PC gaming, once declared dead, has made a remarkable resurgence. Thanks to services like Steam that have standardized how you save and launch your game collection, the ability to stream (and monetize) your gameplay, and exponentially increasing performance, this renaissance is only just beginning.
While Steam has competition in the market like the Epic Game Store and Origin, Valve’s 800-pound gorilla continues to dominate the market.
Rather than sit comfortably in his privileged seat, Valve took a risky streak and created a new piece of hardware to revolutionize the PC gaming market.
Enter the Steam Deck, a handheld player designed to play most of your games library like a Nintendo Switch on steroids.
Announced in early 2021, Steam Deck was originally slated for this holiday season. In February, Steam Deck finally arrived in very limited quantities. You still have to queue and reserve one (delivery is currently after Q3 2022).
While several Asian countries are producing handheld Windows computers with built-in game controls, unpredictable quality and premium prices have kept the market small.
Steam Deck comes in three flavors based primarily on SSHD storage and speed: 64GB for $399, 256GB for $529, and 512GB for $649. The two higher-end models come with carrying cases, and the higher-end model has a nice etched glass screen to 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 quick movements in God of War and Batman: Arkham City without a hint of blur.
A custom AMD Zen 2 processor shares the heavy lifting with a GPU that handles up to 1.6 TFlops. That’s a lot of power for a handheld, with 16GB of blazing-fast LPDDR5 RAM and the solid-state drive sizes mentioned above.
A whole array of buttons, triggers and paddles adorn the system. You can choose a default controller configuration or customize it to your liking. The layout is similar to the Switch in handheld mode with a few additions such as B. Four additional grip buttons on the back and two pressure-sensitive trackpads with haptic feedback on the front.
I could ramble another 1,000 words on the specs, but the big question is how does the system work?
It should be noted that the native operating system, Steam OS 3.0, is Linux based, not Windows. It uses a version of the Proton engine that emulates Windows and does a great job especially with newer games.
A 2022 triple-A release, Elden Ring looks and plays amazing. It’s smooth with a decent framerate, although it drains the battery faster than some games (I got about 2 hours 15 minutes).
God of War and Horizon: Zero Dawn both looked and played like they did on PS4, and Batman: Arkham City looked the best I’ve ever seen. The 1280 x 800 pixel screen never looked less than Full HD. And when docked, the device supports up to 8K output.
I had some issues with Batman: Arkham City. The game crashed more than once which was annoying as it is listed on Steam as Verified for Steam Deck.
There are three categories of the game on the Steam Deck: “Verified” which means it should play almost perfectly, “Playable” which means it should play well but you may need to tweak some settings, and “Unsupported” which means won didn’t even play.
There are also “untested” games that Valve hasn’t reviewed yet, but they’re working hard to make it through the entire Steam library.
People shouldn’t worry too much about the “unsupported” games either, as teams of engineers are working on updating the operating system so that eventually all games will work. For example, Persona 4 Golden went from Unsupported to Verified before the first decks even appeared.
The Steam Deck is also a real computer, so you can dual boot Windows to play games that won’t work on Steam OS, and the system itself is a dream for emulations of all kinds.
The Steam Decks feel good, with excellent build quality and functionality. Although large, it is comfortable to hold even for long periods of time.
In the next column, I’ll dive deeper into some of the deeper features and give you my final review of this little powerhouse.