Valve’s new Steam Deck can run Windows and turn into a handheld Xbox

Valve’s new Steam Deck.
Image: Valve
If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Valve just announced its new handheld Steam Deck, powered by a custom Linux operating system. The 7-inch device will play the latest AAA games, and because it’s a PC, you’ll even be able to install Windows on it. That means the Steam Deck could be the perfect Xbox portable, given Microsoft’s investment in shipping all of its future Xbox Game Studios titles on PC.

“Steam Deck is a PC so you can install third-party software and operating systems,” says Valve, which means this hardware isn’t locked down in the way we’re used to seeing from tech companies.

The Steam Deck itself will ship with SteamOS, a custom Linux operating system that loads into the familiar Steam interface you’re used to on PC. While Linux support for gaming has been improving in recent years, particularly thanks to Valve’s Proton efforts, 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 only 13 games on Steam that don’t work on Windows.

The Steam Deck ships with the Linux-based SteamOS.

Installing Windows on the Steam Deck would open this device up to the thousands of games on Steam that aren’t listed as SteamOS compatible yet, and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription. You can check to see if the games you play are supported over on Valve’s Steam site, or the Proton database.

Proton does most of the work to make games run on the Steam Deck, but titles with anti-cheat software are still an issue on Linux. That might be about to change, though. “We’re working with BattlEye and Easy Anti-Cheat to get support for Proton ahead of launch,” says Valve. That could mean titles like Apex Legends, Destiny 2, PUBG, Fortnite, and Gears 5 will soon work with Proton and the Steam Deck.

When you look at the hardware inside the Steam Deck, it’s even closer to a portable Xbox than you’d expect. A custom AMD GPU will power the Steam Deck, complete with eight RDNA 2 CUs, and up to 1.6 teraflops of performance. That’s slightly more than the Xbox One S (1.4 teraflops), and slightly less than the PS4 (1.8 teraflops). It’s a modern RDNA 2 architecture, so it’s difficult to compare teraflops alone, but it certainly looks like it will be powerful enough for handheld PC gaming.

Obviously, the possible downsides to installing Windows will be whether there’s full driver support, and the struggles of a desktop UI that’s not optimized for a handheld device. It’s also not clear just how well games will perform on Windows on the Steam Deck, so there are a lot of unknowns until the device launches in December.

That said, handheld gaming PCs are slowly emerging as viable alternatives to the giant rigs or hefty 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 series of GPD handhelds.

We’ve been getting close to a Switch-sized gaming PC for over a year, and Valve’s Steam Deck device is the first to really bring the idea to the mainstream. Now we just need to find out how well this really runs games, and just how easy it is to get Windows up and running.

Update, July 15th 4:15PM ET: Article updated with new details from Valve on Proton support for games with anti-cheat.

Comments

Proton (Which is developed by Valve) makes most games playable on linux anyway. (Unless the game uses an anti-cheat).
https://www.protondb.com/

Yeah and that’s a lot of games, unfortunately. Proton is good, but there are still a bunch of top games that won’t work on SteamOS.

Plus you can play Game Pass games with Windows installed, if that’s your thing.

Technically that may not work as GP games are limited to pc specs.

You can do that on Linux even better since Gamepass can be played via a browser now, and since there’s already a permanently attached controller you’re good to go.

Only Xcloud games can be played through the browser and not all games are on Xcloud. Lastly from my experience Xcloud is unplayable while on WiFi. Personally I’m more interested to know if I can play stadia on this

It’s perfectly playable if it’s turn-based or something else that doesn’t require low-latency control. Native will always be far superior though.

but there are still a bunch of top games that won’t work on SteamOS.

Over half of the top 10 games work on Linux either via Proton or are native, and the 40% that currently aren’t working (Borked) just happen to use EAC or Battleye which is an issue Valve is working on. Though EAC not working is odd because EAC already has a Linux build you’d think they could just detect Proton, download the Linux EAC, then run that through some sort of translation layer with Proton.

On the deck software section:

For Deck, we’re vastly improving Proton’s game compatibility and support for anti-cheat solutions by working directly with the vendors.

So it looks it could actually work fine with some games.

I get the feeling the Editor doesn’t like Linux distro, or never even tried to use one

tom used to be from a windows specific site i believe, i wanna say winsupersite.

If I would go to a store, and I would ask, I want to buy Linux, what would they say? And if you would go to find support for your random Linux distro in a shop, what would they say to you? 90% of stores wouldn’t be able to help you because support costs money…and that’s part of what Windows is offering… an OS and some level of support, not just some random community hub/forum..

IF you want a Linux distro as popular as Windows, then that distro would need to follow more or less the same model of Windows…

It is normal that the most popular shops and websites speak more about Windows, have you really seen the user base of Windows compared to all distros of Linux at the home/consumer level? And then what distros would you want?… maybe a person would like a specific distro and not the other and then you end again with a problem…

To try it requires you to try to use one, you will need to learn and know at least some basics. Many things goes through command line where in Windows, it is just an executable and there’s always a lot more support for windows than for all the distros of Linux… I get it, if you are into IT, if you work everyday with linux and you know all commands and you are very familiar with it and you have the patience to debug when something doesnt work correctly, then Linux is for you. I work on linux and windows, and personally Windows is a lot more user friendly, customers always choose windows over Linux because of that… more user friendly, more support, also people are more familiar and used to the Windows model. After all, windows was the pioneer in gaming, with all direct x and gaming support… and then Steam was only successful thanks to windows, steam would have never existed without Windows OS… so, Valve should really support Windows on Steam Deck, I understand that it doesnt need to come pre-installed, but a good support on Windows OS, it will just make every type of user happy, no matter what OS you use.

I would be weary of installing Windows without knowing what kind of driver support Valve plans on giving to it.

Ideally the touchpads/controllers are treated as normal peripherals. Under the hood it might just be connected via normal USB, so mapped to XInput.

Pretty much every device in existence supports xinput so I doubt Valve would make up another protocol just for their gamepad, especially because they’re working on Proton.

Ideally the whole input device will just show up as a Steam Controller. It would be pretty crazy to install Windows without Steam, and once you have Steam it provides a "lizard mode" driver that handles your "desktop mode" input profile even when Steam itself isn’t running.

I’m really glad to see Valve is leveraging the great work it did on controller customization, I’ve loved the Steam Controller for years.

I will be trying to install Windows from day 1 I have gotta at least try, maybe I can dual boot, I have pre-ordered the 500GB model…

Can’t wait to see what the hacking crowd will do with this little jewel of a computer. Should be a great time for gaming overall. Considering the high amounts of platform emulations under Linux, it might as well stay Linux for most concerns. But also having current AAA games under Windows seems nice. Dual boot I’m thinking…

I hope you’re buying the highest-spec version if you want to dual boot. The Win11 specs say that the OS alone needs 64GB (!).

I mostly agree… except that I think that your point reinforces why it should stay as a SteamOS device for me. With "most" games working out of the box via Proton, a portion of games working via GamePass xcloud, I think I am mostly covered. Now… if we can get Hearthstone and LoL on that thing…

You can, under windows xD problem solved.

Sega game gear anyone?

It’s a Nomad, if anything, seeing as it connects to an external source.

(Yes, I owned one.)

I’m sure that this will work well for some people, but for me personally I think that cloud based solutions and controller attachments like Backbone fills that niche of AAA games on the go well enough for me to dissuade me from purchasing this thing.

View All Comments
Back to top ↑