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Steam Deck: Everything you need to know about Valve's handheld gaming PC

Valve's Steam Deck in action
(Image credit: Future)

The Steam Deck (opens in new tab) is here. Sort of. Valve has sent out emails to the first people who pre-ordered its handheld gaming PC last year, giving them the chance to plop down the rest of the cash for their very own Deck. And then on February 28, the first Decks will start shipping out. That means that if you don't see an email in your inbox from Valve right now, you might have to wait your turn a little longer.

One part Nintendo Switch, one part gaming PC, the Steam Deck is a handheld system with gaming power underneath its screen. While it looks like a lot like a console, it's as open as a PC, which means you can plug it into a monitor or TV, hook up controllers or a mouse and keyboard, even install Windows over its Linux innards if you prefer. But the Steam Deck has some unique features that give it a more streamlined console-like experience.

The new version of SteamOS, Valve's Linux-based operating system, will be able to seamlessly play games that were built for Windows thanks to a compatibility tool called Proton. The system can suspend and resume games, too, and supports some fancy new AMD graphics features, like FidelityFX Super Resolution upscaling.

Here's what you need to know about the Steam Deck at launch.

Steam Deck release date

When is the Steam Deck release date?

The Steam Deck is out now, with the first emails firing off to those with reservations on February 25, 2022. The actual date that those Steam Decks might make their way into the hands of customers is February 28, 2022. So it's a bit of a half-launch for now.

"Customers will have 3 days (72 hours) from receipt of their order email to make their purchase, before their reservation is released to the next person in the queue. The first units will be on their way to customers starting the 28th, and we plan to release new order email batches on a weekly cadence," Valve says.

If you haven't got a reservation yet, Valve's shipping estimate for pre-orders placed now is currently "After Q2 2022," which could be many months out.

Currently a Steam Deck can be reserved if you put down a $5 (£4) deposit. That $5 deposit will go toward the cost of the Steam Deck if you do decide to follow through and order one. It'll be refunded if you change your mind and decide to cancel. 

"When inventory is available, customers will be notified in the order reservations were made to make their purchase," says Valve.

The Steam Deck is currently only available to reserve for the US, UK, Canada and the European Union, but Valve has told us that it wants to make the Deck available to order in more countries when it can. There are currently no plans to sell the Steam Deck in stores, so buying it from Valve directly will be the only option for the foreseeable future.

How do I check my Steam Deck delivery date?

If you head to the Steam Deck store page (opens in new tab) on the account which you made your Steam Deck reservation, you will find an expected order availability listed beneath the cancel button (don't press this).

A word of warning, however: a few members of the PC Gamer team with reservations are yet to see an order availability update on the store page. We expect updates over the course of the next few days, so sit tight.

Steam Deck price

Valve's Steam Deck with Hades ready to launch on screen

(Image credit: Future)

How much does the Steam Deck cost?

The price of the Steam Deck depends on which version you want, and there are three different versions based on storage size. The Steam Deck costs:

  • $399 for the 64GB version
  • $529 for the 256GB version
  • $649 for the 512GB version 

The more expensive versions of the Steam Deck feature faster NVMe SSD storage, while the cheapest is listed with a 64GB eMMC (embedded multi-media card) storage solution. All three versions will let you increase storage space with a MicroSD card, at least.

If you plan to upgrade the storage, you'll likely want to spend a bit more cash on a faster MicroSD card for quicker loading times. It will also be possible to replace and upgrade the SSD, though that may not be a great option—Valve says that it chose the SSD in the Deck for its speed and to avoid electromagnetic interference with other components, so you shouldn't expect any random off-the-shelf part to measure up. We're keen to give it a try, anyways. But perhaps once we're done benchmarking the Decks we have right now first.

Valve did a Steam Deck teardown

What does the Steam Deck look like on the inside?

Valve doesn't recommend you take apart the Steam Deck, but it let iFixit tear one apart and document the process.

Steam Deck specs

Valve's Steam Deck with Netflix on screen

(Image credit: Future)

What are the Steam Deck specs?

The Steam Deck specifications were revealed by Valve alongside the console itself, which means we know all about what lies beneath the console's 7-inch screen.

The most important thing to note for PC gamers is that the Steam Deck runs on an AMD APU, and one we're yet to see elsewhere. This chip is built around two key AMD architectures: Zen 2 and RDNA 2.

The Zen 2 architecture is the same one found within AMD Ryzen 3000 processors, and within the Steam Deck reside four Zen 2 cores, capable of eight threads, ready and waiting for your portable gaming needs.

The RDNA 2 architecture is behind the handheld PC's graphical grunt. The Steam Deck comes with 8 Compute Units (CUs) for a total of 512 cores. That's not a massive amount—the Xbox Series S comes with 20 RDNA 2 CUs—but it appears enough to get by at 720p without too much hassle. (opens in new tab)

Steam Deck specs
Steam Deck
Core count4-core/8-thread
CPU clock speed2.4–3.5GHz
GPU Compute Units8
GPU clock speed1–1.6GHz
RAM16GB LPDDR5 @ 5,500MT/s 32-bit quad-channel
Storage64GB eMMC / 256GB NVMe SSD / 512GB NVMe SSD
Display7-inch LCD touchscreen
Resolution1280 x 800
Refresh rate60Hz
AudioStereo speakers, 3.5mm jack, dual mics, USB Type-C/Bluetooth
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB Type-C with DisplayPort 1.4 support
Size11.7 x 4.6 x 1.8-inch (298 x 117 x 49mm)
WeightApproximately 1.47 lbs (669 grams)
Price$399 (64GB) / $529 (256GB) / $649 (512GB)

As mentioned before, there are three different storage configurations for the Steam Deck: 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB. 

Ideally, we'd all pick up the 512GB model. Valve has confirmed to us that this is the most popular of the lot with customers, too. The reason for our 512GB aspirations are that games are big and anything smaller than that is going to feel a tight squeeze. It's also kitted out with a speedy NVMe SSD, which allows for bandwidth upwards of 3,000MB/s. That really depends on Valve's choice of SSD, however. Speeds vary quite a lot between drives. 

The 256GB model is similarly quick, and would be a suitable pick for those willing to put up with slightly less storage space.

As for the 64GB model, we're not quite as convinced. It's built using an eMMC drive, which won't match an NVMe SSD in terms of speed, but most of all its slim capacity is almost unimaginable for a gaming PC. Perhaps as an indie machine, but then you might be better off buying a Nintendo Switch.

All three offer MicroSD for further expansion, and we suspect the faster the MicroSD, the better for optimal game load times. That might be a godsend for those with the smaller storage model.

Valve's decided upon a 1280 x 800 display through which you'll enjoy your games on-the-go. A 60Hz LCD panel with 400-nits brightness, there's not a great deal to write home about in regards to the Steam Deck's touchscreen. However, seeing as it's only 7-inches big, its shortcomings may not be as immediately noticeable as one of the best gaming monitors (opens in new tab).

Lastly, Valve corrected the RAM specification for the Stream Deck (opens in new tab), actually improving the memory specification beyond what it had first announced. It has 16GB of quad-channel LPDDR5 at 5,500MT/s, instead of the dual-channel RAM that was first listed. That's a big deal for an APU-powered machine like this—the more memory bandwidth, the merrier.

Steam Deck gaming performance

Steam Deck on a purple background with Cyberpunk 2077 on the screen

(Image credit: Future)

What is the Steam Deck's gaming performance like?

We've been mighty impressed by the Steam Deck's gaming performance over a slew of games tested. You're looking at 30–40fps average in Horizon Zero Dawn, GTA V, and Forza Horizon 5. And even 51fps average in God of War.

We actually found that locking the fps to 40 delivered the best blend of performance and battery life for our needs, though Valve has currently removed that option. Instead, you can choose from either a 30 or 60fps lock (or none at all). And honestly we didn't mind dropping down to 30fps to extend battery life and enjoy our time gaming away from the mains a little longer. 

Which games will run on the Steam Deck?

Valve has a massive list of games that it has verified will work on the Steam Deck. These are games that Valve has rated to be good on input, display, system support, and seamlessness. These verified games will show up with a green tick in your library on the device.

Other games may come up with a yellow 'i'. This means the game is playable but doesn't quite hit the out-of-the-box requirements for verified status. We've found a whole lot of these games work a treat on Steam Deck, anyways, and you might only have to tweak them slightly to get up-and-running.

Then there are unsupported games, like Half-Life: Alyx, and unknown games that Valve hasn't yet checked. Considering just how many games there are on Steam, realistically most of them are unknowns. The biggest titles today have mostly all been checked by now, though.

Also, the Steam Deck uses the Proton compatibility layer to get Windows-compatible games running smoothly on the Linux-powered Steam Deck. That appears to be working wonders for the most part, but some strangeness with anti-cheat software has made it a little more difficult in some instances. One such game is Fortnite, which Epic has said will not be Steam Deck compatible (opens in new tab).

For those incompatible games, though, you can always resort to game streaming instead. We've been playing tons of ray-traced games on the Steam Deck courtesy of Nvidia's GeForce Now, and it runs really great and saves on precious battery life. So as a streaming machine, we're big fans of the Deck.

Steam Deck battery life

How long does the battery last in the Steam Deck?

The Steam Deck's battery life (opens in new tab) really varies depending on what you're doing with it. If you're playing with an unlimited fps in a demanding game, you could be looking at a battery life of just over an hour and a half. That can be improved, however, by gaming with a 30fps lock. In which case, we found battery life to often double as a result with demanding games.

Though play a far less demanding game, and you might even stretch the Deck's battery much further than that still. We found battery life could reach over 7 hours with FTL running at 30fps, and OlliOlli World wasn't far behind.

Though it must be said that generally you're not going to hit more than 3 or so hours with the Steam Deck while gaming. At least it's easily refuelled with a portable power bank, dock, or wall socket. The device will charge up to some 80% of capacity in 100 minutes with the right sort of power.

Steam Deck FAQ

Is the Steam Deck any good?

We think so, and you can read all about our thoughts in our Steam Deck review (opens in new tab). To break it down briefly, though, what it manages to achieve in such a compact form factor is really impressive. The gaming performance, the interface, the Proton compatibility layer tying it all together—yeah, it set out to make PC gaming handheld and it does just that.

Though it's still a niche product, and for that reason it was a struggle to really gauge its value. If you can really see yourself playing PC games on the go, however, then perhaps it's everything you need and more. We certainly found it to be more exciting once we were actually holding it, and playing games on it.

Is the Steam Deck bigger than the Nintendo Switch?

A bit, yes. Okay, a lot, actually. For comparison, the Nintendo Switch (standard version) is 9.4" x 4" x .55" and weighs just under a pound. So the Steam Deck is a couple inches wider, half an inch taller taller, considerably thicker and a bit heavier than the Switch. In person the Steam Deck looks startlingly big, but it's actually quite comfortable to hold.

Does the Steam Deck come with a dock?

Like the Switch, there's a dock for the Steam Deck that will allow you to connect it to your TV or a monitor. Unlike the Switch, it's sold separately and not available at the Steam Deck's release. 

Valve has only loosely confirmed the arrival of the official dock to be sometime in "late spring." We do have some pictures of what it will look like, and know that it will provide DisplayPort and HDMI output, an Ethernet adapter, and three USB inputs.

Can I use the Steam Deck for more than just Steam games?

You can—potentially a lot more. Just like your PC, the Steam Deck is intended to be an open platform. You can install Windows on a Steam Deck and even install other game storefronts like the Epic Store (you probably have a pile of free games in that library) or Xbox Game Pass. We just don't really know how well non-Steam games will work on the Steam Deck, but it's an exciting idea that you might be able to play games from your other libraries on the Steam Deck, too.

You can even wipe SteamOS off the Steam Deck completely and just use it to run Windows.

"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 said. “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."

If all that isn't enough information for you, you can visit the official Steam Deck website here (opens in new tab)

Jacob Ridley
Senior Hardware Editor

Jacob earned his first byline writing for his own tech blog from his hometown in Wales in 2017. From there, he graduated to professionally breaking things as hardware writer at PCGamesN, where he would later win command of the kit cupboard as hardware editor. Nowadays, as senior hardware editor at PC Gamer, he spends his days reporting on the latest developments in the technology and gaming industry. When he's not writing about GPUs and CPUs, however, you'll find him trying to get as far away from the modern world as possible by wild camping.

With contributions from