Valve Announces Their Linux-Running Windows-Emulating Handheld “Steam Deck”

It won’t be available in New Zealand?!

Calling it “The most gaming power you have ever held” Valve announced their Steam Deck handheld gaming computer today. The pricing starts at $400 and it ships this December to the US, UK, and EU according to the company. Order reservations start Friday, July 16th at 10AM Pacific time and are $5 to get a spot in line with the remainder due when your order comes up.

Valve is restricting sales in the first 48 hours to people with Steam accounts older than June 2021 that have made a purchase on Steam. They say the reservation system is to let them make the ordering process fair, but they also won’t let Steam users order more than one device or switch which tier of system they’re ordering. The only changes allowed will be cancellations which are refunded to a Steam wallet if the refund is 30 days after the reservation is made.

The basic model of Steam Deck has a paltry 64GB of eMMC storage. Another model is $530 and includes 256GB of faster NVMe SSD PCIe third generation x4 storage. The highest end version is $650 and has a 512GB NVMe SSD and “Premium anti-glare etched glass”. Typical NVMe SSDs run about $100 per terabyte so it seems a little expensive for these upgrades. There is also a microSD card slot for expanding the storage on the system.

All models have a 4 core AMD Zen 2 APU that supports up to 8 threads and 16GB of DDR5 RAM.

The display is an LCD, not an OLED, and it uses a 16:10 aspect ratio, has a resolution of 1280×800, and a fixed 60hz refresh rate. No variable rate. It’s a 7” touch screen, measured diagonally. We won’t know the full quality of the display until reviewers who are more technical get their hands on it.

The controls on the device include a traditional dual-stick layout and two square trackpads with haptic feedback that Valve claims have 55% better latency than their discontinued Steam Controller.

The Steam Deck will also have a dock available in the future from Valve with more ports, and third-party docks may work out of the box. The USB-C port supports external display resolutions up to 8K at 60hz or 4K at 120Hz. The same USB-C port allows for charging the internal 40Whr battery at 45 watts using power delivery 3.0. Valve says the device will have anywhere between 2 and 8 hours of battery life.

Unlike the Nintendo Switch, Valve’s Steam Deck supports Bluetooth audio. There is also a traditional 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and stereo speakers.

The Steam Deck is running what Valve calls SteamOS 3.0, in a change from earlier versions that used a version of Debian, Valve’s new Linux operating system is using Arch Linux as a base. Arch Linux uses the pacman package manager instead of Debian’s apt system. Valve also notes that you can install any operating system including Windows on the device.

Valve appears to have completely given up on native Linux gaming, their developer FAQ for the Steam Deck includes this question and answer:

Do I need to port my game to Linux to have it work on Steam Deck?

No porting necessary. Your Windows build will likely work right out of the box, thanks to Proton.

Proton is Valve’s fork of the open-source WINE Windows API emulator. Proton is focused on game compatibility.

Comparable devices that use similar hardware to the Steam Deck like the Aya Neo and One XPlayer cost closer to a thousand US dollars and come from brands people do not recognize. None of these devices will run the highest end games very well, especially not when outputting video to an external screen, but they are all more powerful than systems like the Nintendo Switch.

I’d expect the performance on the Steam Deck to still be good enough for the majority of the games on Steam, the 1280×800 resolution is a little larger than 720p and not that difficult a target to hit, but the Steam Deck should be extremely capable of streaming games from a more powerful local computer (there’s no cellular hardware).

Competing stores for computers could run on the Steam Deck, but Epic’s Game store doesn’t run on Linux for example, that one is only available on Windows and macOS. The only other store that I know of that runs on Linux is the Itch store. Software like the PlayStation 4 & 5 Remote Play, that lets users stream games from their consoles to computers and mobile devices, also does not support Linux.

One thing that should run exceptionally well on the Steam Deck is emulators. They should be absolutely terrific on the device, and I hope that emulator authors are able to get onto the platform easily.

Author: Jack Slater

A Philadelphian living in Hawaii. If you enjoy my writing please consider supporting me on Patreon or Ko-Fi. You can follow or contact me on Twitter where I'm @NuclearSlater, via the contact page, or via e-mail to zjs@zacharyjackslater.com. Find out more about Nuclear Monster here.

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