere.

There are also still criticisms I have about Valve’s attitude regarding Linux porting which, to the best of my knowledge, is still putting people who are in the business of porting games to Linux natively out of work as well as advising developers not to port games natively and instead relay on Valve’s Proton Windows API compatibility layer/emulation to make games run under Linux.

The one “bright spot” in the Steam Deck’s software support is that Epic’s Easy Anti-Cheat middleware is promising Linux support. Previously, anti-cheat middleware locked out some Linux users running games under any Windows API Compatibility layer/emulation like Valve’s Proton and simply wasn’t available for native ports. Now, Epic has promised that Easy Anti-Cheat is available for both Native Linux and Mac game ports, including the Linux-based Steam Deck, and will be supported in WINE and Valve’s Proton. Unfortunately the decision to allow WINE and Proton to run these games is still only in the hands of developers and publishers who may not be interested in providing any support to Linux and macOS, quoting Epic:

To make it easy for developers to ship their games across PC platforms, support for the Wine and Proton compatibility layers on Linux is included. Starting with the latest SDK release, developers can activate anti-cheat support for Linux via Wine or Proton with just a few clicks in the Epic Online Services Developer Portal.

This makes it more likely that games using Easy Anti-Cheat will be able to support WINE or Proton, assuming business interests about support costs and other middleware doesn’t get in the way, but when those games get that support the compatibility is a coincidence that can disappear with any future updates.

Valve is still the wrong company to be making hardware and software decisions that affect the rest of the game industry. Valve are presumably, by majority of their income, a store for third parties. The people running stores have different motivations from places that exclusively make and sell hardware products and what software decisions are best for developers. Although I think the people who work at Valve clearly are trying to make the Steam Deck as open as possible and often do make the best decisions for developers and users, the motivations of people running a store are to sell things, maximize their own profit, and not to make good products for the overall health of an industry of developers who are still overworked, abused, not organized, and ruined by the success of the wealthy who are making decisions for the rest.

There is nothing the workers at Valve can do to change that unless they are organized to reject the false non-hierarchical model of Valve’s workplace, gain equal decision making abilities, and their independence from the store business.

The first Steam Decks are still supposedly shipping before the end of the year. Valve has never responded to any of my requests for comment. If you’re a game developer who is interested in commenting on this story please feel free to comment below or get in touch over E-Mail. My address is zjs@zacharyjackslater.com.

The Consolized MiSTer Multisystem Promises an Easier MiSTer

Will that be with SCART hole or NO SCART hole?

For a few years now there have been systems that replace classic video game system and computer software emulation with field-programmable-gate-array hardware (FPGA) like the open-source MiSTer FPGA kit and the commercial Analogue line-up of home consoles. There’s now a product that bridges the gap a bit in the MiSTer Multisystem.

Both systems can be expensive but the Analogue consoles replicate the SNES, Genesis, PC-Engine, and NES with modern flairs for minimalist design and are defined by requiring original cartridges with mysterious firmwares that are occasionally available to use ROMs but either way you’re gonna need a separate (expensive) Analogue console per-system for their level of high quality experience.

The MiSTer has always leaned more towards the “oh boy” end of technical challenges by requiring users to play a choose-your-own adventure of stacks of components to end up with a custom setup that plays the games you want, with the video and audio outputs you prefer, and managed with a Linux layer at the top. Cartridge connectors aren’t even an option for the MiSTer.

Either system eventually got you to the same goal of amazing hardware recreated on the fly using that FPGA magic. The MiSTer just does it in an open-sourceror way for the benefit of everyone and letting everyone develop cores that turn that FPGA into everything from the Acorn Archimedes to the ZX81 and Analogue prefers to keep their hu-cards closer to their chest as a commercial entity with more control over their consoles.

The MiSTer Multisystem supplements the traditional MiSTer stack with a dedicated all-in-one motherboard that turns the barebones DE-10 Nano into something more like a console. It handles USB, VGA, HDMI, your controversial SCART connection to the TV for RGB output, and more on a dedicated PCB inside of an optional 3D printed case that looks at home under a modern TV or next to an old CRT video monitor for scanline lovers. Just about the only limitation I can see is the lack of built-in S-Video or composite output. The MiSTer Multisystem also has support for input adapters using the SNAC system to let users plug in old controllers and lightguns as directly as possible.

There’s nothing here you couldn’t do with a more custom MiSTer setup, but it might be easier and more attractive to someone interested in FPGA gaming and vintage computers to have one add-on board in a 3D-printed case than having to farm out each of these things separately.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a DE-10 Nano already you’re looking at about $618.76 USD or £454.80 GBP for the entire Consolized MiSTer Multisystem before shipping and any import fees and that isn’t cheap. Other bundles of MiSTer hardware end up around $455 for the kit from MiSTer Add-Ons. None of these MiSTer setups are really going to be the easiest things in the world to configure, but I’m curious if it ends up being easier than dealing with a Raspberry Pi which is the traditional go-to setup for an emulation box. Compared to the Analogue consoles, with the MiSTer, you don’t need more than one to play multiple systems.

The first round of 500 MiSTer Multisystem kits that ship in November sold out quickly and another round of 1000 more are promised to go up for pre-order soon. They’ll be announced on the MiSTer Multisystem Twitter account.

The MiSTer Multisystem creators also have a lengthy video answering questions they received about the console:

The 2021 iPad Mini as Reviewed by Federico Viticci

The iPad lineup is wild. There are two “Pro” iPads, there is the Air from last year which is now technically slower than this new 2021 iPad Mini and all of those have the same basic design features, excellent performance, and USB-C support. The lone holdout on the Lightning port and Home button front is the $330 2021 iPad Cheap.

Federico Viticci is in my opinion the iPad expert, and his review is worth reading if you’re at all curious about this update to the iPad Mini:

The new iPad mini fulfills my longstanding dream of an iPad Pro/Air-like device in a diminutive form factor, providing a highly portable experience unlike anything else in Apple’s lineup.

The iPad mini was already in a class of its own; with this redesign, Apple has made the best small iPad I’ve ever tried – one that is a joy to use on a daily basis. Whether you’re looking for a companion device to your iPad Pro or a portable iPad to complement your Mac experience, this little iPad is worth the price of admission.

This is also probably the only review that discusses running emulators on the device as depicted in the screenshot above.

They’re all good tablets but after using a big 12.9” iPad Pro for months of “distance learning” my hands ache from the weight and as a writer, the only iPad I’ve ever loved writing on without some kind of hardware keyboard was the Mini. So, this new iPad Mini looks mighty tempting, if limited. The lower quality screen and lack of Apple’s “ProMotion” variable refresh rate support are the big compromises to me, as is the diminutive screen size even if it is a little taller in this year’s update.

The Seigaiha Keyboard Kit Looks Cool

Through-hole keyboard kits are a test of soldering skill but also shouldn’t be an extreme challenge. When I built a Mysterium through-hole TKL kit the biggest challenge was to get it to look good and consistent because I didn’t own a diode bender. There have been a few similar boards with an Alice layout, I can think of the Sesame for example, and now Novel Keys is selling the Seigaiha Keyboard Kit.

The Seigaiha PCB silkscreen alone looks amazing and at $95 it sounds expensive but that is close to a bargain for an in-stock mechanical keyboard kit. Granted, you’ll still need switches, stabilizers, keycaps, and soldering equipment but it should be a wonderful project. Here is the link.

1Blocker Stops YouTube Ads on Mac, iPad, and iPhone

Soon after Apple allowed “content blockers” to block advertisements (six years ago! ?) the 1Blocker app became my favorite tool to do so. With iOS 15 and iPad OS 15, as well as Safari 15 on the Mac, that usefulness expands to allow blocking ads on YouTube via the newly supported Web Extensions in Safari.

There are considerations here for the consequences of blocking ads and especially on YouTube where the people who make the videos are essentially spec workers without any guarantees. I have had generally pleasant interactions with the workers for YouTube as a creator, but the ads and content are often extremely objectionable. Beyond Coke ads, the ads on YouTube include ads for hate groups , grifters, and scam artists, selling everything from Bitcoin to literal poison. There are other, better ways to support the people making good things on YouTube.

Blocking ads on YouTube isn’t a perfect experience, sometimes not loading an ad will also mean you need to reload the page to continue watching the video but I would rather be slightly inconvenienced than accidentally exposed to YouTube’s advertising. Of course this method of blocking ads also won’t work inside the YouTube app, it only works through Safari.

If you decide to use the new support for blocking ads on YouTube through 1Blocker or another web extension, I recommend supporting the people you enjoy watching on YouTube through other means.

The 1Blocker FAQ has a guide to enabling their Web Extension for YouTube ad-blocking. 1Blocker itself is free with an in-app purchase subscription to enable more features.

This is a link to the 1Blocker website where you can find out more about the tool.