Valve shows how to take apart the Steam Deck, but it really doesn't want you to

It's Christmas for the iFixit community—Valve has finally given us a peek inside the Steam Deck in a new video posted on its YouTube channel. I'm not surprised to see the Steam Deck is packed tight with custom motherboards and the biggest battery it can fit within its chassis, but there's still a lot of eye candy to take in here.

The purpose of Valve's video is to walk future Steam Deck owners through the process of replacing the system's thumbsticks and SSD. Actually, the video is more concerned with convincing you not to take it apart at all. "Even though it's your PC, and you have every right to open it up and do what you want, we at Valve really  don't recommend you ever open it up," the narrator says. Valve has a few reasons for suggesting you not open your Steam Deck, the biggest one being that puncturing the battery could be bad. Like, catch-fire-and-burn-your-house-down bad.

Assuming you don't stab the battery with a screwdriver, there are still a few other reasons not to take the thing apart. The screws are easily strippable, and taking the system apart at all will lessen its drop resistance even after you've reassembled it. And while the Deck's parts are technically user-replaceable, they're not as universal as your desktop PC components.

Valve says that swapping out the SSD could cause problems by drawing more power or producing more heat than the one it's chosen, or even interfere with other parts of the Steam Deck. "Our SSD is located very close to our wireless module, and was specifically chosen and tested to not interfere with wi-fi and Bluetooth," Valve says. "An off-the-shelf SSD might have a different emissions pattern and could compromise wireless performance." Accessing the SSD also requires removing a thermal shield, which could affect the system's thermal performance once you put it all back together again.

Still, it sounds like Valve wants to support users who are determined to take this thing apart down the line. "Stay tuned in the coming months for a source for replacement parts: thumbsticks, SSDs, and possibly more," they say.

So what can we learn from the teardown, other than all the reasons not to take this thing apart? It's nicely labeled—like many laptops, there are scannable QR code stickers on many of the parts, which should help repair folks look up their exact specifications.

Compared to a typical gaming laptop, there's not much heat piping here—seemingly just one flattened heat pipe running from the APU to the top-center of the device, where a fan blows the hot air up and out. That lines up with my experience of testing the Steam Deck and feeling some intense heat coming from the top of the device.

While we already knew that the Steam Deck's RAM wouldn't be user upgradeable, seeing this teardown does reinforce that—like a phone or tablet or thin-and-light laptop, it's using soldered RAM modules rather than SODIMM.

Seeing the back of the Steam Deck taken apart now has me itching to see what it looks like from the front. Hopefully Valve has another teardown video to come, showing the other side of all those tightly packed boards.

For more on the Steam Deck in the meantime, check out our feature in the latest issue of PC Gamer magazine.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).