Valve only opened reservations for Steam Deck to anyone during the weekend, and the waiting time is in some cases already up to six months. At the time of writing, Steam Deck 64GB and 256GB models have an estimated availability date of Q2 2022, while the Steam Deck 512GB model is delayed to Q3 2022.
This puts a funny spin on the debate about whether Steam Deck will succeed. Valve has obviously gained interest in the PC market. A loophole for an ordering system discovered by Ars Technica revealed that approximately 110,000 people pre-ordered one of the two advanced systems during the first 90 minutes the system was available for pre-ordering. Figures for the base model were unknown at the time, but figures suggest at least 10,000 base systems from North America alone.
Just because the calendar currently says Q2 2022 or Q3 2022, does not mean that it actually takes Valve that long to ship the hardware. there is a chance that the company will place larger component orders in response to this type of pre-sale. However, it is also possible that there may be limited opportunity to meet the demand. Semiconductor shortages have made chips of all kinds difficult to find. We hope that things have improved significantly by the end of the year, but long-term forecasts are difficult to obtain right now.
Without some absolute numbers, we can not talk about how much demand there is for Steam Deck. Some people may have skipped the line to make a reservation with no intention of purchasing the system. After all, putting down $ 5 to reserve is not a big commitment.
How will Steam Deck be perceived?
It is difficult to know how PC players use a PC handheld. We’ve never had one before – not beyond a handful of niche units produced by small companies, often as part of a crowdfunded project. Devices like the Onexplayer (Intel Tiger Lake, 1165G7) and Aya Neo are fundamentally unattractive by comparison. Not only do they cost significantly more, they offer what is likely to be poorer performance. SoC inside Steam Deck will offer four CPU cores and as many as eight GPU CUs supported by LPDDR5-5500 (estimated memory bandwidth is either 44 GB / s or 88 GB / s, depending on bus width).
Aya Neo comes close to competing with these specs – it offers a 4500U and LPDDR4-4266 – but the 4500U has only six CUs and is based on AMD’s old Vega architecture. If we assume that RDNA2 offers AMD even a 1.15x boost with the same memory bandwidth, and the entire eight CUs in Steam Deck should be between 1.3x – 1.5x faster than 4500U. This will ultimately depend on cooling, but a poorly cooled system will not be able to maintain full performance no matter what is under the hood. Interestingly, Aya Neo claims a 47 watt-hour battery and only 144 minutes of maximum playing time. It’s not as good as what Valve has suggested. This may represent some marketing screens from Valve, or various improvements in power consumption related to AMD’s latest APU.
The Tiger Lake-powered Onexplayer may be more competitive under the hood, but the developers equipped it with a 2560 × 1600 native screen. It’s going to give the 1165G7’s integrated graphics a headache under the best of circumstances; Switch targets 720p for a reason and 800p will be a better target.
The Aya Neo starts at $ 689, though it offers much more built-in storage. Steam Deck has only 64 GB – a little money, really – and opens for $ 400. The lack of storage is serious, but the price is also significantly better. Compared to what’s already on the market, the lower versions of Steam Deck are not a bad price – provided the console itself is good.
I do not think it is possible to evaluate whether Steam Deck will be a hit with gamers yet, because we do not know enough about three main factors: Ergonomics, battery life (both games and not) and general compatibility between Linux (with some games supported via Proton, Valves fork of Wine) and Steam. Steam Deck supports Windows, but it may be a way Valve intends to address the potential issue.
Some co-workers and friends of mine have thought that Steam Deck is expensive for what they offer. I think this will totally depend on how well Valve chose the hardware. If AMD’s APU can offer acceptable performance at 1280 × 800, $ 400 for an affordable gaming PC is not that expensive at all. Graphics are 1280 × 800 ~ 1 MP, or about half the 1080p rendering load. It should not be too difficult for a modern APU to offer acceptable performance in that resolution.
The big difference between PC gamers and Nintendo customers is that Nintendo customers know that Switch is the only way to play the company’s latest and greatest games, while Steam Deck is just a method of playing on a PC. The more expensive models are the only affordable storage options (64 GB is eMMC, while the others are NVMe), but they also have much less attractive prices. Valve also promises that they want to avoid joystick control, and that they believe that customers will be happy with the hardware choices.
My prediction is this: If Valve can offer ergonomics, battery life and overall compatibility that hit “good enough”, it can have a real hit on its hands. I do not know how many millions of units will be translated to – let’s call it somewhere between 1-10 million, probably towards the bottom of that pile. No one has ever tried to build a device like this at a price this low, so it’s hard to say how PC gamers will see the value. Slightly smaller than a home run, and we are looking at a smaller number of sales, although they may still be respectable for a first generation device.
I have no plans to buy a Steam Deck in the near future, but there is a version of this device that I could see appealing to people. Under the right circumstances, this system will offer all the performance of a solid laptop with extra storage space and options available via a USB-C port extension. The limited amount of expandability offered by a single port means that a dock may be needed to play, charge and attach external devices at the same time, but this is not insurmountable.
I do not think anyone will try to use Steam Deck as a primary PC, but if what you want is a game / handheld optimized PC that can transform into a full productivity system for troubleshooting or emergency use, this thing can be great. I’m not jumping on any hype cycles, but I’m curious to see if Valve pulls this off.