The Steam Deck is a completely unique computer
One year on, it's now easy to recommend
Welcome back to Multicore for Tuesday, March 7th.
Believe it or not, this is the first issue I'm ever writing on desktop Linux. The reason is the Steam Deck, a device you may have heard of. It's one of the most fascinating computers I've ever owned — I find something new to do with it every week, and since its release a year ago predates Multicore, I thought this would be a good time to check in.
The Steam Deck is sold by Valve, which operates the dominant Steam PC gaming platform. Valve has made a few forays into hardware before, like the experimental (and... not good (for me)) Steam Controller, the high-end but niche Index VR headset, and the ill-conceived Steam Machines range of console-style Linux gaming PCs.
The Deck is clearly part of that lineage, but it has a much more obvious selling point. It's a powerful handheld PC with built-in game controls. The idea is for it to be able to play as much of your existing Steam library as possible in a sleek, integrated device.
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Valve goes about achieving that goal that in two ways. Like the Steam Controller, the Deck uses trackpads with haptic feedback so that it can handle mouse-first PC games like Civilization. Like the Steam Machines, the Deck runs SteamOS, Valve's custom version of Linux with a game launcher interface on top.
The Steam Deck is by no means the first handheld gaming PC; companies like GPD and Aya Neo have been putting out similar Windows-based devices for years. What sets it apart is Valve's vertical approach.
First of all, Valve is able to sell the Steam Deck at $399, a price point that I can't imagine leaves much room for gross margin, if any. As with most game consoles, that model works for Valve because it takes a 30% cut of all sales in the Steam store, and if there's one thing the Deck does very well, it's make you want to buy a lot more Steam games.
The other main differentiator is the software, which has advantages and disadvantages over Windows. Competitors that run Windows still have the edge in compatibility. But Valve's device-specific Linux customizations make the Deck a much sleeker product that's far easier to use — especially after a year of regular improvements.
And if you want, you can easily make it work as a full-on Linux desktop PC, which is how I'm writing this right now. The Steam Deck feels equally like a console and a computer, and there's nothing quite like it.
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