Steam Deck is Valve's new handheld, starts at $400

Image for Steam Deck is Valve's new handheld, starts at $400
(Image credit: Valve)

Valve will start shipping a new handheld gaming device called Steam Deck in December 2021. (Update: Reservations are available now, and the expected ship date has been pushed into 2022.)

According to Valve, the device is an AMD "powerhouse" which can run "the latest AAA games." The chunky black rectangle includes a 7-inch, 1280x800 touchscreen, trackpads like the Steam Controller, and full-sized analog sticks. 

Maybe a better way to think about it is that it's a small PC with a controller attached as opposed to a gaming console.

Lawrence Yang, Valve

On the software side, Steam Deck runs on a new version of SteamOS, the Linux-based operating system Valve hoped to make a living room staple back when Steam Machines were a thing. That doesn't mean that the Steam Deck will be limited to Linux games, though. Valve says that its Proton compatibility software has been "vastly improved," and works with anti-cheat systems. You'll be able to play Windows games that don't have official Linux support, put simply.

You can also tinker with the Steam Deck—it isn't a locked box—and even use it as a regular PC by plugging it into a monitor and peripherals. "Browse the web, watch streaming video, do your normal productivity stuff, install some other game stores, whatever," says Valve. An optional USB-C dock will provide DisplayPort and HDMI output, an Ethernet adapter, and three USB ports.

If you want, you can even kick SteamOS off of the device and install Windows, or something else. 

"We don't think people should be locked into a certain direction or a certain set of software that they can install," Valve designer Lawrence Yang told IGN. "If you buy a Steam Deck, it's a PC. You can install whatever you want on it, you can attach any peripherals you want to it. Maybe a better way to think about it is that it's a small PC with a controller attached as opposed to a gaming console."

Steam Deck hardware specs

Here are the specifications of the handheld itself, according to Valve:

  • CPU: AMD Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
  • GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
  • RAM: 16 GB LPDDR5
  • Storage: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB versions; expandable with MicroSD cards
  • Display: 7" diagonal, 1280x800 (16:10), 60Hz LCD touchscreen
  • Audio: Stereo speakers that "pack a punch," says Valve, 3.5mm stereo jack, dual mics, multichannel USB-C/Bluetooth output
  • Controls: Two analog sticks with capacitive touch, D-pad, face buttons, analog triggers, bumpers, assignable grip buttons, "view" and "menu" buttons, gyro
  • Trackpads: There's two of them, and Valve says that they have "55% better latency compared to Steam Controller."
  • Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Wired connectivity: USB-C with DisplayPort 1.4 Alt-mode support; up to 8K @60Hz or 4K @120Hz, USB 3.2 Gen 2
  • Battery: 40Whr, "2-8 hours of gameplay"
  • Size: 11.7" x 4.6" x 1.8" (298mm x 117mm x 49mm)
  • Weight: Approximately 1.47 lbs (669 grams)

Valve claims that the Steam Deck has "more than enough performance to run the latest AAA games in a very efficient power envelope." I wouldn't expect it to perform especially well with graphically-taxing games at 1080p or higher, but it should suffice at its own screen's 1280x800 resolution. The promotional material includes shots of people playing Doom Eternal, Control, and Jedi: Fallen Order. We look forward to putting a Steam Deck to the test with those games and others as soon as we have one. (We will make sure it can run Crysis, of course, but I seriously do wonder how it fares in something like Hunt: Showdown.)

One potential disappointment is the battery life. Valve says that the Steam Deck's battery will last for "several hours" while playing most games, and it maxes out at 8 hours in "lighter use cases like game streaming, smaller 2D games, or web browsing." At a minimum, it should last two hours playing a resource-intensive game. Hope your airplane seat has an outlet, then.

A quick suspend/resume function will let you pause the Steam Deck and send it to sleep mode, and then quickly wake it up and go back to your game when you're ready. (When you've plugged it in, for example.)

Steam Deck price and availability

The Steam Deck starts at $399 for a 64GB version. There's also a 256GB version for $529 and a 512GB version for $649. The two more expensive versions also feature faster NVMe storage, and in all three versions, storage can be increased with a microSD card.

Valve boss Gabe Newell said that picking a price for the Steam Deck was "painful," but that ultimately the device had to be powerful enough to perform well.

"Our view is, if we're doing this right, we're going to be selling these in millions of units, and it's clearly going to be establishing a product category that ourselves and other PC manufacturers are going to be able to participate in," said Newell. "And that's going to have long-term benefits for us. So that's sort of the frame in which we're thinking about this."

Starting this Friday at 10 am Pacific, Steam Decks will be available for reservation on Steam for a $5 deposit. Valve plans to start shipping them in December. That depends where you live, though: December 2021 will see units shipped to the United States, Canada, the European Union, and the UK, with more regions coming in 2022.

The full Steam Deck details and specs can be found on the Steam Deck website.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.