Valve picks a fight With Nintendo on the day Nintendo Switch OLED goes up for preorder. The Washington-based company confirmed its new portable, handheld gaming device Steam Deck will be available later in 2021.
Developer of the digital game distribution service Steam just dropped exciting new hardware: a handheld device dedicated primarily to gaming. Called Steam Deck, Valve is positioning itself in the portable gaming device market as a direct competitor to Nintendo, which currently dominates the space with the Nintendo Switch.
Steam Deck is a way for Valve to expand its user base for its wildly popular Steam platform supported on Windows since 2003, macOS since 2010, Linux, and later iOS as well as Android since 2012. Given the name of the handheld device spells out the word â€˜Steam’, it’s a no-brainer that the device supports all games available on Steam.
Introducing Steam Deck: powerful, portable PC gaming starting at $399. Designed by Valve, powered by Steam. Shipping December 2021.
â€” Steam (@Steam) July 15, 2021Opens a new window
Moreover, Steam Deck also supports basic computing functions underpinned by the SteamOS, which essentially is Linux. But for all intents and purposes, it is a portable gaming device that can also be used as a computer sometimes.
This approach varies significantly with the Nintendo Switch that is designed and marketed purely for gamers. However, a closer look at the Steam Deck specifications makes it clear that Valve’s disposition to gamers remains intact. So why base the device’s functioning on Linux? Well, Steam as a whole runs on Linux and it is reasonable to expect that Valve will hope to first onboard its existing customers before the company can expect to attract newer ones.
At the same time, Valve can also tap into the huge market potential for on-the-go gaming, which currently has PlayStation Vita besides Switch as good options.
Portable Gaming Devices
The origins of portable gaming go back to 1989 when Nintendo launched the Game Boy. Since then, multiple companies such as Atari, NEC, Sega, Sony, Bandai, and even Nokia have entered the market with different devices.
All generations of portable gaming devices (we’re in the eighth now) have had at least one from the Kyoto, Japan-based Nintendo, making it the most successful company in the lucrative space. Then came Sony with its PlayStation Portable (PSP) in 2004, a console that had the potential to dethrone Nintendo.
PSP instantly became a fan favorite. Unfortunately, PSP’s biggest advantage when it was launched 17 years ago â€” the support for the optical disc format (Universal Media Disc) â€” became its biggest weakness in an era of online-delivered games.
Then came the PlayStation Vita in 2011 to compete with Nintendo 3DS. Sony managed to retain some of its diminishing PSP users (over 80 million at its peak) with PS Vita but ultimately it failed to go beyond hardcore console gamers. And if you think the Nintendo Switch that launched in 2017 had anything to do with it, think again.
PS Vita actually lost out to the booming mobile or smartphone gaming industry. Innovation in smartphones kept on improving in terms of more processing firepower, user experience, and more importantly, accessibility. With lifetime sales of over 84 millionOpens a new window , The Nintendo Switch is by far the platform most gamers use for on-the-go gaming.
Enter Steam Deck
With Steam Deck, Valve has ensured that it doesn’t go obsolete in the coming years by offering hardware that smartphones cannot. More importantly, it seems like the company has perfected cloud gaming considering the company deemed it ready for launch, a space that IT giants such as Microsoft are looking to tap into.
Microsoft’s interests, however, may be intended for its lineup of Xbox gaming consoles to counter Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation, and not for portable consoles.
Steam Deck Design
Steam Deck has got all the essentials arranged efficiently enough to accommodate two trackpads for greater play controls. The portable console has two thumbsticks aligned with each other on both sides of the display. It has a D-pad and ABXY keys beside each thumbstick.
IGN’s Bo Moore visited Valve last weekOpens a new window and had the opportunity to test out the gaming console. â€œWhen I first saw the hardware, I admit I was a bit thrown off by its control layout. Primarily that’s because the thumbsticks are in-line with the D-pad and face buttons, which looks a bit odd when you’re used to the more staggered arrangement found on most controllers,â€ Moore explained.
He adds, â€œHowever, as soon as I held it myself, the layout felt completely natural: the intuitive hand orientation when you grab the Steam Deck is more straight up and down, like holding the sides of a steering wheel, whereas with a controller your hands are at more of an angle. As a result, it’s easy and natural for your thumbs to reach the Steam Deck’s face buttons, D-pad, and thumbsticks.â€
It has four buttons on the front, one of which is dedicated to access Steam content. The other three are the View, Menu, Quick Access buttons. On the top, Valve has placed four analog triggers while the backside features four additional buttons that can be customized according to gamer preferences.
Steam Deck Hardware
Valve has stacked up solid hardware for Steam Deck that theoretically should support even the most arduous gamers. It features:Â
- Zen 2 CPU with a frequency range of 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
- 8 core AMD RDNA 2 CPU with frequency ranging between 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
- 16 GB LPDDR5 RAM (5500 MT/s)
- 7â€³ touchscreen LCD with 1280 x 800px resolution and in a 16:10 aspect ratio. Supports 8K at 60Hz and/or 4K at 120Hz
- Bluetooth 5.0 supports controllers, audio devices, and accessoriesÂ
- Dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi support (802.11a/b/g/n/ac)
- USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port which supports power, display, and audio. Can also be used to connect to a monitor
The device comes with three storage options: 64GB eMMC, 256GB NVMe SSD, and 512GB NVME SSD for $399, $529, and $649, respectively. The 512GB model also has an anti-glare etched glass screen.
However, the biggest catch in Steam Deck is the underlying functionality of the device.
Steam Deck Software
Steam Deck runs on SteamOS 3.0, a new version of SteamOS based on Arch Linux, Valve said. Its ability to support Windows games stems from the Proton compatibility layerOpens a new window , which like Wine is designed specifically for Linux users to run Windows applications out of the box on Linux systems.
Games aside, the device can support the run-of-the-mill Windows software, web browsing, setup of other game stores, etc. Computer peripherals such as a mouse and keyboard can be connected along with a monitor. Even the Linux can be wiped clean to set up Windows or any other operating systems they’d like.
Needless to say, Steam features such as access to Steam libraries, notifications, chat, and cloud saves are some of the additional perks that gamers can appreciate. This was, after all, the experience Valve intended to provide.
Nintendo and Valve will battle each other with respective portable gaming consoles by the end of the year. Nintendo is expected to release the Nintendo Switch OLED in October (preorders open), which as the name suggests is basically the same device with an upgraded display.
Meanwhile, Valve has started taking a $5 fee to register for submitting a preorder. And the company will start taking preorders later this year, but not before December when it is slated to become available across the United States, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.
It remains to be seen whether the Japanese company’s tried, tested, and proven gaming device comes out on top or if gamers buy into Valve’s novel approach to handheld gaming.
Gamers will also be spoilt for choice considering the Xbox Series X cost nearly the same. However, Steam Deck edges out the high-performance Xbox Series X by making games readily accessible through Steam at a price significantly less than what they would have to pay for individual games on the Xbox. Plus, it supports emulators and even Xbox Game Pass. Although, this won’t be out of the box and will have to be configured manually by those that want it.
All things considered, this is the showdown that gamers have been waiting for in portable gaming.