Delays have done nothing to dull the hype around Valve’s Steam Deck which launches on February 25th worldwide. The thought of playing one’s Steam games in a Nintendo Switch-like handheld has always been appealing and soon, it’s going to be a reality. Let’s take a look at 15 things you should know before picking one up in the near or far future, including some new details that have recently been revealed.
Specs and Performance
First, a refresher – the Steam Deck’s hardware consists of a quad-core AMD Zen 2 CPU with a variable frequency of 2.4 to 3.5 GHz and RDNA 2 graphics with 8 CUs with a variable frequency of 1 to 1.6 GHz providing 1.6 TFLOPS of performance. It also offers 16 GB LPDDR5 RAM with 88 GB/s of bandwidth and three storage solutions – 64 GB eMMC, 256 GB NVMe SSD and a 512 GB NVMe SSD. The seven inch display has a 1280×800 resolution and the 40-watt battery is capable of seven to eight hours on average of web browsing, game streaming and light games as per Valve (though there’s also a frame limiter that one can use to prioritize battery life).
Though each Steam Deck is the same in terms of overall performance, the price differs only on the basis of the internal storage. For 64 GB eMMC, which is the base model, you’ll have to pay $399 and it includes a carrying case. The version with the 256 GB NVMe SSD costs $529 and also includes a carrying case and exclusive Steam Community profile bundle. Finally, the 512 GB NVMe SSD version costs $649 and offers an exclusive carrying case and anti-glare etched glass.
Regardless of which version you go with, having more space on the Steam Deck is always nice. Thankfully, an M.2 2230 SSD slot is included in all configurations, thus allowing players to expand on the internal storage. Even though the drives themselves are not cheap, this does offer some insurance, especially for those settling for only 64 GB in the base model.
On the day of release, mails will be sent out at 10 AM PT/1 PM ET to those who reserved their units. If you’re one of the first order reservations, you’ll receive a mail inviting you to purchase the console within 72 hours. If you don’t purchase it within that time frame, then the next person in the queue receives the reservation. The first units will begin shipping on February 28th though reviews and impressions should go live on the 25th.
Supports Fast Suspend/Resume
If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to simply exit the game you’re playing, the Steam Deck supports a Fast Suspend and Resume function. This makes it possible to press the power button to suspend one’s game and put the handheld into Sleep Mode. Pressing the power button again will cause it to immediately wake up and resume your progress. Given how beneficial this can be on the Switch, it’s a nice feature to have here.
Variable Rate Shading, Ray Tracing and Mods
While this isn’t the most powerful machine ever created, the Steam Deck is capable of supporting ray tracing and variable rate shading, as per Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais (who also confirmed DirectX 12 Ultimate support). Mods are also supported though how much they’ll affect performance (based on which ones are used) remains to be seen.
Use as PC Controller
Of the many functions that the Steam Deck offers, including its use as a proper PC, it can also work as a PC controller through remote play as per Valve on its official FAQ. While it’s probably more practical to just have a regular controller on hand, it’s still a nice bonus (and potential flex) on top of everything else.
Another benefit of the Steam Deck is that it’s also capable of running games on services, like xCloud. Though we’ve yet to see gameplay of the same, Xbox boss Phil Spencer tweeted that playing games on the Steam Deck felt good and that xCloud “works well.” Of course, while streaming games via the cloud is possible on mobile devices, Spencer made sure to note that the screen size and controls on Steam Deck were also pretty great.
Valve Testing Entire Library for Support
When creating the Steam Deck, Valve set a minimum 30 frames per second standard for its games to adhere to (and hadn’t found a game that failed to meet that requirement). In October 2021, it confirmed that it was testing its entire Steam Library to ensure compatibility. To that end, it’s created four categories for the same – Verified, which means a game performs up to par on the Steam Deck; Playable, which requires some “manual tweaking” but should otherwise be playable; Unsupported for games that don’t function (like, say, Half-Life: Alyx due to the lack of VR); and Unknown which denotes games that haven’t been tested.
This information will be available in one’s library and the Steam Deck Store but the review process won’t stop at launch. Valve has stated that it “will continue to check games through launch and beyond. This is an ongoing evaluation of the entire catalog and a game’s rating can change over time – titles will be re-reviewed as the developer releases updates or the Deck’s software improves.”
Current Verified Titles
As of February 2nd 2022, there are currently 93 titles that have the Verified tag including Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Deathloop, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Celeste, Hollow Knight, Dark Souls 2 and 3, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Death Stranding and so on. Titles in the Playable category, which number 79 so far, include Path of Exile, NieR: Automata, Inscryption, Subnautica, Slay the Spire and so on. And in the Unsupported category, there are 30 games with the aforementioned Half-Life: Alyx and Persona 4: Golden being the most notable so far.
For all intents and purposes, the Steam Deck is a handheld PC for accessing your Steam Library on the go. But it’s also technically a new console so of course the topic of exclusives will come up. Valve has dispelled any chance of this happening though. In an FAQ from the Steamworks Steam Deck event where it fielded questions from numerous studios and publishers, it was asked about the interest in exclusive titles. “No, that doesn’t make much sense to us. It’s a PC and it should just play games like a PC.”
BattlEye and Easy Anti-Cheat Support
Given that some of the most popular Steam titles are multiplayer titles, it stands to reason that anti-cheat support on the Steam Deck would be important. Fortunately, BattlEye – which is used in Destiny – has announced that it will support Proton on the Steam Deck though on an opt-in basis depending on the developers.
Easy Anti-Cheat also confirmed Linux support with Valve further noting that, “Our team has been working with Epic on Easy Anti-Cheat + Proton support over the last few months, and we’re happy to announce that adding Steam Deck support to your existing EAC games is now a simple process.” This means no integration of Epic Online Services, updating SDK versions or binaries, and so on.
Other Potential Colors in the Future
The Steam Deck is launching with only one color but more could be on the way. Again, when looking at it from the “new console” perspective, multiple colors makes sense. But the key word here is could. Speaking to PC Gamer, Steam Deck designers Tucker Spofford and Greg Coomer said there was plenty of debate on alternate colors.
Along with “genuinely fun exploration around that stuff” there have been discussions like “‘Well, can we have lots of colours?’” Coomer noted that all discussions have been had and are continuing to be had so we’ll see what the future entails. If you’re looking for a Steam Deck in a specific color though, you may want to wait.
Potential Future Iterations
Due to the nature of the hardware – and the average lifespan of any device – one had to wonder whether Valve isn’t planning on future iterations of the Steam Deck. Hardware engineer Yazan Aldehayyat told IGN that its use of LPDDR5, which is still fairly new, “gives a lot of future proofing.” However, depending on its success, designer Greg Coomer says it expects to follow up with “more iterations.”
“We look at this as just a new category of device in the PC space. And assuming that customers agree with us that this is a good idea, we expect not only to follow up in the future with more iterations ourselves, but also for other manufacturers to want to participate in the space.” Again, it makes sense, considering the PC platform in general and how console life-cycles have shaken out over the past few decades.
Don’t Open It
That being said, if you’re looking to open up your Steam Deck and upgrade other components aside from the SSD, you might want to reconsider. In an official teardown video, the company showcased exactly what’s inside the unit…before emphatically telling you not to try this at home, much less replace anything by yourself. Simply opening up the Steam Deck apparently makes it “structurally weaker” so there’s also that.