Well, it is already a reality. After information leaked during the course of last spring, Valve has announced Steam Deck, its new video game console with which it intends to enter the hardware sector using Linux (SteamOS) as an operating system.
Steam Deck is a 180-degree turn from the failed Steam Machines. Valve has decided to be inspired by Nintendo Switch and present a hybrid console that starts out as a portable one, but that can be turned into a desktop one through the use of a docking station that will act as a dock. Another important detail is that it uses an AMD APU, so it uses the x86_64 architecture to maintain compatibility with existing software.
Steam Deck: Hardware Features
Delving into the features, the Steam Deck incorporates a AMD APU custom with an integrated RDNA 2 GPU and a Zen 2 processor running at 2.4 to 3.5 gigahertz. At the level of execution memory it includes 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and the screen is 7 inches, LCD, touch and works at a resolution of 1,280 × 800 pixels with an aspect ratio of 16:10 and a refresh rate of 60Hz.
Possibly the resolution in portable mode falls short for many, but keep in mind that the Steam Deck uses the x86_64 architecture and aims to run the PC versions of demanding video games, so using a low resolution in portable mode could be a good decision to increase autonomy. The console’s battery is 40Wh and according to Valve it will offer an autonomy of between two and eight hours (this may depend on aspects such as the graphic configuration used and the demands of the video game itself).
Steam Deck has for Wi-Fi connectivity in the 2.4 and 5 gigahertz bands (a / b / g / n / ac), Bluetooth 5, USB Type-C for accessories and a microSD slot. As we are facing a product that can function as a portable console, another very interesting point is the controls that it incorporates, which are the following:
- A, B, X and Y buttons.
- Analog triggers L and R.
- Front L and R buttons.
- View and Menu buttons.
- 4 assignable grip buttons.
- 2 full-size analog sticks with capacitive touch.
- 2 x 30mm square trackpads with haptic feedback.
- Touch screen.
We close the hardware section by mentioning that be marketed three versions of the Steam Deck will , which are distinguished by data storage and some other details:
- The entry-level Steam Deck features 64GB of eMMC storage and includes a carrying case. Its price is 419 euros .
- The intermediate model has 256GB of storage via NVMe SSD , offering better performance in this regard as well as more capacity. It includes the transport case, an exclusive profile set from the Steam Community and its price is 549 euros .
- The top-of-the-line model of the Steam Deck incorporates a 512GB NVMe SSD and features an anti-reflective screen. Plus, it includes the carrying case, the Steam Community Exclusive Profile Bundle, and a virtual keyboard with an exclusive theme. Its price is 679 euros .
SteamOS 3.0: Arch Linux as the base and KDE Plasma as the desktop environment
Valve is backing Linux as the operating system for its hardware, more specifically its own distribution: SteamOS. However, compared to previous versions of the system, the third major version includes radical changes.
SteamOS 3 is based on Arch Linux instead of Debian. This would affect the package manager, which would become Pacman instead of APT. In addition, the choice of Arch Linux has been influenced by the following factors:
- Have easier access to recent versions of the software. Here the kernel, the AMDGPU driver and especially important Mesa are . We will see if Valve ultimately opts for using an LTS kernel to minimize the impact of constant changes and if it adopts a model similar to Manjaro to offer more staggered updates while supplying the latest versions of the drivers.
- Arch Linux is one of the kings of software vanilla within the GNU / Linux spectrum, so possibly its base is easier for Valve to deal with than Debian, whose software is already modified.
Using KDE Plasma as a desktop environment makes sense considering that most gamers come from Windows, so its default layout will be more familiar to them. However, it is likely that the first interface that the user sees after logging in is not KDE Plasma, but Big Picture or another interface with similar characteristics, with the desktop environment as a secondary option in case you need to tweak something in the system.
But the Windows-like layout is not the only virtue of KDE Plasma compared to its rivals, but also some features such as the option “Allow applications to lock compositing” in Composer. In the event that a game has problems with vertical synchronization, the user can disable this option, disable the vertical synchronization of the game and thus delegate vertical synchronization in Kwin. This pathway may reduce gaming performance a bit, but it still pays off for those who hate tearing .
Finally, the KDE Plasma developers have put the turbo to their implementation of Wayland , so in the not too distant future we will see the desktop environment fully prepared to support the latest graphics display technologies for GNU / Linux. In GNOME it is not necessary to activate vertical synchronization of games in case of using Wayland, so we will see what benefits the protocol will bring to KDE Plasma on that front.
Steam Deck + SteamOS 3: Some Pros and Cons
As we see, and sticking to the architecture, Steam Deck is not much more than a Steam Machine of reduced size, but the circumstances have changed enough to have different expectations.
AMD’s Linux drivers have vastly improved since the announcement of the AMDGPU , to the point of performing on par with NVIDIA and being able to defeat the combination of Windows and NVIDIA by running a “rolling potato” like Red Dead Redemption 2 . Valve is heavily involved in the development of RADV, the Vulkan driver for Radeon included in Mesa, and there is also the recent release of the code for FidelityFX Super Resolution , AMD’s rival to NVIDIA’s DLSS.
When the original Steam Machines were marketed, Proton did not exist. At this point it is not necessary to remember that Proton , which is served through the Steam Play feature of the Steam client, has greatly increased the number of video games that can be run on Linux . The DXVK and VKD3D (DirectX to Vulkan) translators have proven to be capable of very good performance, coming close to or matching the performance of native DirectX execution on many occasions. This, together with the remarkable number of native video games available for Linux, will make Steam Deck start with a fairly extensive catalog.
But not all of this is good news for the new Valve console, because it has against it the high prices and the storage capacity of the most basic model , which on paper would be unable to support a Doom 2016 installation due to space issues, or at best it would be extremely fair. In terms of power, it could be unable to run colossi such as Cyberpunk 2077 and the aforementioned Red Dead Redemption 2 with good results, since it is speculated that the performance would be similar to that of a PlayStation 4 .
We will see how the Steam Deck fares, because in its favor it has its hybrid approach and the great improvements that has experienced Linux gaming in recent years, but it aims to be aimed at an audience that does not seem willing to use anything other than Windows and NVIDIA.
Those who are interested in the console can already reserve it from the official website as long as they have made a purchase on Steam before June 2021, a measure with which Valve intends to limit resale. The Steam Deck would be launched on the market in December 2021 in the United States, Canada and the European Union, with the sights set on reaching other markets during the course of 2022. We leave you with the video presentation of the console.