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Gaming on the Steam Deck OLED: My impressions

My impressions gaming with the Steam Deck OLED, including design updates and Steam’s platform influence.
Sid Metcalfe

Cartesian Mathematics Foundation


November 15, 2023


The Steam Deck OLED was delivered to me 2 weeks ago - below are some of my impressions of it. The portability, vibrant display and ergonomic design to me are a new level of handheld gaming.



Click on photos to enlarge them:

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Gaming Performance: Power Balanced with Portability

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Performance-wise, the OLED model is an iteration, not a revolution, which is a savvy move from Valve. Sticking with the 4-core, 8-thread Zen 2 APU, performance targets remain steady, which means developers don’t have to scramble to optimize their games further. For someone who has lived through the pains of early hardware releases where software lags behind, this stability is a huge relief.

But it’s not just about the raw processing power. Valve’s dedication to maintaining an equal playing field for developers and gamers alike with no shifts in performance expectations speaks to a company thinking about its ecosystem holistically.

Even though the transition to a 6-nanometer process might not sound like something to write home about, it’s these under-the-hood tweaks that contribute significantly to efficiency—more battery life is always welcome on portable devices. This change alone could make a world of difference for those of us who spend long stretches away from a power source.

Then there’s the real star of the show—the OLED display. Gaming on this panel is quite stunning. As someone who’s accustomed to the deeper blacks and crisp contrast of OLED on handheld devices, seeing this technology in a Steam Deck feels like a match made in heaven. The 7.4-inch screen, paired with a respectable 1280 x 800 resolution and HDR support, means that even though it’s not breaking resolution records, the visuals pop beautifully, making it easy to lose hours exploring vibrant game worlds while commuting or lounging on the couch.

The larger 50 WHr battery is a significant improvement over its predecessor’s 40 WHr. As someone who always monitors battery stats carefully, the promise of squeezing out extra gameplay before reaching for the charger is a big draw. And with Valve suggesting a range of 3-12 hours of gameplay based on usage, it seems like this model is prepared to handle a variety of gaming sessions, from casual indies to the more demanding AAA titles.

Steam Deck’s performance as a gaming device lies not just in the hardware specs on paper but also in how well it integrates with the SteamOS and the myriad of hands-on features Valve has baked into the software. One standout feature is the seamless combination of refresh rate and fps limit into one bar, simplifying what could potentially be a complex adjustment process. This kind of user-focused optimization ensures that even gamers like me, who are less versed in the technical details, can still maximize gaming smoothness and responsiveness.

In an ecosystem where gaming consoles are often either powerful or portable, the Steam Deck OLED walks that fine line with a grace that few others manage. As someone who values having a versatile gaming library at my fingertips without compromising on performance, this device is a win. It shows that Valve is listening and adapting, prioritizing a consistent gaming experience while also embracing new technology like OLED and more efficient chips. It’s a thoughtful blend of power and portability that suits various gaming lifestyles, and honestly, it’s what keeps me excited about what’s next in the world of portable PC gaming.

For anyone who’s interested in the technical nuances that make gaming on the Steam Deck OLED a polished experience, it’s worth diving into Valve’s extensive documentation on the device’s architecture, like the Proton GitHub repo, to understand the solid groundwork this tech giant has laid down for gaming and beyond.

Design and Repairability: Taking a Step Forward

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The Steam Deck OLED is a win for gamers and modders alike, and the thoughtful engineering behind it stands as a testament to Valve’s dedication to consumer convenience and environmental consciousness. As someone who values the gaming experience, the use of an RTX 3060 complements this dedication to high-tech performance. Repair-friendly design, to me, is a forward stride that balances responsible manufacturing with the high-tech gaming experience I seek.

As I run my fingers over the sleek surface of the Steam Deck OLED, one aspect immediately stands out: the ease of repairability. Valve impresses me with their considered approach to design, not only in terms of aesthetics but for long-term use and sustainability as well. I’m particularly taken by the shift towards Torx screws, an acknowledgment of repair culture and the DIY enthusiasts among us. These screws thread into metal, a choice that speaks to durability, and less stripping risk—a common annoyance for anyone who’s ventured into gadget disassembly.

Then there’s the matter of screw types. Valve wisely reduced the number and is signaling a commitment to maintenance simplicity. This may seem like a small detail, but simpler repair procedures mean a longer lifespan for my hardware, keeping it out of the landfill and in my hands, where it belongs.

What strikes me most is the improved bumper switch mechanism drop reliability. Moved to the joystick board for easier repair, it suggests a careful reconsideration of the Steam Deck’s internals. The commitment to facilitating “common repairs” being less of a chore resonates with me. It’s heartening to see a company take user feedback into heart and iterate on it effectively. Less complexity in the event of a repair means I am more confident in purchasing and maintaining my device over time.

Moreover, the redesign that allows for the display repair without taking off the rear cover is a godsend. It indicates a deep understanding of the user’s potential headaches and preemptively offers aspirin before the pain even begins. This change resonates with a broader tech audience aware of the increasing demands for the right to repair—one that has been hotly debated across various platforms and even reached legislative discourse.

Valve’s holistic approach to repairability echoes with the Steam Deck’s design ethics, showing a clear departure from an industry trend of planned obsolescence. No need to scour through sketchy forums for a hard-to-find teardown guide; Valve’s evolving design is an implicit nod to the importance of keeping our tech working for as long as possible.

It’s this refreshing attention to detail that fosters trust between product maker and consumer. Knowing that I can keep my Steam Deck OLED running without having to send it away for repairs or buy a brand new unit speaks volumes about Valve’s foresight in product lifecycle management. It’s a promise of self-reliance in an era where control over one’s electronics is increasingly surrendered to manufacturer restrictions.

I appreciate how these improvements afford me peace of mind not only as a consumer but as someone who values the ability to tinker with tech. Modding communities, such as those on GitHub, have long championed the cause of device openness and repairability. It enables creative freedom, customization, and guarantees that a one-time investment doesn’t translate to a plastic brick should something go awry.

This is more than a nod to the zeitgeist of self-repair—it’s also reflective of a growing awareness of environmental impact. Tech waste is a mounting problem, and Valve showcasing a trend toward repairability could influence the broader industry to rethink their design ethos, partially alleviating the e-waste challenge.

Steam’s Market Dominance: A Double-Edged Sword

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Steam’s stranglehold on the gaming market through its platform is an awe-inspiring tale of a service morphing into an ecosystem. As both a consumer and a light hobbyist game developer, I’ve observed its evolution firsthand. I’ve witnessed it go from a mere digital distribution channel to an all-encompassing hub offering social networking, matchmaking, streaming, and a wealth of developer tools.

As a gamer, I’m wholeheartedly tethered to the Steam ecosystem; it’s where the community, my friends, and my extensive game library reside. The comfort in Steam’s familiarity and features is unparalleled. The thought that my purchases are secure, my cloud saves are intact, and any game I acquire will likely be accessible on any future machine I own—courtesy of Steam’s commitment to compatibility and regular updates—is reassuring on a near foundational level.

From a developer’s vantage point, the allure of Steam is inescapable. One can’t deny the platform’s outreach—it’s staggering. Gaining a foothold on Steam can leapfrog an indie title from obscurity into the limelight. The 30% revenue cut, though a topic of debate, is somewhat justified when I consider the extensive suite of services and infrastructure Valve provides—multiplayer server hosting, digital rights management, robust anti-cheat measures, and the sheer volume of potential customers Steam funnels towards a title.

That being said, this dominance doesn’t come without its pitfalls. It presents a warped canvas where Steam’s blessing is often seen as a prerequisite for success. Players, too, are implicitly locked in; the accumulated library of games and community ties serve as velvet cuffs, dissuading even the most privacy-conscious users from straying too far.

Yet, Valve’s endeavors to keep the platform open and flexible have been commendable. Their push with Proton has been nothing short of revolutionary for Linux gaming. Through Proton, Steam has opened the gates for countless games to run seamlessly on Linux systems, which is a godsend for those tired of Windows’ hegemony. It’s initiatives like these that cement the idea that Valve does more than just take—it gives back to the gaming community manifold, nurturing the ecosystem it has built.

External links like Playnite underline Steam’s less-stringent lock-in when compared to other storefronts. With Playnite, gamers can consolidate their libraries, including linking games from various other platforms, demonstrating that it is possible to enjoy the fruits of Steam without being entirely bound by its vines.

Ultimately, Steam’s market power is omnipresent, yet it wields it with a semblance of benevolence. The platform’s trajectory seems to be carved with a heavier emphasis on user experience than ever before. It’s this steady commitment to consumers and developers alike that cements its place as more than just a marketplace—it’s the heart of PC gaming. The Steam Deck OLED is but the latest testament to this ethos, merging the familiar with the innovative, and the transition feels less like a metamorphosis and more like a natural progression, a subtle evolution in the vast Valvescape.

Ecosystem and Experience: Beyond the Games

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Navigating the diverse ecosystem of PC gaming has always been about more than just the raw specs of your hardware or the graphics of your games. When I reflect on my journey with Valve’s Steam platform and the new Steam Deck OLED, I find my satisfaction rooted as much in the experience and the ecosystem as in the gameplay itself.

The Steam Deck, at its core, is a reflection of Valve’s understanding of what a gaming community needs: accessibility, flexibility, and an all-encompassing experience. The platform’s integration of various gaming services under one roof is genuinely admirable. For instance, the transition from SteamOS to the desktop mode using KDE Plasma is seamless. I love that I can switch to a more traditional computing experience when I want to indulge in activities outside of gaming.

Community features like game forums, guides, and the ability to share screenshots effortlessly make for a holistic gaming environment. The fact that I can share my gaming milestones or discuss strategies right within the same ecosystem is a testament to the convenience Valve has baked into Steam.

The support for mods has been a real game-changer. Being able to download, install, and manage game mods directly through Steam has streamlined what was once a cumbersome process. Third-party sites and manual installations are a thing of the past for many games thanks to this integrated approach. The implications for both players and mod creators are profound, fostering a more vibrant and creative gaming scene—which can be observed in countless success stories like Skyrim’s ever-active modding community.

Then, there’s the commendable Proton tool, which Valve developed to easily play Windows games on Linux. This has undoubtedly opened doors for Linux enthusiasts venturing into gaming. It represents Valve’s dedication to breaking down barriers within the PC gaming world, which I find incredibly forward-thinking.

The cross-functionality of the device is also noteworthy. A Steam Deck works effortlessly with games from other stores by adding them to the Steam library as non-Steam games. For a broader ecosystem engagement, tools such as Playnite are a godsend, enabling users to maintain a unified game library from multiple sources.

Moreover, Valve’s decision to make the Steam Deck completely open, allowing users to install third-party software or even entirely different operating systems, resonates with the ethos of PC gaming as an open platform. This freedom extends beyond traditional PC setups, with possibilities such as Linux Laptops as we get into 2024: some reflections, showcasing the expanding versatility and user control in computing. This level of freedom is rarely accorded by major tech companies today, and it’s liberating to operate a device with such potential for personalization.

While Valve’s 30% cut on game sales might stir some debate, it’s important to acknowledge the extensive infrastructure and services that developers gain access to. Steam’s vast user base, social interactivity, cloud saves, and continual updates like beta access are just some perks that justify the platform’s fee from a developer’s perspective.

It’s the sum of these experiences—the thoughtful design tweaks, the robust operating system, and the community-focused features—that delineate the Steam ecosystem from other gaming platforms. Sure, the hardware is impressive in its own right, but it’s the attention to the broader user experience that makes gaming on the Steam Deck OLED so satisfying. It’s genuinely exciting to ponder what the future holds for the Steam Deck, especially as Valve continues to iterate and expand on what’s already an impressively polished experience.