When people think of big names in gaming, they will often cite companies like Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony, followed by a select handful of gaming studios like Electronic Arts or CD Projekt Red. Do you want to know who one of the biggest names in gaming is that you rarely hear of? Valve.
If anything, I would argue, given just how much of the gaming market Valve controls through Steam alone, it’s one of the biggest gaming companies around, probably second to only Nintendo.
Yes, I am aware Valve is behind the popular Half-Life franchise a lot of gamers know and love, but there haven’t actually been that many Valve games released in the past decade. The biggest Valve game that comes to mind is Dota 2.
Gaming aside, Valve began to transition into a hardware company in the late 2000s. Valve’s most notable piece of hardware produces the Valve Index virtual reality headset, which is regarded as one of the best VR headsets money can buy right now.
Rumours had been swirling for a couple of years now about Valve’s desire to enter the portable gaming market and produce a portable console similar to the Nintendo Switch, but one that could play games from your Steam library instead. It was initially rumoured to be called the Neptune.
Valve calls their foray into portable gaming the Steam Deck, listed as starting from USD 399.
The first problem I can see before we discuss the finer details is the name. Valve calls it the Steam Deck, but the name is close to an existing product called the Stream Deck by Elgato. While the two are not gaming consoles, the name confused me as a Stream Deck user.
As for the tech specs, let’s see what Valve have thrown into this thing. The important thing to note here is before you even get into the tech specs, the wording starting from USD 399 tells you in marketing speak that this console will come in different tiers, with the $399 version being the base model.
The CPU and GPU in the Steam Deck put it into the same league as the PS5 and Xbox Series X, not quite a PC and not quite a walled-off garden like the Nintendo Switch is.
CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
APU power: 4-15W
If anything, these specs put it into gaming laptop territory in a small Switch like form factor, complete with a 7″ screen.
The real tell in the differences between the various models is the tech specs detail three storage levels (in addition to the MicroSD slot).
- 64 GB eMMC (PCIe Gen 2 x1) — $399 USD ($537 AUD)
- 256 GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4) — $529 USD ($712 AUD)
- 512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4) — $649 USD ($873 AUD)
The interesting thing about these tiers is the lowest tier which also comes with storage, is the slowest of the bunch. Still, for the price, it’s considerably cheaper than a PS5 or Xbox Series X; even the mid-tier Steam Deck is cheaper than the cost of a console right now (considering it’s all scalper prices).
What Valve has done here is smart. However, once you throw GST on top and other costs, the base level Steam Deck will probably be AUD 650, the mid-level AUD 800 and the top-tier probably around the AUD 1000 mark. A $500 OLED Nintendo Switch suddenly becomes the more affordable albeit less powerful option of the bunch.
The real value adds here is that Steam Deck can play all games in your Steam library (allegedly). It also works with a Switch-esque dock and has impressive resolution output listed. The Steam OS this thing runs is also based on Arch Linux (which is awesome).
But that’s not even the best part. The Steam Deck will be an open platform, allowing you to wipe it and install whatever you want on it. This means you could install Windows on this thing if you wanted to or another Linux distribution.
Even Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney seems to have nothing but praise for the Valve Steam Deck:
I wonder if Epic Games will follow Valve’s lead and also produce a gaming console of its own? Given how successful Fortnight has been for Epic and the amount of money it has made them, they probably have the cash to spare to at least try.
If you think of the Steam Deck being more of a gaming laptop, it makes more sense than comparing it to the Nintendo Switch. This thing could rival AMD gaming laptops quite easily.
While I don’t need one, I was looking forward to being able to reserve one. Sadly, the Steam Deck isn’t available for reservation in Australia, so that sucks. I’ve already pre-ordered the OLED Nintendo Switch, so maybe I should be happy with that.