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The Steam Deck: Everything You Need To Know – Updated September, 2021

Steam Deck In a Protective Case
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On July 15, Valve officially revealed its long-rumored handheld gaming PC, called the Steam Deck. It’s Valve’s answer to the emerging crop of handheld PCs like the GPD Win 3, as well as consoles like the Nintendo Switch, and the rising interest from gamers to have access to high-quality games on the go.

While companies like Google and Microsoft were dipping their toes into the waters of cloud gaming, Valve was building this. A machine that comes with custom-designed hardware like a custom AMD GPU, high-quality buttons, three options for storage and more.

There’s a lot to know about the Steam Deck and nearly as much that’s still a mystery. But the curtains have finally been lifted on Steam’s handheld gaming solution. If you’re interested in this machine and want to learn more about it, this guide will walk you through everything there is to know so far.

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There are still some unknowns, of course. And we’ll address that as it comes up in this post. But, right from the get-go there’s already a lot of detail.

How much does the Steam Deck cost?

Steam Deck pricing

That will depend on which model you choose. There are three available models, all of which differ only by the amount of storage they have, and how fast that storage is. You do get a few extra goodies though if you purchase either of the two more expensive models. These however don’t have any impact on the machine’s performance.

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The Steam Deck starts at $399. This will get you the 64GB model. You can up that to $529 if you want the 256GB model, and if that still isn’t enough, then $649 will net you the 512GB model.

The one thing that is worth noting is that the storage on the 64GB model is eMMc. Whereas the other two models have NVMe SSDs for the storage. So that’s where the speed comes from. That will translate to loading games faster.

When will the Steam Deck launch?

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Officially it begins shipping December of 2021. So it’ll be out later this year. Valve has not given an exact date for release yet though. So while it begins shipping in December, it’s unclear exactly when in December. Presumably, Valve will want to start shipping these out in time for them to be under the tree as gifts during the holiday.

However, Valve also states that shipping will go in the order reservations were received. So keep in mind that your own order could arrive after December of this year. As it just depends on how fast you were to make the reservation.

Can I pre-order the Steam Deck?

Yes, you will be able to pre-order the Steam Deck. Valve is only allowing those that reserve the hardware to pre-order though, for now at least. Reservations begin on July 16 at 10AM PST. While there may or may not be limited stock, you’ll still want to reserve the model you want as fast as you can. So you have a better chance at getting it shipped out as early as possible.

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Valve hasn’t officially announced when pre-orders go live. But it will notify anyone that reserves the unit when orders are available so you can make the purchase.

Can I reserve more than one Steam Deck?

No. Valve will only allow one Steam Deck reservation per person. So you will only be able to purchase one during the reservation period. You can however buy more than one eventually, once the Steam Deck is available for general purchase. Unfortunately, Valve has not confirmed when that is. So this is your only chance to get one for the time being. As general purchase isn’t going to be available until sometime in 2022.

Do I need a Steam account to reserve/purchase the Steam Deck?

You likely won’t need a Steam account to purchase one when they’re available for general purchase. But for the reservations, a Steam account is going to be required. Valve is also making it a requirement that for the first 48 hours of the reservation period, the Steam account must be in good standing. And that account must have purchased a game prior to June of 2021.

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This is an effort to curb the unauthorized resellers using bots that will inevitably try to snatch these up. With this requirement in place, Valve is trying to ensure that anyone who wants a Steam Deck for themselves, and not to resell, will have the opportunity to reserve a unit.

Do I need a Steam account to use the device?

Yes and no. The Steam Deck runs on SteamOS 3.0. And it plays games through Steam. So out of the box you will need to have a Steam account (which is free), be signed into it on the device, and have purchased games to play them. Unless the games you’re trying to play are free, in which case you just need to have an active account.

But, if you were to install Windows on the device, and were planning to forego Steam altogether, then you wouldn’t need a Steam account for that. That said, it’s way easier to just sign up for a Steam account and use the version of SteamOS that the Steam Deck runs on. Especially with the compatibility for Windows and Linux games thanks to Proton and Steam Play.

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How many buttons does the Steam Deck have?

Steam Deck Controls 2
Steam Deck Controls 1
Steam Deck Controls 2
Steam Deck Controls 1

There are five buttons on each side for the R and L inputs. The R1/L1 and R2/L2 inputs on top, the R3 and L3 inputs on the front, and then four paddle buttons on the back of the unit for the R4/L4 and R5/L5 inputs.

There’s also the D-pad, the left and right thumbsticks, a Steam button, a Quick Access button, an Options button, the ABXY buttons, and a touch pad on each side of the device. There’s also the power button and volume buttons on the top. It even has a gyro for motion controls.

What kind of audio does the Steam Deck support?

It supports both wired audio through a 3.5mm port, as well as Bluetooth audio for a wireless experience if you prefer it. There are also two front-firing Hi-Fi speakers if you don’t feel like connecting headphones or external speakers.

Does it support expandable storage?

Steam Deck Expandable Storage

It certainly does! The Steam Deck has a built-in microSD slot. The only thing Valve seems to highlight about using this for storage is that the card needs to be a high-speed microSD card. So that means you probably can’t use just any old card. Make sure to do your research and get one that will be able to deliver. Lest your games load so slow you forget what you were doing.

Valve unfortunately doesn’t confirm what the max limit is on expanded storage. Having said that, the Steam Deck should support microSD cards as high as they will go. The biggest cards available are 1TB, but those generally run for around $200. So putting that much expanded storage in the machine won’t be cheap.

How does the Steam Deck charge?

It uses a USB-C port on the top of the device and comes with a USB-C charging cable and adapter to keep it topped up.

Can you play games with external controls?

Valve Steam Deck 5

The Steam Deck will support external controls. So you can plug in a mouse and keyboard and play games that way if you wish. You will need the Dock accessory though to plug in wired peripherals. If you want to use Bluetooth wireless peripherals, then you can connect them to the Steam Deck without the Dock accessory.

How much does the Dock accessory cost and when does it launch?

Steam Deck Official Dock

Valve hasn’t said how much the Dock will cost or when it will be available. Which means it may not launch at the same time as the first Steam Deck units that are scheduled to ship in December.

Do you need the official Dock to connect the Steam Deck to a TV?

Valve Steam Deck 6

No. Valve says that this function will work without the Dock. As the USB-C port on the unit supports data, HDMI, and ethernet capabilities. So, if you have the right cables, you can still plug this into a TV or monitor without the Dock.

However, the Dock does have additional connection capabilities. There are two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.1 port, an ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0 port, and a DisplayPort 1.4. So you’ll need the dock if you want to connect wired peripherals.

You should however be able to connect wireless peripherals without the Dock. Since the Steam Deck supports Bluetooth.

Where is it going to be available?

Valve is selling the Steam Deck in the US, the UK, Canada, and Europe when reservations open on July 16. Valve says it will share information about additional regions in the future.

What are the tech specs?

Steam Deck Tech Specs

The most notable specs on offer include a 7-inch LCD screen that has a 60Hz refresh rate, and a 400 nits brightness. The screen is also touch-enabled.

As for the internal hardware, the Steam Deck is running a custom AMD APU. Designed specifically for this machine. It has 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM, 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB storage options, expandable storage through a high-speed microSD card slot, HD haptics, Bluetooth 5.0 for controller, keyboard and mouse, accessory, and audio support, and a Dual-Band WiFi radio that supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies.

There’s also a 40Whr battery, it weighs around 669 grams, and its dimensions are 298mm x 117mm x 49mm.

How long does the battery last?

Valve says that the battery on the Steam Deck will last anywhere from 2 – 8 hours. Depending on the types of games you play and what other features you may be using. Other factors that can impact battery life include the connection of Bluetooth peripherals, as well as how bright you have the display turned up.

But, all that aside, the max battery life is 8 hours before it needs to be recharged. So it’s probably a good idea to keep the charger with you when away from home.

Does it support all of Steam’s features?

Valve Steam Deck 3

The Steam Deck will support a wide range of Steam features that you have probably come to know and love about the platform. This includes Steam Chat, notifications, cloud saves, Remote Play for if you want to connect the Steam Deck to your gaming PC for better performance, the Steam Store, and the Community where you can access news and everything else you can find in the Community on Steam’s PC client.

There’s a universal search feature

Valve wants to make navigating this thing as easy as possible. And that includes finding what you’re looking for. Whether that’s a game in your library, a conversation with a friend, the friends list and more.

So, there’s a universal search function to help you track down those things. Easy peezy right? And, when you open your games library, you can filter titles just like you would on the Steam PC client. With options for filtering by installed titles, all titles, favorites, and collections. You can also sort games alphabetically if you want.

You can suspend and quickly resume games as you see fit

Valve built-in a suspend and quick resume feature for those moments where you need to pause your game. And using it couldn’t be simpler. All you have to do is press the power button once and it goes into sleep mode automatically. Press it again to wake the Steam Deck back up and the game will even be right at the spot where you left off.

Will the Steam Deck support all of my Steam games?

Valve Steam Deck 4

To play a game on the Steam Deck, it will need to be supported by SteamOS natively, or at the very least be supported by Proton and Steam Play. You can check more about which titles with Proton and Steam Play by heading to ProtonDB. This means there is a chance that some of your games won’t be supported by this device. However, expect all of the major titles to work. Valve has already shown off major games like DOOM Eternal, Hades, Control, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Ni No Kuni II and many more working on the portable PC.

The landing page also shows titles like Scarlet Nexus, Ghost Runner, Guilty Gear Strive, Portal 2, No Man’s Sky, Death Stranding, Ace Combat 7, and It Takes Two. Basically most major titles will be playable. But there are definitely going to be some odd outliers that won’t be. So keep that in mind.

Can I install other game clients on it?

Yes. Valve says that you will be able to run third-party software on this device. That means you could probably install something like Battle.net or the Epic Games Store and access games from those clients. Which opens up the device to even more games.

Does Valve offer optional accessories for it?

Other than the official Dock, there is also a carrying case for the Steam Deck, which you can see in the main image at the top of this post. That being said, all three models do come with a carrying case. So while that is an accessory, it’s bundled in so you don’t have to buy it.

Valve also states that the 512GB model comes with premium anti-glare etched glass. Though it’s unclear if this is referring to a glass screen protector that goes on top of the display, or the display itself.