Steam Deck Review – My Favorite Gaming PC Ever

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Stop comparing the size of the Steam Deck to the Nintendo Switch or any other dedicated gaming handheld. Valve Software has delivered a cutting-edge laptop with jaw-dropping specs at an even more jaw-dropping price. And in that context, it’s a little gaming powerhouse that’s going to change the way I play games forever.

The Steam Deck launches today – whatever that means. You had to pre-order months ago to have a chance of getting one by the end of this year let alone by the end of March. But the device starts at $400 and goes up to $529 and then $649 as you add faster storage and additional features. But even that base model comes with a powerful and efficient AMD Zen 2-based PCU and an RDNA 2-based video chip. You also get a whopping 16GB of fast LPDDR5 memory and a menagerie of memory options. ‘Entrance. With all of this, you can experience games on a 7-inch 1200×800 display.

I want to make it clear up top that 800p at 7 inches is crystal clear for gaming, and higher resolution would only drain your battery faster.

Processor AMD APUs
CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5 GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CPUs, 1.0-1.6 GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
APU power: 4-15W
RAM 16 GB LPDDR5 onboard RAM (5500 MT/s 32-bit quad channels)
Storage room 64 GB eMMC (PCIe Gen 2 x1)
256 GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4)
512GB high-speed NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4)

All models use 2230 m.2 interlocking modules (not intended for end user replacement)
All models include a high-speed microSD card slot

To display
Resolution 1280 x 800px (16:10 aspect ratio)
type Optically bonded IPS LCD display for better readability
Display size Diagonal 7″
Brightness 400 nits typical
Refresh rate 60Hz
To touch Yes
Sensors Ambient light sensor
Battery
Battery 40Wh battery. 2 to 8 hours of play
Software
SE SteamOS 3.0 (Arch based)
Office Plasma KDEComment

What you should take away from the specs on paper is that this is a very powerful machine for its price and form factor. Other less powerful laptops sell for more than double the price of the Steam Deck. Of course, the question is whether or not these specs translate to reality. And they do. This machine is capable of handling even the most modern and graphics-intensive games.

But the Steam Deck asks a bigger question: can it change the relationship between people and PC games? And the answer to that is a resounding yes. It’s the biggest advancement in PC gaming in years, and it’s my favorite gaming PC ever.

Steam Deck fits into my life

The Steam Deck seems like a clear winner even considering its size. People love Steam and people love portable games. So build a portable steam engine, and everyone wins, right? It’s actually not that easy.

The PC is an ancient beast in the gaming world, and it brings baggage with it. You can’t just put people in an office environment and let them let go. Valve understands this, so it’s built a new Deck-specific version of its Linux-based SteamOS. And he used this platform to solve all the many problems that this type of PC would face.

SteamOS lets you browse the way you want. You can use the physical controls, touchpads, touchscreen, or a USB mouse and keyboard. SteamOS also bypasses any Linux quirks by putting all your Steam options, the store, and your library front and center.

Oh, but what if you have to stop playing in the middle of a game, can you easily suspend the system? Yes – Valve has thought about it. But what if you then start playing on your PC, won’t the cloud save the conflicts? Steam knows this is a problem and is trying to do everything to alleviate these concerns.

But no PC game is really optimized to run on battery power? It’s gonna be boring, right? Not really. Valve has done some work to get developers to optimize their games, and it’s also built in system-level features to limit your frame rate and power levels.

I’ll go into how awesome the Steam Deck hardware is, but it’s obvious that Valve is a software company first. It’s hard to overstate the achievement here. Making a gaming PC that looks like a console is something that seemed impossible – after all, Valve itself failed with Steam machines. But Steam Deck has an answer, quality of life feature, or automated solution for everything. And it makes the device feel like a well-rounded, thoughtful experience like any Xbox, PlayStation, or Switch.

Is it too big?

The Steam Deck won’t fit in your pocket, and it’s even bulky in a bag. Unlike my Switch, which I take with me everywhere, the Steam Deck is much better than the device I only lug around the house. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not portable. It seems ideal for road trips or maybe train/bus journeys. I confess to not having used public transport much throughout my life in the suburbs.

It just won’t be the Pocket PC that goes with you everywhere. And it’s good. Again, this is the world’s smallest full-featured gaming PC and not the evolution of the Game Boy.

The Deck tries to do everything a CP can do, and it mostly succeeds. People were worried about stick placement, but I promise you it’s the right ergonomic design. On top of that you get the dual touchpads, a D-pad and dual analog sticks and face buttons – oh, and gyro controls too.

And that’s the story of the Steam Deck: it has as few compromises as possible.

I absolutely wish it was smaller. But I don’t want a smaller Deck at the expense of its input options or, above all, its performance.

Steam Deck is so good for playing video games

The main reason to exceed the size of the Steam Deck is its performance. Yes, this formfactor has been so successful that we will inevitably have a thinner, lighter and more powerful Deck 2. But I’m so glad I pre-ordered a system because the machine is more than powerful enough to play almost any game right now.

Steam Deck delivers close to 60fps at reasonable settings for most games I’ve tested. This even includes recent blockbusters like Resident Evil Village and Hitman 3. More demanding games like God of War or less optimized titles like Elden Ring are closer to 45 frames per second.

But let’s be clear – we’re talking about playing Elden Ring and God of War on a device you can hold in your hands. It’s so far from what the Switch is capable of. And even devices like the GPD Win 3 or Aya Neo are going to really struggle to hit 30 fps in God of War.

It helps that the display is only 800p. At 7 inches, you don’t notice the loss of detail at all, and even modern games shrink quickly at this resolution. More importantly, the screen is fantastic. It has one of the best contrasts I’ve seen on a non-OLED screen. But at the same time, the colors pop like on a high-end phone screen.

However, the speakers can provide an even better experience than the screen. Valve is unmatched in the gaming space when it comes to delivering full, spacious sound. It was true with the Valve Index, and it’s even better here. Turning up the volume is a treat and leads to an even deeper sense of immersion, which handhelds can do very well.

This is a PC, so you have the chance to kill your battery

PlayStation 2018 God of War game runs infinitely longer on Steam Deck battery than on any PlayStation handheld. This is because Sony no longer manufactures handhelds. The thing is, it’s a miracle to get 2 hours of battery life in a game that was never meant to run on a gaming device like this.

And 2 hours is the low end for the most battery-intensive games on Steam. And Valve will let you use your battery the way you want. This includes starting the poorly optimized Elden Ring, which will drain your battery in just over 100 minutes.

You also get the other side of that, though. A game like Vampire Survivors, with its simple graphics, lasts between 6 and 8 hours.

It’s the best gaming PC ever

In the gaming community, we’re really hooked on boxes. We love our massive desktop PCs and next-gen consoles so much that we often forget they exist to serve us as games. What the Nintendo Switch underscored was that serving games to people wherever they are is probably more important than things like graphics and HDR.

Valve took this concept and brought it to the open world of PC gaming. And the Steam Deck is a hit because it emphasizes that experience. When I first received the Deck, I planned to install Windows. Now I don’t know if I ever will because SteamOS is so fantastic at putting my Steam games front and center. And it’s also designed to give me specific, granular control over how those games and the system work so I can get the most out of the device.

A portable console is more relational than a console. It’s something you hold and build a connection with. And Valve lived to see that relationship end. He has proven that he cares deeply about you having the best experience possible. And that, in turn, allows gamers to build that intimacy with games that handhelds are famous for.

I love my powerful desktop and new consoles, but I’d give them up to keep the Steam Deck experience in my hands.

Steam Deck is available starting today for those who pre-ordered from $400. Valve provided GamesBeat with a sample unit for the purposes of this review.

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Robert P. Miller