Will Valve’s Steam Deck Finally Make Portable Gaming PC Mainstream?

by in General | Jul, 19th 2021

Valve’s Steam Deck has taken the world by storm in what feels like an instant — everyone’s talking about it, and, frankly, there’s a good reason why. This isn’t the first time Valve dipped its toes in the hardware market, but it’s arguably the most interesting undertaking yet. A portable gaming console that’s surprisingly powerful and can be bought for just a couple of hundred dollars? What’s not to like!

Steam Deck feels like a strange mishmash of numerous Valve projects of the past to make matters even more interesting. The two capacitive touchpads flanking both sides of the screen are a direct throwback to the ill-fated Steam Controller, and the ability to play (or stream) games from your entire library echoes much of what made Steam Link so alluring way back when. But Steam Deck is its own thing and is mighty alluring precisely because it stands on the shoulders of Valve’s previous failures. 

One thing is clear: the folks over at Valve took their lessons in stride. Moreover, one has to commend them for their willingness to start producing hardware in a moment when the whole industry is shifting towards services as the main source of profit. Microsoft and Sony are selling their consoles at a loss only so they could create as big of an install base as possible and then recoup their losses through services like PlayStation Now and Xbox Game Pass. They want to bring you into their respective ecosystems and generate as much revenue over prolonged periods as possible.

Steam Deck, therefore, is quite a risky undertaking. It’s a fascinating concept on paper, and many gamers have been clamoring for such a device for years, but that doesn’t necessarily have to result in impressive sales numbers.

It’s Not the First of Its Kind

It’s important to note that Steam Deck isn’t an original product by any stretch of the imagination. GPD has been creating similar products for what feels like an eternity. Still, arguably none of them garnered as much attention from mainstream media as the AYA NEO — a Ryzen-based portable gaming PC that can, by all means, stand shoulder to shoulder with Valve’s Steam Deck. 

Now, sure, Valve’s product has a few additional bells and whistles, but they’re extremely similar at their very core. They’re pretty much the same thing. However, the biggest difference is that none of the portable gaming PCs of the past were made by a veritable giant like Valve. Instead, they had to be crowdfunded and were designed and built by shoddy-looking Chinese companies whose online presence left a lot to be desired. 

A glance at their websites made you think twice (or thrice) about taking the plunge. Their products looked great, but the more you started to scratch underneath the surface, the more you became worried.

Gamers won’t have such issues with Valve, and that’ll undoubtedly be a huge boon for sales and the overall viability of the product. You know what you’re getting — buying from a reputable company gives you the kind of ease of mind you cannot get elsewhere.

Still, we can learn so much from products like the GPD WIN and AYA NEO. They garnered a ton of interest from the community, but they never really “broke through.” Portable PC gaming is the very definition of a niche. Who’s the target audience? How many people want to experience triple-A titles on the go? Is playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on the bus that enticing? If you’re not looking to play any narrative-driven games, then there’s no reason to go with Valve’s Steam Deck, as the Nintendo Switch has nearly all indie titles one’s heart could desire. It also costs less, has a sizeable game library (including Nintendo’s phenomenal first-party line-up), along with better ergonomics, longer battery life, and can be used in three distinct modes (handheld, tabletop, docked).

For Indies, the Switch is undoubtedly the better option.

Moreover, Valve’s Steam Deck will house a relatively unimpressive 40Wh battery. That’ll last you two or maybe three hours of hardcore gaming. Hardly all that impressive.

Then again, at least gamers will have the option of taking their Steam library with them, no matter where they might go. You already have the games, so why not spend a couple of hundred dollars and have them available in your pocket at all times?

Don’t Call It a Console

If the Steam Deck were only a gaming console, it’d be a lot less alluring. As already mentioned, it’s not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. Fortunately, it’s not “just” a gaming console but rather a full-fledged PC. Running Windows 10/11 will also be possible for those who aren’t afraid of rolling up their sleeves and doing a bit of grunt work. 

The Steam Deck is a powerful PC crammed inside a Switch-like enclosure. Connect your peripherals, an external display, and voila! This is an invaluable benefit, and it’ll no doubt position the Steam Deck as a “jack of all trades” kind of device. If it were more expensive, it probably wouldn’t be as attractive, but seeing how Valve managed to get it down to a staggeringly low $399, it’s bound to attract a wide range of customers. There’s no laptop out there on the market that’s this powerful and cheap.

Valve hit a home run, basically, and we sincerely hope that’ll translate to sales as well — they deserve to find success for having the courage to enter such a niche market with a product priced this competitively. 

Powerful Enough

The Zen 2-based Ryzen APU housed within the Steam Deck is by no means a speed demon, but it’s still powerful enough for nearly anything a good gamer might throw its way. AMD’s APUs have gotten mighty powerful over the years. Seeing how you’ll be limited to a fairly low resolution (1280×800), you’ll be able to crank the settings up to Medium or even High (depending on the title). 

Now, gaming at 720p Medium isn’t anything worth writing home about, but because the screen is so small (and, by proxy, pixel-dense), your favorite games will look a lot better than expected. 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM will also provide gamers with just the right amount of memory for any task, game, or workflow. 

The only true limitation is the tied to the internal storage capacity, but if you’re willing to invest a bit more, then you’ll circumvent this hurdle with ease. You’ll always be able to expand your storage using the built-in microSD card slot, but that’s not as elegant (or fast) a solution, so keep that in mind. 

An Insanely Good Deal

Valve’s Steam Deck is an exceptional deal from a price-to-performance standpoint. There’s no other way to put it. Whether it’ll capture the mainstream audience’s attention remains to be seen, but there’s a reason for optimism. The thing is, it’s cheap enough that even those who aren’t looking for a portable gaming PC might want to buy one. Why not, after all, at just $399?

That said, we’re not sure Valve will generate enough interest for the Steam Deck to truly become a mainstream product, i.e., to make It financially sustainable in the long run. The number of potential buyers isn’t all that impressive when you compare it to the demographic the Nintendo Switch is targeting, for instance. The folks over at Valve want to push portable gaming PCs forward, but they might be ahead of their time — as was so often the case throughout history


Leave a Reply