Valve only announced its new handheld Steam Deck, supported by a custom Linux operating system. The 7 inch device plays the latest AAA games, and since it’s a PC, you can even install Windows on it. That means the Steam Deck could be the perfect portable Xbox as Microsoft has invested in bringing all future Xbox Game Studios titles to the PC.
“Steam Deck is a PC on which you can install third-party software and operating systems,” says Valve. This means that this hardware is not locked down as we are used to from tech companies.
The Steam Deck itself comes with SteamOS, a custom Linux operating system that loads into the familiar Steam interface that you are used to from PC. While Linux support for games has improved over the past few years, thanks in particular to Valve’s Proton Effort, less than 15 percent of all games on Steam officially support Linux and SteamOS. That’s 7,586 games out of a possible 54,280 on Steam, compared to just 13 games on Steam that don’t work on Windows.
Installing Windows on the Steam Deck would open this device to thousands of games on Steam that are not yet listed as SteamOS Compatible – you can check that the games you are playing are supported on Valve’s Steam site.
If you look at the hardware in the Steam Deck, it’s even closer to a portable Xbox than you’d expect. A custom AMD GPU will power the Steam Deck with eight RDNA 2 CUs and up to 1.6 teraflops of power. That’s a little more than the Xbox One S (1.4 teraflops) and a little less than the PS4 (1.8 teraflops). It’s a modern RDNA 2 architecture so it’s difficult to compare teraflops on its own, but it definitely looks like it’s powerful enough for handheld PC gaming.
Obviously, the potential downsides of installing Windows are full driver support and the difficulty of having a desktop user interface that is not optimized for a handheld device. It’s also not clear how well games will work on Windows on the Steam Deck, so there are plenty of unknowns until the device hits the market in December.
That said, handheld gaming PCs are slowly emerging as viable alternatives to the giant rigs or beefy laptops you typically need to play PC games. A switch style Neo handheld launched on Indiegogo earlier this year and the 5.5-inch GPD Win 3 is the latest in a line of GPD handhelds.
We get Near a Switch-sized gaming PC for over a year, and Valve’s Steam Deck device is the first to really take the idea mainstream. Now we just have to find out how good that is Really runs games and how easy it is to get Windows running.