Today Valve officially unveiled the Steam Deck, its portable handheld gaming machine, and it can run on Windows. You might think it already runs on Windows, but it actually runs on Valve’s SteamOS. Which is based on Linux. Valve created a custom version of the software to run specifically on this handheld. But it also didn’t want to lock out consumers from installing something else.
So you could, if you so desired, wipe SteamOS off of it completely and install Windows instead. This opens up the door for users to play non-Steam games. Whether you have games on Ubisoft Connect, or, dare we say it, the Epic Games Store, you could then install those game clients on this machine and play the games from your libraries there.
Though, because the version of SteamOS on the Steam Deck is built on Proton, a version of Linux that supports both Windows and Linux games and apps, you won’t really need to go through an install of Windows to get things like the Epic Games Store onto the device.
You could even install battle.net, and because the Steam Deck supports both wired and Bluetooth mouse and keyboard connections, you could use this to play games like World of Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch and more. For Blizzard fans, this could be the portable gaming PC of their dreams.
The Steam Deck with Windows is basically a handheld Xbox
Microsoft apparently has no plans or interest in building a handheld Xbox. At least not any plans that it’s publicly shared. And a lot of its focus right now, outside of the Series X and Series S, is with Xbox Game Pass and its cloud gaming efforts.
The cloud is Microsoft’s way forward for portable Xbox gaming. But, with the Steam Deck, you just install Windows. Then play all of the AAA Xbox games that are coming to PC on the Steam Deck instead. Without the cloud, without the need for internet (unless it’s an online game), and with decent performance and a controller already built-in.
For gamers on the go that are fans of the Xbox library, this is a machine that provides something you won’t generally get anywhere else. At least not of this caliber.
Some games won’t work with SteamOS
Another thing to consider is game compatibility. Since this thing natively runs on SteamOS, there is a chance that some of your library won’t be supported. But not to worry. Searching through the Steam Store, out of the 55,969 results categorized as games, 8,564 of those titles will natively work with SteamOS and Linux.
And according to ProtonDB, Proton plus Steam Play will let you play a whole host of Windows games. Currently there are 18,811 games that have been reported. Out of those, 15,261 of them are reported to work with little to no issue by the community.
If you want to know for certain whether or not a game you play would work, you can head to ProtonDB and search for a game and get an answer kicked back to you.
In addition, Valve is continually working to improve the support for anti-cheat software and game compatibility of Proton. Which means that over time even more games will work on the Steam Deck.
The point is, no you won’t be able to play every game under the sun on the Steam Deck. But, you’ll be able to play a lot of them. Especially if what you’re after are popular AAA titles.
Update, July 16 8:37AM PT: A previous version of this article had some inaccuracies regarding the number of compatible games on the Steam Deck. It has now been updated to reflect an accurate number.