Steam Deck 101: Everything you need to know about Valve’s handheld gaming PC

Valve’s Steam Deck is shaping up to be an indispensable gaming item in 2022, as it fuses the flexibility of PC gaming with the accessibility and portability of mobile games. After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy their favorite Steam games on the go? With Steam Deck’s first batch of pre-orders shipping towards the end of the month, you might be wondering how to buy one for yourself. Or, you are unfamiliar with Steam Deck, and curious about the hype. Here, we’ll answer your Steam Deck questions. We’ll start with the basics, but add more questions and answers as we test and review Steam Deck.


1. Where can I buy Steam?

Not from traditional retailers. Valve intends to partner with stores as Steam Deck becomes more readily available, but for now, you can only purchase the handheld from Steam when the handheld one becomes available for purchase on February 25th. If you pre-order a unit, and receive a Q1 shipping date, your system should ship on February 28th. If you received Q2 or a later shipping date, don’t expect to receive Steam Deck in the coming days. Sure, you might get lucky with the distributors, but don’t hold your breath (and you might be pushing an arm and a leg).


Steam Deck Rear Oars

2. What are the specs (and pricing) for Steam Deck?

Steam Deck comes with three models that feature 16GB of RAM, Zen 2 architecture and RDNA 2. However, they differ in storage types and capacity.

The entry-level Steam Deck costs $399, and uses 64GB eMMC PCLe Gen 2 for internal storage. Given the size of many modern games, this model has a rather meager storage space. It also comes with a handy carrying case.

For $529, the mid-tier Steam deck offers more storage space and is faster. It comes with a 256GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4), as well as the exclusive Steam Community Profile bundle and the aforementioned carrying case.

The most expensive Steam Deck option costs $649, but offers the fastest storage with a high-speed 512GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4) solid state drive. This version comes with a premium anti-glare glass screen; Unique carrying case exclusive virtual keyboard theme; and Steam Community Profile Bundle.


3. How can I increase the storage capacity of Steam Deck?

If you’re worried about installing games after reading those storage sizes, Valve has you covered. The Steam Deck includes a UHS-1 bus slot at the bottom of the system that supports SD, SDXC, and SDHC cards. You can get 512GB cards on Amazon for less than $30.

Steam Deck has auto format capabilities, which makes selecting and using an SD a breeze. In addition, you can boot an operating system, such as Windows, from the card.


4. What does the Steam Deck screen look like?

The Steam Deck has a 7-inch touch screen, with a resolution of 1280 x 800 and a refresh rate of 60 Hz. This glass is an optically linked IPS LCD display that generates a brightness of up to 400 nits. As mentioned earlier, the 512GB high-end model has an etched anti-glare display.


5. What is the Steam Deck Control System?

The Steam Deck features standard gamepad controls: A/B/X/Y buttons, a D-pad, L/R analog triggers, and L/R bumpers. It features the View and Menu buttons, rather than the tried-and-true start and selection buttons, and two sticks Analog thumb that incorporates capacitive touch technology.

Additionally, the Steam Deck has four customizable grip buttons on the back of the system. If you’re familiar with the Steam console, or the 8BitDo Pro 2 console, you’ll know what it looks and feels like. These are great for assigning additional functions.

Steam Deck Controls

If you need more console inputs, Steam Deck includes two trackpads. Dual 32.5mm square trackpads use haptic feedback, with two LRA motors under each pad. Valve reports that these trackpads have a 55% better latency compared to the Steam console. The pads also have pressure-sensitive controls and customizable tap strengths. Trackpads were easily the most innovative aspect of the Steam console, as they offer mouse-like functionality.

Furthermore, Steam Deck also has a 6-axis IMU gyro sensor. This can be great for shooting guns at shooters or driving cars in racing games.


6. What is the battery life of a Steam Deck?

Steam Deck is powered by a 40Wh battery that provides 2-8 hours of gameplay, according to Valve. This estimate assumes the game runs at 30 frames per second, with brightness and volume at 50 percent. Of course, your mileage will vary.

Steam Deck features a 45W USB-C PD3.0 power supply. A 1.5 m (4.9 ft) charging cable is included with the system.


7. Does Steam Deck support multiple accounts?

Yes! Steam Deck accommodates multiple accounts, so everyone has their own local save data and settings. You can easily switch between these profiles without having to sign in each time, unlike Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X.


8. Can I play offline with Steam?

You can play offline, simply by downloading a game on Steam Deck — with a few major exceptions. First, online multiplayer games, by their nature, can only be played online; Steam Deck must be connected to the Internet for these titles. Sorry, you can’t launch Lost Ark unless you find an internet connection.

Second, some publishers implement DRM that requires your games to always be online. This limitation is found in many Activision games, so do some research before making a purchase.

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9. Can I continue a Steam Deck Play session on my PC?

Steam Cloud, the cloud saving feature, has been a staple of Steam for some time now. The option makes it easy to pick up where you left off if you switch computers or reinstall a game. With the release of Steam Deck, Valve expanded this functionality. The new Dynamic Cloud Sync is designed to allow you to seamlessly transfer your gaming session from Steam Deck to another device or computer, without exiting the game. We’ll need to figure out how it works in practice, but on paper, Dynamic Cloud Sync looks like a great addition for mobile gamers who tend to put their mobile devices to sleep, rather than shutting down their devices.


10. What is Steam Deck Operating System?

Steam Deck uses a modified version of Arch Linux called SteamOS. In Steam Deck, this operating system uses an application programming interface (API) to improve how games run on the system. Valve is combing through the Steam game library to highlight titles that perform well in SteamOS, a label they call Steam Deck Verification. The verified games are deck compatible titles without any additional tinkering.


11. Can I play Windows games with Steam Deck?

Yes, via Proton.

Proton is a unique compatibility layer, developed by Valve, that allows Windows games to be played on Linux-based operating systems – including SteamOS. This means that Steam Deck supports many Steam games, even though there is no Windows basis. On this front, you should check out ProtonDB, a comprehensive database that highlights SteamOS-compatible PC games.

Update: Valve has released an official compatibility checker that you can use to find out if your Windows games will run on Steam Deck. A green check mark indicates that the game has been fully verified to run well on Steam Deck; A yellow check mark indicates that the game is playable on Steam Deck, “but requires additional steps or manual work from the user.” Remember, a PC game might run just fine on Steam Deck even if Valve hasn’t reviewed it yet (the library is deep, after all).

In addition to compatibility with Proton, Steam Deck allows you to install multiple operating systems. By immersing yourself in the BIOS menu of the Steam Deck, you can load Windows or another operating system.


Steam Deck's Inner Intricacies

12. Can I repair my Steam machine?

Valve has appointed iFixit, the parts retailer and repair manual community, as a Steam Deck authorized parts seller. The exact details are still being worked out, but the iFixit website should be bookmarked now. You never know when you might need a Steam Deck.


13. Can I connect the Steam Deck to a TV or monitor?

Yes, but not out of the box. The Steam Deck is a powerful machine, but it’s a portable system that focuses on mobile devices when it gets to your door. To connect the deck to TVs or monitors, you need the official docking station (sold separately, price to be determined). The peripheral includes a USB-A 3.1 port, two USB-A 2.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, a DisplayPort 1.4, and an HDMI 2.0 port.

The Steam Deck has a USB-C port, so it should work with a standard USB-C hub. Fortunately, USB-C hubs are relatively inexpensive, typically in the $20-$60 range.

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