You can’t even buy a decent graphics card for the price of the Steam Deck. This is the state of PC gaming in 2022; a hobby with such an expensive entry requirement right now that those with no seriously disposable income need not apply. Even if you could find a PC for the same price as the new Valve handheld, I can guarantee it wouldn’t come with a discrete GPU today, and I can also guarantee you’d be extremely disappointed trying to play any game this side of 2006.
But the Steam Deck will even play Elden Ring with a good lick, as well as nothing can play this PC port stuttering right now – and I’ve had impressive gaming performance in just about every game I’ve launched. Sure you have to be a bit parsimonious about the graphics settings, maybe give it a frame rate cap if you want something like playable battery life, and it only runs at 1280 x 800, but it’s a gaming pc who can play and be yours for just $529.
If you’re willing to wait, of course.
Yes, the thorny issue with any praise for the Steam Deck is the fact that availability is quite limited and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. No one on the PC Gamer team who booked day one had any idea they were any closer to getting their hands on the micro machine.
Gabe himself told us that he has no visibility on when players may want a Deck, click buy, and receive one in a few days or a week. Although there is good news in this Valve designer, Lawrence Yang, has publicly stated that he believes Steam Deck production will increase rapidly and reach hundreds of thousands by its second month on sale. Fingers crossed, that means Valve will move through those pre-orders pretty quickly.
But beyond these hopefully temporary issues, the hardware itself does so much good. Its potential as a budget gaming PC is immense, more than just a cheap laptop with low-spec integrated graphics, which will likely cost more than a mid-tier Steam Deck.
And forget about trying to build a desktop PC with vaguely capable gaming chops for anything like the price of the Deck. Especially since the highest level integrated graphics from AMD or Intel are perpetually pegged to more expensive processors.
With the Steam Deck, you can play your PC games on the go, in the backyard, at a bar, on your couch, or at your desk, hooked up to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. It’s incredibly versatile, portable, and surprisingly powerful; a PC that can be almost anything for anyone. And you can get all of this for just over $500. Less if you opt for the 64GB version and fill it with micro SD cards.
There are, of course, limits. The Linux operating system is incredibly accessible, whether in the simple, handheld-focused Deck user interface or on the desktop, but it East still linux and has a bit of a learning curve. And, while Proton does a fantastic job of running Windows-only games on the Deck’s OS, some don’t work and some are deliberately unsupported.
We already know that two of the biggest games, Fortnite and Destiny 2, aren’t supported for SteamOS, so you’ll need to be running Windows (or streaming via GeForce Now) to play the Deck. And right now, AMD is still fiddling with Windows drivers for the Van Gogh-based Aerith APU at the heart of the device, so you can’t really install Microsoft’s OS there yet.
While these aren’t deal breakers, certainly in terms of PC gaming at such an aggressive price point.
At a time when the barrier to entry for PC gaming is very high – with the price of graphics cards still at a frankly offensive level, and almost everything else seeing a demand-driven price premium attached to them – for the upcoming Steam Deck as such, a value proposition actually seems almost anachronistic.
But that was always part of the Deck’s plan.
“We always thought price was one of the critical elements,” Gabe tells us. “So, I mean, pretty early on, we were guided by a set of ergonomic considerations, by performance considerations, and by price.”
That in itself was difficult, however.
“One of the main challenges we thought we had to face with this generation was the price,” says Gabe. “The $399 price tag was kind of set in stone. And we had to do a bunch of stuff, like make huge min commits [minimum order commitments]and other types of things in order to reach the volumes that would allow us to reach that kind of price.”
The fact that most early adopters booked the higher 512GB version, however, took Valve by surprise.
“I think we were a little surprised that instead of the entry-level SKU being the most popular,” says Gabe, “it was the high-end SKU that ended up being the most popular SKU. .”
“Many of us, myself included,” echoes designer Greg Coomer, “didn’t predict this when we were completing the process and preparing to announce the Steam Deck. We predicted otherwise.”
It’s those pre-order reservists, though. When the system becomes more widely available and parents buy big birthday and Christmas gifts, you can bet the lower level Deck will start to come into its own. This is the kind of situation we’ve seen with the Xbox Series X being the big seller early on and the Series S coming to the fore later down the line.
And, despite only 64 GB of eMMC storage inside, the cheapest Steam Deck still retains all the other features and specs of its larger siblings. Granted, you might miss the top-end’s etched glass display, but you get 16GB of LPDDR5 and an APU capable of smashing God of War at an eminently playable frame rate.
During my tests, each time I came across a slight bug, or a performance that made me pause, I always came back to the price. The Steam Deck is a third of the cost of many other gaming laptops and is way cheaper than most gaming laptops. And that’s why price was such a consideration for Valve, and why you shouldn’t even not consider spending more than the odds on an ebay listing for a second no matter how much you want one.
This is, at its heart, a budget gaming PC, and a brilliant one at that.