One of our favorite pieces from the past 12 months. Originally published May 4, 2022.
Valve hasn’t confirmed if it’s actually working on a sequel to the Steam deck (opens in new tab), the portable gaming PC. However, it certainly explores something similar to a Steam Deck 2. Company president Gabe Newell told me Side (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 is making the next generation PC handheld or lending its SteamOS to someone else to do, we’ve got plenty of ideas of what we’d like to see.
Some of our suggestions are quite 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 boundaries 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 the portable PC will be generally available. But that means there’s plenty of time to find out what’s next for the handheld, because whether the Steam Deck is the best version or not, there’s tons of potential for handheld PC gaming.
Jacob Ridley, senior hardware editor: A major shift in integrated GPU power is on the way. A shift where both AMD and Intel could offer much more performance in a compact system on chip package. For Valve, or just portable gaming PCs in general, that could be a way to offer much more than 720p performance on the go. We are talking discrete graphics card performance from a single chip with CPU, GPU and other critical 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 sequel would also be a ball for the red team. AMD has confirmed two new APUs, known as Phoenix and Dragon Reach, said to be coming with the upcoming Zen 4 architecture – also destined for desktop Ryzen 7000 processors. It is rumored that even the low-end Phoenix chips may ship with up to 24 CUs of the existing RDNA 2 or upcoming RDNA 3 graphics architectures. The exact GPU specification we can expect in these chips is yet to be confirmed by AMD, but we’re talking about a big increase in frame rates at higher resolutions – even on the low end something akin to the performance of the Radeon RX6500XT (opens in new tab).
No doubt this is a kind of utopia. The power consumption of such a chip would probably be quite high for a portable handheld device. So far we know it plans to reduce Phoenix chips to 35W, which is already a lot thirstier than the current Steam Deck’s max 15W chip. And that’s the more thrifty of the two next-gen APUs. Let’s skip the part where someone has to figure out how to cool the thing down and hope for the best, okay?
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 be a bit of a deck head. While I might indulge in my system-resource-hungry city-building habit with a laptop, I’ve found I still enjoy RPGs and running sims just enough to warrant buying a Steam Deck. But over the time I’ve been working on it, a few niggles have cropped up, luring me back to a life of closed luxury.
At about 660g, the deck is a bit hard to handle. If you let it rest on your lap, you’ll be hunched over it for hours (opens in new tab)and if you want try the alternative gyro controls in Euro Truck Simulator 2 (opens in new tab), your arms will get pretty tired after just a few minutes if you don’t lift. I’d like to see the next iteration of the Deck be a bit lighter, though I understand it won’t be easy to fit what I expect upgraded specs into a lighter machine.
Failing that, just a little less height so I can press the top buttons while rocking my Deck, that would be great. I’d also be happy with a little kickstand attached to the back so I can put the thing down without pointing it at the ceiling and completely missing the upcoming cutscene. Thanks, Papa Newell, you are the best.
Wes Fenlon, editor-in-chief: Colors!! I’m with Katie in that my “wishes” for the second generation are mostly physical. Inevitably we get a more powerful chip in there, so I’m not even daydreaming about the new technology. What I really care about is a device that’s lighter and more manageable, but as I said in my review, I think Valve made the right trade-offs with this one. I’d like to see Valve reduce about 30% of the weight here and shrink the overall system a bit to make it more portable.
The Steam Deck can certainly be more stylish. It feels like hardware designed by engineers, and I’d like to see a device designed in the style of a Switch Lite or Playdate. The bezel around the Steam Deck screen is quite large, so there’s an opportunity for Valve to keep the same screen size while shrinking the overall system size. The Switch OLED is the perfect case study for a gen two Steam Deck display, though Valve needs to make sure an OLED can handle the refresh rate changes it’s just now starting to introduce to the Steam Deck. Being able to lock in a game’s frame rate and refresh the screen to 40 or 50 Hz adds so much flexibility when performance and battery life are constantly at odds.
Chris Livingston, impatient consumer: Maybe I’m just spoiled maybe I’m just another example of the instant gratification I-want-it-now Veruca Salt mentality but it would be nice if the Steam Deck 2 could arrive in the mail in a few days or a week after I ordered one instead of, you know, a million years later? Currently, if you pre-order a Steam Deck here in May, you’ll have to wait until October “or later” to get it. October? That’s the far future. Or later? That’s even further away. We’ll probably be living on Mars and using telepathy to play games by the time “or later” rolls around.
Hopefully, Valve will produce more Deck 2s ahead of time than they did on their first run – it’s not like the company is going to be in financial ruin if a few Decks go unsold, is it? Or maybe it’s up to me to stop expecting to get the things I want when 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 achieve higher resolutions and better frame rates, but at the same time I don’t want 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 display so you don’t have to mess with weird resolutions, and we’re good.
Plus, I’d love a more premium chassis too. The OG Steam Deck feels pretty decent, but countless high-end laptops have given me a taste for a high-end, CNC-machined chassis, and if this could help with the next Steam Deck’s cooling, then all for the better . Obviously, such instances have a significant impact on pricing, but that’s for Valve’s engineers to work out.
The last thing I’d like from Steam Deck 2 is a bit trickier to fix: I want a better controller. I just can’t get past the inputs offered by the existing Steam Deck. This is partly due to the fact that the PC games I play work best with mouse and keyboard, and I’ve always seen console controllers as poor cousins to the power of the PC inputs. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s not a thumbstick and a trackpad.
To sum up: I want better performance, a premium chassis and a complete rethink of the controllers. And all for about the same price as the original Steam Deck – the one thing Valve definitely got right with the first-gen devices.
Dave James, hardware leader: Silence. That’s all I really want from the second generation Steam Deck. The volume of the thing is what has kept me most from using it in public, or even sitting on the couch next to my wife playing Below Deck like the reality TV opium that it is. Actually, it’s more the pitch of the fans than the volume that annoyed me, but even the persistence whoosh of the deck cooling still hits me after a while. The dream would be passive chip chilling that somehow keeps the RDNA 3 powered APU at its heart while still being able to deliver peak performance. But I know that’s a utopia. Or a dream where the heatpipes are so damn big that the Deck 2.0 gets four inches thick.
That’s the main thing, but there are also some nice features that I’d like to be there for as well. The customization on the deck means I can tweak it to make sure I get decent battery life on most games, but I’d like 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 using much less power than it does now.
Finally, I would like Thunderbolt 4 connectivity. Being able to dock the deck was an incredibly enjoyable experience; I wrote the entirety of my tech review on the Steam Deck itself while connected to my office monitor, mouse, and keyboard. But it doesn’t necessarily fare well on a higher spec screen for gaming, but if you could plug it into an external GPU dock you’d have a mobile gaming machine that could become a full desktop PC at home.