The Steam Deck, Valve’s version of a Switch-style handheld PC gaming machine, is perhaps the most anticipated handheld hardware since… well, since the Nintendo Switch. So it’s understandable that the tech press is chomping at the bit to devour every detail about it, even well before its official release later this month. The pre-release units are finally finding their way out of Valve’s clutches and into the hands of at least a few YouTube reviewers.
While these preview videos aren’t allowed to go into all the exhaustive details of the Steam Deck, they do give us a pretty comprehensive look at the final hardware, and at least an indication of how it will run on a select range of PC games. popular. .
Given Valve’s stated goal of getting the relatively low-priced handheld to run the latest AAA games and run them very well, this is perhaps one of the biggest points of concern for those who are wondering if they should buy one (or those who have already pre-ordered one). With some of the same AMD APU hardware built into modern laptops and tight integration with the Steam platform and service, it’s easy to see how the Steam Deck could be ready to go.
Valve allowed LinusTechTips and Nexus Gamers to push and poke the Steam Deck to show off that power, delivered by the custom AMD-built AERith APU system running Zen 2 processor graphics, Radeon-powered RDNA 2 graphics, and 16GB of Fast LPDDR5 RAM. Both testers found that the system could easily power through low-power 2D games like the excellent dead cells without breaking a sweat, easily doubling (or tripling) the hardware’s 60Hz limit. Linus even went so far as to call the Steam Deck arguably the most innovative gaming PC in 20 years or more.
Steam Deck Game Performance
More intense AAA games had a lot more variables. Well-optimized games tended to run well on the base Linux-based SteamOS system (Windows will also be an option, but was not available for testing). The devil may cry 5with its uninterrupted combat action, stood out, never dropping below 60fps for either tester. Ghostrunneran equally intense action game, also performed well: Gamers Nexus clocked it at 64fps with ray-tracing disabled (40fps anchored on a full 1080p display), while Linus ran it at reported that it sometimes jumps up to 90 frames per second.
Other games were less eager to play on portable hardware. Control would dip into the 30 FPS range in zones, and Forza Horizon 5 with its intense lighting engine and open world would show some weird physics issues even if it remained at 60. Even with Valve’s collection of pre-selected games, it’s clear that some will run better than others, and perhaps benefit be a few driver tweaks – the same situation PC gamers have found themselves in for decades when new games and/or graphics cards are released.
Steam Deck Battery Life
Of course, with a portable system, the games themselves are only part of the equation. Battery life has always been a concern with what is essentially a small PC shoved into a controller box. Valve claims that the Steam Deck can manage between 2 and 8 hours unplugged, depending on the intensity of the games (or streaming apps) running. Of course, this runs games on the native Linux-based SteamOS install, not Windows.
Nexus gamers found these predictions a little optimistic, never exceeding 6 hours of battery life, even with low power gaming and streaming. Triple-A games only had 90 minutes of play with player input, which required a full three-hour recharge session. You’ll need V-Sync and capped frame rates on battery, otherwise you won’t come close to the numbers Valve has published in its spec charts, said GN editor Steve Burke. We think this is reasonable and logical; you have to trade somewhere for a battery-powered device.
Linus found an average of 3.3 to 8 hours of life, but this video does not state that continuous play entry was tested. Between the two, it’s clear that battery life will vary greatly depending on the game being played, and intercontinental flights will almost require an extra charger or power bank.
Ergonomics and playability
So that’s the hardware side of the equation, at least until more people can compare Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS and the heavier but more flexible (at least in terms of gaming) Windows OS. ). But how does the Steam Deck work as a portable gaming machine? The device is absolutely gigantic in those specific terms, far bigger than the Nintendo Switch and even PC-based alternatives like the Aya Neo or GPD Win 3.
Linus has almost nothing but praise for the physical design of Valve’s 7-inch gaming machine. Inputs consist of two sticks plus a D-pad, A/B/X/Y and dual shoulder buttons, as you’d expect from any modern gaming machine. But it also has four paddle buttons on the back, to the Xbox Elite Controller and similar premium designs, more two small haptic trackpads inherited from Valve’s previous work on the Steam Controller. Between all that varied input and Valve’s software allowing users to customize controls for everything from racing games to shooters to top-down strategy titles.
And for the most part, Linus reports, it’s incredibly effective. He says the feel of the Steam Deck is on par with all my favorite console controllers, smartly enhanced by Valve’s hardware design that pulls hot spots away from skin contact points. (Nexus gamers found the hardware throttled to keep internal temperatures at 90 degrees Celsius or lower, calling the thermal design impressive and extremely well-executed for the device’s small size.) That said, Linus said noted that people with smaller hands might have trouble reaching the shoulder or the A/B/X/Y buttons, depending on the grip, but that wouldn’t be an issue for most. He also praised the screen’s ability to get ultra-dim indoors and the speaker’s wide range of fidelity (comparing them to those of the MacBook Pro).
While early previews praise the touchpad controls, they find haptic feedback missing. Image: Valve
The only downside? Haptic feedback. While console gamers and people who use a controller on PC more or less expect vibration as a subtle way to enhance immersion, Valve couldn’t find space or power in the Steam Deck to include conventional vibration motors, instead leaving only the comparably weak haptic feedback of touchpads (again, see Steam Controller). Linus says this is a notable low point in the design: at the moment, this device’s haptics are a smudge of poop on an otherwise crisp white sheet.
Three weeks left
We still have very little information about how SteamOS will look on the Steam Deck, managing the libraries of hundreds of PC gamers’ games, and syncing progress across legacy hardware and portable play, let alone how non-Steam games will play, either on SteamOS or Windows. Just today, Epic said it wasn’t interested in making a Linux version of fortnite for the Steam Deck, although it’s been fighting for over a year to get it back in mobile game stores.
Even so, these incomplete previews of the Steam Deck will surely be enough to convince some to pull the trigger on a purchase, especially if they already have a huge library of Steam games. With a starting price of just US$399 – less than half that of competing PC-based handhelds – it’s incredibly tempting hardware, especially for those who can use Steam’s streaming feature to beef it up for games that simply require the full power of the desktop.
We’ll have to wait until February 25, when the first round of final Steam Deck hardware hits consumers’ hands, for a truly comprehensive look at this device. But early previews show that Valve may well be able to deliver on its big promises, at least in some situations and for some games.