PC gaming, once proclaimed dead, has had a remarkable resurrection. Thanks to services like Steam, which has standardized how you store and launch your game collection, the ability to stream (and monetize) your gameplay, and exponentially growing power, this renaissance is just beginning.
Although Steam has competition in the market, like the Epic Game Store and Origin, Valve’s 800-pound gorilla continues to dominate the market.
Instead of sitting comfortably in its privileged place, Valve has embarked on a risky business, creating new hardware in an effort to revolutionize the PC gaming market.
Enter the Steam Deck, a portable player designed to play most of your game library like a Nintendo Switch on steroids.
Announced in early 2021 and originally slated for that year’s holiday season, Steam Deck finally arrived in February in very limited quantities. You will still have to queue and reserve one (delivery is currently after Q3 2022).
While several Asian countries manufacture portable Windows machines with built-in game controls, the unpredictable quality and high prices have kept the market small.
Steam Deck is available in three flavors, based primarily on memory and SSHD speed: 64GB for $399, 256GB for $529, and 512GB for $649. Both higher-end models come with carrying cases, and the higher end has a beautiful etched glass screen to help minimize glare.
The hardware screams quality. The hardware starts with a 7-inch IPS LCD touchscreen. Big and bright, with vibrant colors, the screen handled the fast motion in “God of War” and “Batman: Arkham City” without any sign of blurring.
A custom AMD Zen 2 processor shares the heavy lifting with a GPU that processes up to 1.6 TFlops. That’s a lot of power for a handheld, with 16GB of super-fast LPDDR5 RAM and the aforementioned solid-state hard drive sizes.
A full array of buttons, triggers, and paddles adorn the system. You can choose a standard controller configuration or customize it to your liking. The layout is similar to the Switch in handheld mode with a few additions, such as four additional grip buttons on the back and two pressure-sensitive trackpads with haptic feedback on the front.
I could ramble on the specs for another 1,000 words, but the big question is, how does the system work?
It should be noted that the native operating system, Steam OS 3.0, is based on Linux and not Windows. It uses a version of the Proton engine that emulates Windows and does a great job, especially with the newer games.
“Elden Ring”, a 2022 triple-A release, looks and plays fantastic. It’s smooth with a decent framerate, although it does eat battery faster than some games (I got around 2 hours and 15 minutes).
“God of War” and “Horizon: Zero Dawn” looked and played like they did on PS4, and “Batman: Arkham City” looked the best I’ve seen. The 1280 x 800 pixel screen never looked like anything other than Full HD. And rooted, the machine supports output up to 8K.
I encountered some problems with “Batman: Arkham City”. The game crashed more than once, which was annoying since it’s listed on Steam as “verified” for Steam Deck.
There are three game categories on the Steam Deck: ‘Verified’, which is supposed to play almost flawlessly, ‘Playable’, which means it should play well but you may need to change some settings, and ‘Not Supported’. charge”, who won does not play at all.
There are also “untested” games that Valve hasn’t reviewed yet, but they’re working hard to sift through the entire Steam library.
People also shouldn’t worry too much about “unsupported” games, because there are engineering teams working on updating the OS, so eventually all games will work. For example, “Persona 4 Golden” was changed from “Unsupported” to “Verified” before the first decks even arrived.
The Steam Deck is also a real computer, so you can dual boot Windows to play games that don’t run Steam OS, and the system itself is a dream for emulation of all kinds.
The Steam Decks feel great, with great build quality and features. Although large, it is also comfortable to hold, even for long periods of time.
In the next column, I’ll dig into some of the deeper features and give you my final score on this little powerhouse.