There have been rumors for a while now, but Valve has finally confirmed the release of its latest piece of high-performance handheld hardware. The Switch-like Steam Deck is due to start shipping at the end of the year in December with prices starting from $399. In addition to the starter model, there are also $529 and $649 storage upgrades.  

In an attempt to keep reselling scalpers out of the loop. The reservations are initially only available to those who already have a Steam account with prior purchases that date back to before this July began. Valve has also put a $5 reservation fee in place (which is fully refunded after you receive your Steam Deck) and the reservations are limited to one per person. All measures should help to keep the market fair. The reservation is by no means a preorder but instead saves you a preorder space in the queue once the product is actually available.

The device looks far more promising than the Steam Machines that flopped before it. The specs are far more impressive and the operating system has improved tenfold since the early days of function. Under the hood, the Steam Deck is equipped with an AMD APU that contains a quad-core Zen 2 CPU. Graphics will be handled by eight threads and eight compute units’ worth of AMD RDNA 2 and Valve has also afforded it an impressive 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. In terms of storage, you have three options: The entry-level model ships with 64GB eMMC storage as standard for $399. You can upgrade to 256GB NVMe SSD storage for $529, or choose the high-speed NVMe version that offers up almost double the storage at 512GB for $649 if your budget allows. The device also has an integrated, high-speed, microSD card slot so you can expand the storage yourself later should you need to.

Physically speaking the Steam Deck has a cool, compact, well-organized design that provides a range of control options. You have two traditional thumbsticks, but for better precision, you can use the Steam Controller-style trackpads that are seated beneath them. They are idyllic for first-person shooters as they give you better accuracy. On the front of the Steam Deck, you will find ABXY as well as a D-pad. The touchscreen measures 7-inches and has a resolution of 1280 x 800 for 720p gameplay. Much like its competition, the Switch, it has two easy-reach shoulder triggers as well. There is also a gyroscope for motion control and four back buttons. The device also houses built-in microphones for TeamSpeak functions and has a few extra navigational/menu/function buttons too.

You can see the Steam Deck below with all of its ports and controls:

The Steam Deck’s external hardware features.
The Steam Deck’s external hardware features. Image credit: theverge.com

As for the battery, “Steam Deck’s onboard 40 watt-hour battery provides several hours of playtime for most games,” Valve says. “For lighter use cases like game streaming, smaller 2D games, or web browsing, you can expect to get the maximum battery life of approximately 7-8 hours.” Valve tells IGN that “You can play Portal 2 for four hours on this thing. If you limit it to 30 FPS, you’re going to be playing for 5-6 hours.”

The device can also be put into sleep mode if you have to pause your game via a quick suspend/resume feature within the SteamOS. You can then instantly pick up where you left off with ease.

Image credit: theverge.com

The Steam Deck will also have a dock available to purchase if you want to plug it into an external display. You won’t need a dock to plug it into a TV, though — Valve says that the “Deck can be plugged into your TV, monitor, or even your old CRT if you have the right cables.” The Deck will provide USB-C ports with HDMI, Ethernet, and USB data, as well as Bluetooth. It even has the option to run native Bluetooth audio, something that gives it an edge over the Nintendo Switch.

When it comes to software the Steam Deck will operate with Valve’s latest rework of SteamOS optimized for the device’s handheld nature. The OS is still Linux-based like the Steam Machine but less of a death-sentence as the system is much more capable in modern times and has many many more compatible games including big titles. Proton will be utilized as a compatibility layer to ensure that Windows-based games run without specifically being ported by developers for the Steam Deck.

As Sean Hollister and co, have remarked in their article at The Verge the Steam Deck is technically speaking a fully-fledged Linux computer. Tech-savvy users will be able to jump out to the regular Linux desktop should they wish. Although portability is the driving factor for its creation you will also be able to hook up a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. It will be capable of running other types of software browsing online and won’t be exclusively locked to the Steam games store. Essentially you are getting a mobile miniature PC.

Image credit: tehverge.com

The Steam Deck’s features will emulate the regular desktop Steam app. Users will have chat, notifications, cloud-save support, and full access to their entire library with favorites synced. You will even be able to stream games directly from your PC  itself to the Steam deck with Valve’s Remote Play feature if you need more juice to run something.

The US, Canada, EU, and the UK are set to get their hands on the first available units in December with other countries having to wait a little longer for Valves’ scheduled 2022 international shipping rollout. Preorder invites should be dished out before December sales and if you miss your window then the reservation fee of $5 will be refunded to your Steam Wallet.

If you are desperate to see it in action then head on over to IGN who has had an exclusive demo with the Steam Deck, which you can watch.

They also interviewed Valve’s Gabe Newell, who made mention of the company’s “aggressive” which he found to be a “critical” but “painful” aspect of development. When Valve created its Index VR headset they adopted a very different approach and strategy. The dream was to push the industry forward which resulted in one of the world’s most expensive(at the time) consumer-grade VR experiences which had a price tag of $999. This time around they are striving for accessibility and competing with similar handheld devices. Setting the bar just below the $400 mark for their entry-level Steam Deck makes it just $50 more than Nintendo’s new OLED-equipped Switch, which is due to start shipping on October 8th.

Valve’s Greg Coomer told IGN that should the Steam Deck succeed, the company’s already thinking about future models and offering the “building blocks” to other manufacturers as well. “We look at this as just a new category of device in the PC space,” he said. 

Unlike the Steam Machines initiative that focused on developers making software tweaks, this time, Valve has made the hardware upfront. Game developers won’t need to worry about the Linux port operations. 

The tech already exists in an underdeveloped form anyway. Windows portables have been headed towards the handheld gaming PC dream for some time. There has always been a Switch-like blueprint in mind, now Valve has swept in to help make that become a reality and we can’t say we aren’t psyched.