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by | Dec 1, 2022 | Gaming PC, Hand Held Gaming PC

STEAM DECK- A Strong and Powerful Handheld Gaming PC

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The Steam Deck handheld gaming PC is an incredible piece of hardware that can transform into a full gaming PC with thousands of games and extensive input options. As long as you don’t mind a two-hour battery life, the Steam Deck is an incredible piece of hardware that allows you to take a full PC gaming experience with you wherever you go. Best of all, you most likely already own hundreds of compatible titles, with more being added on a daily basis.

The Steam Deck is the most recent high-profile attempt to accomplish the near-impossible task of creating a great handheld gaming PC. The device resembles the current king of portable gaming, the Nintendo Switch. But it is a very different beast: more powerful, more expensive, and undeniably more complicated.

The Steam Deck packs a lot of power into a small, portable (albeit clunky) package. It starts at a reasonable $399, but we recommend spending the extra $130 for the mid-tier model, which has four times the onboard storage (note that all three Steam Deck models have the same CPU, GPU, and RAM power; only the display and storage type and capacity differ). Valve’s handheld is a fantastic device for taking your Steam library with you on the go, but the software still has some quirks that need to iron out, especially if you plan on going all-in on emulation and game mods.

 

Connectivity and Steam Deck Specifications

Internally, the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC is powered by a custom AMD processor with a quad-core, eight-thread Zen 2 CPU capable of 448 GFlops and an RDNA 2 GPU capable of 1.6 TFlops. They share the same architecture as AMD’s Ryzen CPUs and Radeon GPUs, but there are no direct consumer desktop or mobile processor equivalents. However, in terms of TFlops, it lags far behind the PlayStation 5 (10 TFlops) and the Xbox Series X (12 TFlops). To be fair, the Steam Deck is intended to push an eighth the number of pixels as those 4K systems.

The 7-inch screen on the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC is functional but uninteresting. It’s the same size as the OLED Switch, but with a slightly higher resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels (the Switch’s display is 1,280 by 720 pixels). The screen is a 60Hz IPS LCD, which is bright and easy to read but lacks the deep blacks and vibrant colors of an OLED.

 

Steam Deck Handheld Gaming PC Design

The steam deck is designed in black and is larger than you might expect, measuring 30 cm long, 12 cm tall, and 5 cm at the deepest part of the grips. It also weighs a hefty 670 g, so you’ll want to rest your arms or legs on a table. It’s a beast of a machine when compared to the svelte Nintendo Switch. A nice, solid case to keep it in, perfectly molded to the shape, is included in the box.

 

Steam Deck Handheld Gaming PC Models

01

64GB eMMC storage, glossy display

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02

256GB of  NVMe storage

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03

512GB “faster” NVMe storage

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I chose the mid-range model and have nearly completed the drive (mainly due to the 70 GB of Horizon Zero Dawn). The 64GB eMMC option would be extremely limited, as well as having extremely slow load times.

MicroSD cards can be used to expand storage and are usually regarded as swappable cartridges. However, many users have reported that the microSD cards are “bricked” after being formatted by the Steam Deck at the time of writing.

Though not officially supported, users have satisfactorily swapped out the internal drives for larger 1TB storage. Of course, this will void your warranty. On the subject of repairs, it’s worth noting that Valve handheld gaming PC has partnered with iFixit to provide replacement parts and repair guides for virtually every component, ensuring a long product lifecycle in an age where electronics are often disposable.

 

A Big Portable

The Steam Deck handheld gaming PC, at nearly a foot wide and nearly a pound and a half, is firmly on the unwieldy side of what you would consider a portable gaming system. The Nintendo Switch is over two inches slimmer and half a pound lighter than the Steam Deck with Joy-Cons attached. That’s a little surprising given that both the Steam Deck and the OLED Switch have 7-inch screens. The Steam Deck can be packed in a bag, but it’s far too large to tuck into a jacket or comfortably play on the train. The Asus ROG Zephyrus 14 gaming notebook is only half an inch wider, but it’s significantly deeper and heavier than the 4.6-inch-deep handheld.

Features

The control surfaces and grips, which are significantly wider than the Joy-Cons on the Nintendo Switch, make up a significant portion of the Steam Deck’s frame (and are not removable). There are four menu buttons, a direction pad, and four face buttons in addition to the standard dual analog sticks. Below the analog sticks and above the Steam and Options buttons are square touchpads. The grips’ widths ensure that your thumbs and palm meat don’t accidentally touch the trackpads or block the speakers, which are located beneath the Steam and Options buttons.

The top panel of the Steam Deck has standard L1/R1 bumpers and L2/R2 triggers, though the bumpers are a little too high to comfortably and quickly press. There are also power and volume controls, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a USB-C charging port. The bottom edge houses a microSD card slot, which allows you to expand the system’s storage beyond the 64/256/512GB of onboard storage available in the $399, $529, and $649 models, respectively.

The L4/L5 and R4/R5 buttons are located on the back, beneath where the middle and ring fingers of each hand naturally rest. By default, the buttons are stiff and shallow, but they provide useful additional inputs. A large intake grille on the back panel works in tandem with an exhaust fan and grille on the device’s top edge to ensure proper airflow. When playing games, the fan is audible, but it is much softer than the fan on a small gaming laptop (in this case the Zephyrus 14).

Several menus and limited storage space

The operating system provides many options, but finding the ones you want isn’t always simple. Many of these options, including the storefront and your game library, are accessible via a Steam menu button on the left side of the screen. A quick-access menu, denoted by a three-dot icon, is located on the right side of the screen. Any setting or shortcut you seek found under one of the menu buttons. Though the logic of what goes where escapes me.

You’ll be spending a lot of time in the storage submenu. I wish it was one of the quick menu items summoned by the button to the right of the screen. Instead, press the Steam Menu button, scroll down to Settings, and then scroll down to Storage. It takes a lot of button presses to get to a screen that I need all the time.

 

Gaming Performance on the Steam Deck Handheld Gaming PC

The Steam Deck Compatibility program displays Steam games that confirm to work with the Steam Deck. Each Steam game has one of four different compatibility icons. A green Deck Verified icon indicates that the game works almost flawlessly on the Steam Deck. A yellow Playable icon indicates that the game will run, but some adjustments require (usually manual control configurations). A grey Unsupported icon indicates that the game will not run at all on the Steam Deck. Finally, a gray unknown icon with a question mark indicates that there is no information on whether or not the game will run.

SteamOS organizes your library into Verified Games, All Games, Installed Games, and Non-Steam Games and Software tabs. In the All Games tab, you can also filter out unsupported or unknown games from your library.

Our Steam library contains 571 games and apps, of which 63 are Verified, 104 are Verified or Playable and 524 are Verified, Playable, or Untested. Only 29 games and apps remain unsupported on the Steam Deck, accounting for approximately 5% of our library. This is where we start having fun testing which games work and which don’t. As well as how well the Steam Deck performs with the ones that do.

All games load about as quickly as they do on a PC with a modest SSD. The highest-end Steam Deck handheld gaming PC, presumably, loads games faster. This includes the standard Steam preamble loading that occurs when you launch each game for the first time. Because the majority of these are Windows games running through Proton. All of the usual DirectX and other files that must install on Windows must also process on the Steam Deck.

Horizon Zero Dawn

This game has been verified and performs well on the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC. In testing, the controls worked flawlessly, mapping everything to standard gamepad inputs. The game employs variable frame rates and did not achieve a consistent 60 fps, but the action was generally smooth. However, close inspection of exploding barrels caused the game to stutter and jerk before the effects faded.

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut

This game has also been verified and works consistently on the Steam Deck with preset gamepad controls. We used the left analog stick to control the main character. Whereas, we used the right stick or right trackpad to cycle through nearby objects that we could interact with (which provided a helpful little feedback bump for each object I selected). However, we were unable to easily assign a classic PC. Adventure game mice control the trackpad (though we manually set the right trackpad to behave like a mouse and move a cursor on the screen). Touch-screen mouse pointer controls, as well as a Bluetooth mouse connected to the Steam Deck, worked flawlessly.

Bayonetta

This is another verified game that performs well and has responsive controls on the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC. The game defaults to medium graphics and runs at a consistent 60 frames per second in this mode. With the graphics set to high, Bayonetta performed admirably. But it couldn’t maintain a steady 60 frames per second (and often dipped closer to 30 fps).

Inscryption

On the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC, the Inscryption list as playable (not verified) and loads without issue. Because it lacks gamepad support, the trackpad, as well as the touch screen and Bluetooth mice, serve as mouse pointer controllers. If you have a comfortable way to control the mouse pointer, it’s playable and indistinguishable from the PC version.

Monster Hunter Rise

This game is available to play on the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC. It booted up without a hitch and automatically set up all of the necessary gamepad inputs. The game took longer to load than the Verified games, but the action was consistently smooth. Monster Hunter Rise’s average graphics setting, like Bayonetta’s, produced a consistent 60 fps. Having said that, the game still ran well when set to High, albeit with frame rate dips.

Dying Light 2

This game is also listed as playable on the Steam Deck handheld gaming PC. The game came with automated controls that mostly function. Though the analog sticks controlled an unwieldy mouse pointer instead of snapping to items when navigating menus. The graphics were set to the highest settings by default, resulting in poor performance. By lowering the graphics setting to “low,” the game became playable. It’s not great, but it’s sufficient and still quite impressive given the Steam Deck’s size and specifications.

 

SteamOS 3.0: Linux with a User-Friendly Surface

To run Windows games, the Steam Deck runs Valve’s SteamOS 3.0 operating system. Which is based on Arch Linux and includes the Proton software compatibility layer. SteamOS starts in Big Picture mode, with a large tile-based interface. That works well on a small screen with gamepad controls. It connects directly to your Steam account, bringing any installed Steam games (as well as games accessible via another computer via Steam’s Remote Play feature) to the fore. Steam Cloud saves from any supported Steam game on your PC are also carried over.

When you’re in or out of a game, pressing the Steam or Options buttons opens helpful overlays. The Steam button allows you to access various parts of the system, such as the home screen, game library, Steam store, settings, and friends list (with support for text chat using an on-screen keyboard). The Options button opens a quick-access menu from which you can access notifications, your friends’ list (in a sidebar rather than a full interface with chat), and basic system settings (screen brightness, wireless connections, and battery life projections). The Steam button in games opens a control menu and allows you to change layouts on the fly.

With a power button press, SteamOS activates a useful sleep mode. After a few seconds, the system enters a suspended state similar to the Nintendo Switch’s sleep mode. Allowing the handheld to conserve battery life when not in use. The suspended state also works in games. We had no trouble sleeping on the Steam Deck. While playing Horizon Zero Dawn and later picking up where we left off without having to reload the game.

The SteamOS interface is well-suit to handheld gaming, and it is enough if you only intend to play games from your Steam library. However, the Steam Deck is capable of much more. Holding down the power button causes the system to reboot into Desktop Mode. Which loads the Linux KDE Plasma desktop environment. It’s a Windows-like interface with full Linux control, including the ability to install software packages. If you want to emulate older games on the Steam Deck. You’ll need to use this mode to install emulators like Dolphin and RetroArch.

Pros

➕ Thousands of games are compatible, including many that you most likely already own.

➕ Many AAA titles run smoothly.

➕ A wide variety of input options and extensive customization

Cons

➖ As simple to use as a full Windows gaming PC

➖ Battery life is limited—as little as 1.5 hours depending on the game.

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