The Steam Deck is experiencing an identity crisis

The Steam Deck is experiencing an identity crisis

Phenomenal. Prodigious. Revolutionary. We are quickly tempted by superlatives when using the Steam Deck for the first time. But if we are witnessing here the biggest upheaval in the world of video games for at least a decade, all is not rosy: half portable console, half personal computer, the new machine from Valve is both the best and the worst of both.

Valve has made quite a bet by launching a console that directly competes with the monster that is Nintendo’s Switch. A new platform capable of running almost all our PC games? All for $499, just $50 more than the new Switch OLED?

But there was definitely a niche to fill in the laptop space: for the past few weeks, the device has been at the top of the list. of the best sales on the platform, surpassing sales successes such as stray, Marvel’s Spider-Man and even Elden Ring.

That says it all, demand exceeding supply, it took five months since the launch of the console to get our hands on ours. Order one today and expect to receive yours in December…or later.

A PS4 in the hands

In short, the Steam Deck is an ultraportable PC with a bespoke AMD CPU that combines a legacy Zen 2 processor and a next-gen RDNA 2 GPU similar to those found in the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S and X, but at greatly reduced power. To conserve battery power, the Steam Deck’s processor uses only 15 watts, compared to the 180 watts of next-gen consoles.

Add to that 16GB of ultra-fast DDR5 RAM and the result is a machine capable of performance on par with the latest generation PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles at the device’s native resolution (1280 by 800 pixels).

Dark Souls 3, Guilty Gear: Strive, DirtRally 2.0, Valheim : In our tests, the Steam Deck was able to run our favorite games with a minimum frame rate of 30 frames per second, often going up to 60, provided that we used reasonable settings.

All the games we tested ran better on our Steam Deck than on our AYANEO 2021, a device similar to the Steam Deck, but which costs almost twice the price. We are far here from the Switch and we are very, very far from the Game Boy Color of our childhood.

Revolutionary, they say? Thanks to the popularity of the Steam Deck, PC developers now have a machine to target for years to come. Finally a minimum standard that will benefit all players who cannot afford high-end graphics cards!

User-testers

When it was released last February, the reviews were unanimous: the device is frankly impressive, but incomplete. We are forced to make the same observation. The Steam Deck is a PC, and if it tries to offer a console experience, things can quickly get complicated as soon as you lift its hood.

The new SteamOS 3.0, this time based on Arch Linux rather than Ubuntu, comes with a whole new interface that’s easy to navigate with a gamepad.

Since the vast majority of PC games are designed for Windows, SteamOS translates them to Linux using Proton, an adaptation of the free software Wine. One would expect that the passage of DirectX games on the Vulkan is accompanied by performance losses, but, on the contrary, many benefit from it. Elden Ringfor example, does not suffer from any of the problems of the PC version on the Steam Deck.

This translation step, however, interferes with the anti-cheat software on which many online games depend, rendering them unplayable. We think, for example, of Rainbow Six: Siegeour favorite competitive first-person shooter, which is incompatible with the Steam Deck.

With tens of thousands of titles in its catalog, these hiccups are inevitable. Steam comes to the aid of players with its Steam Deck Verified program, which “guarantees” ideal compatibility. As of this writing, 1951 Games is among them. Several games that are not “verified” can work with a little effort, using the experimental version of Proton, for example.

But even relying on this list, we sometimes hit a wall. On our machine, Red Dead Redemption 2 systematically stops working after about forty minutes, although it is part of this list of games marked as “playable”.

And despite almost daily updates, there are also several wrinkles to smooth out on the software side: the virtual keyboard sometimes makes mistakes, navigating the game store is often hazardous, third-party application launchers are never user-friendly, and we on the way.

An open platform

But what causes the Steam Deck’s problems is also what gives it an ace up its sleeve against Nintendo’s Switch: it’s a PC.

Plug it into a USB-C docking station connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and with just a few clicks you have access to an open operating system comparable to macOS or Windows.

Writing this article, browsing the web, taking online classes, listening to music on Spotify, communicating with friends on Discord, editing photos or editing videos for Instagram or TikTok, installing Windows, emulating other consoles like the PlayStation 2 or even the Switch… Everything is possible on SteamOS.

Because, we repeat: it’s a PC.

And powerful as it is, it might be the only one you could possibly need, as long as you’re inclined to tweak a bit.

To see in video

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