Valve's Steam Deck: The New Switch or a Quick Ditch?

The Steam Deck is shaping up to be a tipping point for the handheld industry, deciding whether Nintendo will be the only company left.

The Steam Deck is Valve’s newest attempt at building a popular gaming machine, following the Steam Machine, Steam Controller, and Steam Link. If you’ve heard of none of these, don’t feel upset. The Steam Controller was the best-selling of the bunch, bolstered by the Steam Machine’s $400-$6000 price tag.

Valve seems to be remedying that with the Steam Deck, which (yet again) retails for $399. While there are upgrades, they move towards $649 instead of $6,000. This portable handheld is the company’s first foray into the market, trailing the previous PlayStation Vita and PSP, alongside the Nintendo Switch. For reference, Nintendo’s the biggest out there, with the Switch currently outselling the Xbox Series X/S and PS5s, combined.

It’s obviously a big market, and it’s expected to grow. Mobile gaming is sitting at around $90 billion already, and while the handheld market is much smaller, it’s in the billions as well. Otherwise, how would Nintendo still be in business?

The New OLED Nintendo Switch (Credit | Statural)

Valve’s Steam Deck came out of nowhere to fight Nintendo, and nobody’s really that sure as to what direction it’s going to go. While it’s competing against Nintendo’s Switch in terms of being a portable gaming console, there’s a big difference between the two.

The Steam Deck is shaping up to become a gaming PC on the go, while the Switch is a Nintendo console on the go. As you could guess from the name, the Steam Deck runs SteamOS, Valve’s proprietary operating system. It’s really just built around incorporating Steam as a platform into everything there is.

Streaming, gaming, reading, browsing the Internet, and more is all running through Steam, although Valve has confirmed you can throw a Windows or Linux installation onto the machine. It’s really weird. I’m honestly getting Blackberry-sliding-keyboard vibes, and it sort of feels like the Steam Deck would benefit greatly from one.

That’s not the point of this article though.

Pricing

The Steam Deck launches at $399. And $529. And $649–you know what, that’s a bad start. It’s $399. You can expect a few bonuses such as greater storage, faster SSD speeds, and a few cases or Steam profiles, but that’s it. Competitively, that’s not too far from the Switch.

In this scenario, I’m comparing the Steam Deck against the OLED Switch since it’s $399 vs $350. They’re similar in terms of pricing, although you’ll get a bit more out of the Steam Deck. There’s also the benefit of dropping the Switch tax, since all your games will be downloaded from an online store, which oftentimes has significant deals.

Game Library

Ha. The Steam Deck has literally the entirety of the Internet at its disposal. Steam, Epic Games Store, Windows, Xbox Game Store, ROMs, and so much more are all playable (although with a different OS). Against most consoles, it’s an unfair fight. The Steam Deck is literally a PC on the go. You have the internet at your disposal.

According to Valve, your entire Steam Library will show up the moment you log into the system. It’s that easy. If you want to access any other libraries, all you’ll need to do is either connect them to Steam or change your OS. Ta-da.

Hardware

This is the strong point of the Steam Deck, with a bunch of mobile gimmicks to boot. A 7″ touchscreen, trackpacks (that mimic mouses), gyroscopes and motion controls, eMMC or SSD storage, Hi-Fi built-in speakers, a 40Wh battery, USB-C port, Bluetooth, and hardware-enabled Fast Suspend and Resume are all part of the device.

That’s a lot. You’re looking at a PC with near-Switch levels of additional on-the-go add-ons, which is incredible. Valve has really managed to shove quite a bit onto the system, and I think there’s not too much filler. Most of what they’ve added is serious and will work well when wanting comfort and control while playing PC games on the go. You don’t have a mouse or keyboard with you, after all.

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Specs

Ehhhh… it’s fine. The Steam Deck boasts a custom AMD APU, complete with a brand-new Zen 2 processor with 4 cores, 8 threads, and a clock speed of between 2.4 and 3.5 GHz. That’s not terrible, but it’s not comparable to even a last-gen 7 3700x. As for the system’s GPU, it’s a custom integrated GPU with 8 RDNA 2 CUs, for a total of 1.6 TFlops.

For comparison (while not a perfect example), the Xbox Series X and PS5 boast 12.1 and 10.3 TFlops. Respectively, that’s a drop of 87% and 84%. Again, that’s not a great comparison, since the Steam Deck is a portable built to consume the least amount of power possible, while the XSX and PS5 are both power-heavy gaming-dedicated machines. They’re only $100 more at retail though…

Additionally, the Steam Deck has 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM, running at 5500 MT/S in quad 32-bit channels. The big numbers to pay attention to there are the 16GB of RAM and 5500 MT/S speed. 16GB, while not 32, is much better than the industry portable standard of <4. The 5500 clock speed is pretty good though, meaning the Steam Deck will boast quicker responses between the APU’s CPU, GPU, and storage.

Speaking of which, the Steam Deck will come with 64, 256, and 512GB for $399, $529, and $649. Respectively, these will be in eMMCs, NVMe SSDs, and a “high-speed” NVMe SSD. The only other enormously important spec is the handheld’s 60Hz screen, which means you will not be watching or playing anything in 72Hz, 90Hz, or 120Hz and higher. 

Conclusion

Overall, I’m conflicted. When the reservations went live, I immediately planned to purchase a portable gaming PC, especially for only $399. With all the benefits Valve added to the Steam Deck, it was even more tempting. The issue arose when I started looking into the whole situation.

The Steam Deck is more powerful than a Switch. That’s for sure. But it’s not powerful enough to be a dedicated gaming PC. The real benefit the Switch has over other gaming-PCs-on-the-go, is their optimization and lack of hardcore (graphically) games. Steam is full of demanding games, which require huge GPUs and hundreds in annual energy bills.

Nintendo Switch lives on because it doesn’t need the best in power or the best display. The Steam Deck does though. Sure, there are some games on Steam which aren’t too graphically intensive, although PCs were made to be stronger than portable machines. That’s why I think unless we see some serious statistics out on the Steam Deck, or some benchmarks, this console will have to be a quick ditch for me. Trust me, I’d love for this to succeed, but off of what we have, right now, it’s definitely not a new Switch.

Well, unless you’re talking graphically or in terms of framerates.

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