There are reasons why you should install Windows on Valve’s Steam Deck. It is clear that the contradiction is one. Obsessed, eccentric curiosity, another. Then there’s the desire to play Destiny 2, Fortnite, or a bunch of Microsoft games that were uninstalled from the original Linux-based SteamOS 3.0 installation. But having migrated to Windows 11 myself last weekend, I need to tell you that none of these reasons is enough to rob Steam Deck of its soul.
I’m not talking about the lack of full driver support for Microsoft’s operating systems, or the weird little bugs that pop up as you go along, I’m not even talking about the way gaming performance drops on Windows versus SteamOS either. I mean, it’s definitely with immature buggy drivers, but my problem is that booting into Windows on deck feels nothing short of completely deflated, as if you’re completely missing the point of the hardware in your hands.
I mean, it works. Especially. Right now, Valve only offers an AMD driver that will give you GPU and Wi-Fi support, but no audio, and actually worse gaming performance to boot. But the strap on some bluetooth earbuds and the sound works fine, play Skyrim for the millionth time and it will still hit the 60Hz limit for the screen without fuss, the controls will work fine and let you play as long as the battery lasts. Which, admittedly, wasn’t long.
But Windows isn’t built for the small screen age, nor is it built for a dedicated gaming device either. It is a multifunctional operating system designed for the Swiss Army Knife and it is a modern computer. In something with such a pure focus on mobile gaming as Steam Deck, it’s an often awkward experience.
However, I was excited to get Windows on deck. I haven’t gotten around to Linux since I stopped using a very lightweight distro on my Netbook in 2009, and I periodically stumbled across different distros on my gaming PC – yes, even SteamOS. But I have always found Windows to be a more comfortable environment for my gaming fun. And Valve immediately gave approval to install Windows by releasing the Aerith drivers I wanted to have on my deck.
And of course, I had to get Windows 11 there. It’s probably best suited to a touchscreen gaming device, with its updated design scheme, but Valve said Steam Deck was limited to Windows 10 due to TPM requirements. There is a BIOS update in the works that enables FTP, and this will make installing Win11 a standard process.
But it almost is. Simply use the Rufus ISO installer to create a bootable USB drive, and this gives you a one-click way to bypass these requirements. No adjusted ISO, no extra loops to jump through, just an easy install.
It didn’t take long to get Windows 11 on the desktop and in good shape; The Wi-Fi drivers are automatically installed automatically, and soon they are updated and ready to use.
Although, the modest thrill of actually getting Windows 11 up and running on Steam Deck, with some trackpad oddities, quickly evaporated. Then I was just left with a soulless laptop like all the others that failed to impress thus far.
And if you were hoping Big Picture mode would be your Windows lifesaver on deck… I’m afraid you’ll be as disappointed as I was. It won’t even render in Deck’s original 16:10 resolution.
Valve’s solid pricing of the Steam Deck is a big part of its potential as a device, but SteamOS itself is something that will make or break it as an ecosystem. That’s what separates it from the crowd, and it’s what will make every gaming laptop worth having.
SteamOS 3.0 Deck Edition contains these simple quality of life features that make it a great portable operating system. For one, you never need to quit your game. Checking your battery life, power profile, or even time requires taking out an alternate tab from a Windows game. This is hard to do on a device without a keyboard.
In Steam Deck, just press the ellipsis button and you will find them all there without disturbing you from the fun of playing.
With a few notable exceptions, Windows games work via Proton as well. I was very impressed with how effective the Linux gaming solution it has evolved into. And I have to tip my hat to Steam Controller Stans again; Their console profiles mean that even games not designed for a board can work brilliantly on a deck. Accessing these via Steam on the desktop is not an easy Windows experience.
But there are some benefits to owning a Microsoft operating system. Docking became much easier, and I was able to get a full 100Hz refresh rate at a native resolution of 3440 x 1440 for my standard monitor, as SteamOS stuck firmly at 60Hz and 16:9 1440p. There is also still apparently some connection etiquette involved, as the HDMI cable can only be attached to the base of the deck after This berth was attached to the deck itself.
You will also be able to access all the games that have removed Steam Deck support because they cannot trust Linux security with anti-cheat programs, such as Destiny 2 and Fortnite.
In theory, you could also use the GeForce Now desktop app, instead of having to go through Chrome with console failures showing up. Chrome doesn’t yet support Deck controllers so GeForce Now requires some profiling to play effectively on Nvidia’s premium streaming service. Using the desktop app should circumvent this issue, except that, until Nvidia updates its AMD Van Gogh-based APU check inside Steam Deck, it can still be seen as failing to meet the minimum streaming requirements.
However, there is a way to make Windows an ideal partner for Steam Deck, and that is to dual boot. Unfortunately, we’re still far from that possibility – Windows won’t install as a secondary operating system to an already existing operating system, at least not easily, and Valve hasn’t released a version of SteamOS that you can dual-boot.
This will give you the best of both worlds, and build on the amazing variety already baked into your deck. You’ll even be able to dump Windows on the SD card and boot from that.
But you lose the heart and soul of Steam Deck by running Windows on it as the only option, and I’m reinstalling SteamOS now. Fortunately, redrawing your deck takes a short time. In fact, I can’t wait to be able to install SteamOS on a bunch of other PCs, though unfortunately at the moment the mode doesn’t work in reverse either.
Tried pressing SteamOS 3.0 on OneXplayer Mini and that approx Action. Well, you’ve got a pointer and short flash for the Steam Deck logo. Then nothing.
When Valve releases a final unlocked version of SteamOS 3.0, it will open up all the laptops already on the market, and pave the way for more. Hell, it can make a bunch of low-spec laptops look intriguing. I definitely slap it on my Razer Blade Stealth 13.
I must say, this was not what I was expecting. When I first ran Steam Deck, it was the hardware that impressed me the most, while patched programs often felt incomplete. But after spending some time installing a completely unsuitable Windows, I saw the light, and you’re hurting your deck by abandoning your custom OS.