One of our favourite pieces from the past 12 months. Originally published May 4, 2022.
Valve hasn’t confirmed whether it’s genuinely working on a follow-up to the Steam Deck (opens in new tab), its handheld gaming PC. However, it is definitely looking into something akin to a Steam Deck 2. Company president Gabe Newell told Edge (opens in new tab) that shipping the first generation unit “helps frame our thinking for Deck 2”, and that the company would like to see the new handheld as a “permanent addition (opens in new tab)” to PC gaming. Whether Valve makes the next-generation PC handheld or it lends its SteamOS to someone else to do, we have plenty of ideas as to what we’d like to see make the cut.
Some of our suggestions are fairly realistic: improvements we’d like to see after spending some time with the Steam Deck ourselves, and some arguably less so. When it comes to pushing the boundary of what’s possible with today’s technology, our pie in the sky dream decks are definitely wild enough to make a Valve engineer sweat. But hey, a PC gamer can dream.
Ultimately, Valve won’t have any immediate plans to upgrade the Steam Deck—like many of you, we’re still waiting for our original orders to be fulfilled, and who knows when there will be general availability of the portable PC. But that means there’s plenty of time to figure out what’s next for the handheld, because whether the Steam Deck is the best version of it or not, there’s a whole lot of potential for handheld PC gaming.
Jacob Ridley, Senior Hardware Editor: There’s a major shift in integrated GPU power on the way. A shift that could see both AMD and Intel offering much more performance in a compact system on chip package. For Valve, or just handheld gaming PCs in general, that could be a way to offer much more than 720p performance on the go. We’re talking discrete graphics card performance from a single chip incorporating CPU, GPU, and other crucial systems.
Since the Steam Deck is already powered by an AMD processor—a four-core, eight-thread Zen 2 chip with 8 CUs of RDNA 2 graphics power—I’d assume a follow up would also play ball for the red team. AMD has confirmed two new APUs, known as Phoenix and Dragon Reach, which would reportedly come sporting the upcoming Zen 4 architecture—also destined for Ryzen 7000 processors on desktop. Rumour has it even the low-end Phoenix chips could come with up to 24 CUs from either the existing RDNA 2 or upcoming RDNA 3 graphics architectures. The exact GPU specification we can expect to see in these chips is yet to be confirmed by AMD, but we’re talking a major increase in frame rates at higher resolutions here—even on the low-end something akin to the performance of the Radeon RX 6500 XT (opens in new tab).
Arguably this is a pipe dream, of sorts. The power demands of such a chip would likely be pretty considerable for a portable handheld. So far we know it intends to drop Phoenix chips down to 35W, which is already quite a bit thirstier than the current Steam Deck’s max 15W chip. And that’s the more parsimonious of the two next-gen APUs. Let’s just skip over the part where someone has to figure out how to cool the thing and hope for the best, yeah?
Katie Wickens, Hardware Writer: Half a month with the Steam Deck has converted me from craving one of the best gaming laptops (opens in new tab) to being a bit of a Deck head. While a laptop would let me pander to my system resource hungry city building habit, I’ve found that I still enjoy RPGs and walking sims just enough to warrant buying a Steam Deck. But over my time with it, there have been a few niggles popping up, luring me back toward a life of lidded luxury.
At around 1.5lbs (660g) the Deck is a little difficult to handle. Resting it in your lap means you’re stuck hunching over it for hours (opens in new tab), and if you want to give the alternative gyro controls a go in Euro Truck Simulator 2 (opens in new tab), your arms are going to end up pretty tired after just a few minutes if you don’t lift. I’d love for the next iteration of the Deck to be a little lighter, though I get that it won’t be easy fitting what I expect to be upgraded specs into a lighter machine.
Failing that, just a little less height so I could press the topmost buttons while cradling my Deck, that would be fab. I’d also be happy with a little kickstand attached to the back so I can put the thing down without facing it toward the ceiling and missing the upcoming cutscene entirely. Thanks, daddy Newell, you’re the best.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: Colors!! I’m with Katie in that my ‘wants’ for the second generation are mostly physical. It’s inevitable we get a more powerful chip in there, so I’m not even daydreaming about the new tech. What I really care about is a device that’s lighter and more wieldy, though as I said in my review I think Valve made the right trade-offs with this one. I’d like to see Valve cut about 30% of the weight here, and shrink the overall system just a bit to make it a more portable portable.
The Steam Deck could definitely be more stylish. It feels like hardware designed by engineers, and I’d love to see a device designed with the stylishness of a Switch Lite or Playdate. The bezel around the Steam Deck’s display is quite large, so there’s potential there for Valve to keep the same size screen while tightening up the overall system dimensions. The Switch OLED is the perfect case study for a gen two Steam Deck screen, though Valve will have to make sure an OLED can handle the refresh rate changes it’s just starting to introduce on the Steam Deck right now. Being able to lock a game’s framerate and the display’s refresh to 40 or 50Hz adds so much flexibility when performance and battery life are constantly at odds.
Chris Livingston, Impatient Consumer: Maybe I’ve just been spoiled, maybe I’m just another example of the instant gratification, I-Want-It-Now Veruca Salt mentality, but it’d be nice if the Steam Deck 2 could arrive in the mail a few days or a week after I order one instead of, y’know, a million years later? Currently, if you reserve a Steam Deck here in May you have to wait until October “or later” to get it. October? That’s the distant future. Or later? That’s even more distant. We’ll probably be living on Mars and using telepathy to play games by the time “or later” rolls around.
Hopefully, Valve will manufacture more Deck 2’s in advance than they did with their first run—it’s not like the company will wind up in financial ruin if a few Decks go unsold, right? Or, maybe it’s on me to stop expecting to get the things I want the moment I want them. Hard to say.
Alan Dexter, Senior Hardware Editor: I’m torn when it comes to the dream Steam Deck. Part of me wants more power to make higher resolutions and better frame rates a reality, but at the same time, I don’t want to have to deal with even noisier fans. So if we’re in the realm of fantasy, then an RDNA 3 GPU core with 24 CUs would be great. Hook that up to a 1080p screen so you don’t have to mess with any weird resolutions, and we’re good.
On top of that, I’d also love a more premium chassis. The OG Steam Deck does feel pretty decent, but numerous high-end laptops have given me a taste for a quality, CNC-machined chassis, and if this could help with the cooling of the next Steam Deck, then that’s all for the better. Obviously, such cases do have a notable impact on pricing, but that’s for the engineers at Valve to work out.
The final thing I’d like from the Steam Deck 2 is a bit trickier to resolve—I want a better controller. I simply don’t get on with the inputs offered by the existing Steam Deck. This is partially down to the fact that the PC games I tend to play work best with mouse and keyboard, and I’ve always seen console controllers as being poor cousins to the might of the PC’s inputs. I don’t know what the solution is, but it isn’t a thumbstick and a trackpad.
In summary: I want better performance, a premium chassis, and a complete rethink of the controllers. And all for roughly the same price as the original Steam Deck—the one thing that Valve absolutely nailed with the first-gen devices.
Dave James, Hardware Lead: Silence. That’s all I really want from the second generation Steam Deck. The volume of the thing is what has most put me off using it in public, or even sat on the sofa next to my wife mainlining Below Deck like the reality TV opium it is. Actually, it’s mostly the pitch of the fans rather than the volume that has annoyed me, but even the insistent whoosh of the Deck’s cooling still gets to me after a while. The dream would be passive chip-chilling that somehow keeps the RDNA 3-powered APU at its heart still able to run at peak performance. But I know that’s a pipe-dream. Or a dream where the heat pipes are so damned big the Deck 2.0 becomes three inches thick.
That’s the main thing, but there are also some nice-to-have features I’d be up for, too. The customisation on the Deck means I can tweak it to ensure I get decent battery life on most games, but I’d love a battery that means I don’t have to. Again, I don’t know if that’s possible within the tight confines of its chassis, at least not without the system drawing much less power than it does right now.
Finally, I’d want Thunderbolt 4 connectivity. Being able to dock the Deck has been an incredibly pleasurable experience; I wrote the entirety of my tech review on the Steam Deck itself while plugged into my office monitor, mouse, and keyboard. But it doesn’t necessarily do great on a higher spec screen for games, though if you could plumb it into an external GPU dock, you’ve got a mobile gaming machine that can become a full desktop PC back home.