Let’s be clear, the new Steam Deck OLED is not simply the original Valve machine with a new screen. External casing aside, it’s basically a total overhaul of the console/PC and perhaps the biggest mid-generation overhaul I’ve seen so far. But let’s start by talking about its fantastic new screen: it’s bigger, brighter, runs at 90Hz and, along with improvements to SteamOS, also offers full HDR support. Try Ori and the Will of the Wisps, for example, for top-notch HDR, and you’ll realize that Valve is delivering home theater-level fidelity in a portable gaming console. It’s simply amazing.
Put it next to the original Deck, the new machine looks basically the same as the first generation, but as soon as you turn it on you realize the extraordinary difference there is compared to the original model. Valve talks about a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 (typical for OLED panels), along with 110% of the P3 color space and a 90Hz refresh rate. In terms of maximum brightness with HDR, the screen reaches 1,000 nits, a huge improvement over the limited 400 nits of the original LCD. The new screen is also larger: 7.4 inches instead of the 7 inches of the original model, which translates into smaller frames.
The 90Hz refresh rate comes accompanied by adjustments to the SteamOS frame-rate limiting options. In the LCD model, users have control over the frame-rate by defining the refresh rate of the screen. With the review software I tested this was reduced to a simple bar, with which you limit the frame-rate and SteamOS configures the 90Hz display accordingly. There is still no VRR, but the screen can be configured between 45Hz and 90Hz. Choose 30FPS, for example, and the screen continues refreshing at 90Hz, repeating the same frame three times. Choose 40FPS and the screen lowers the refresh rate to 80Hz, doubling each frame.
|System Specifications||Steam Deck||Steam Deck OLED|
|Processor||AMD ‘Van Gogh’ 7nm||AMD ‘Van Gogh’ 6nm|
|Memory||16GB LPDDR5 5500MT/s||16GB LPDDR5 6400MT/s|
|Screen||1200×800 – 7 inches 60Hz IPS, maximum 400 nits||1200×800 – 7.4 inches 90Hz OLED, wide color gamut, maximum HDR 1000 nits, maximum SDR 600 nits|
|Wireless||Dual-band Wi-Fi radio, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, 2×2 MIMO, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac||Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E radio, 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz 2×2 MIMO, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax|
Setting up and enabling HDR on Windows can be a bit problematic, but with Valve controlling the Steam Deck’s operating system the process is very simple. Some games load automatically in HDR mode, while in others you just have to activate HDR in the game options menu. In my favorite games everything worked perfectly with minimal effort and the best possible reward, because the quality of the screen is really good. I’ve tried a lot of portable PC consoles, but none come close to this.
The rest of the Steam Deck OLED remains more or less the same as the original model, except now it’s cooler, quieter, and lighter. There’s only a thirty gram difference between the Steam Deck OLED and the launch model, but it’s strangely easy to tell the difference when you play. Noise is much less intrusive, thanks to a larger fan (which can spin at a lower speed to move the same amount of air) and the introduction of a 6nm manufacturing process in the AMD Van Gogh processor. This chip is more efficient than its 7nm predecessor, meaning it consumes less and generates less heat. The bottom line is that while the new Deck isn’t as quiet as a Switch, it is noticeably less noisy than the launch Steam Deck.
The renewed processor is mounted along with 6400MT/s memory, higher than the 5500MT/s modules that the original Steam Deck had. Although Valve says that the performance goal of the new Deck does not change compared to the old model, I have been able to verify that the revised model is between 2% and 9% faster than the previous one, depending on the content. Having more memory width (and lower latency, according to valve) is very useful in AMD APUs, and perhaps it is the case that the greater efficiency of the new processor also extracts a little more performance from the chip, taking into account that the TDP It generally remains at 15W, as in the original model.
In practice, this means that if you set the frame-rate limit below 60FPS, you get two or three more frames per second, making it easier to stick to your limit. Another thing I’ve noticed on several occasions is that the new Deck tends to suffer less jerks when under heavy load, something that is noticeable when moving quickly through the world of Cyberpunk 2077 or when you first encounter the horde of rats in A Plague Tale: Requiem.
In Valve’s renovation of the Steam Deck we see how its engineers have touched up almost all the elements of the machine, always with the aim of improving the user experience. One of the most obvious aspects of this is the battery life; The HDR display is actually more efficient than its LCD predecessor, and we’ve already talked about the benefits of reducing the manufacturing process to 6nm. The final masterstroke in this regard is that the battery is now larger: 50WHr in the new Deck compared to 40WHr in the old model.
Even without the additional improvements, this means 25 percent more battery life, but that extra efficiency adds a multiplier effect that brings the gains to between 30 percent and 50 percent, according to Valve. Using a static scene from Cyberpunk 2077 to get an idea of how it compares all things being equal, I found that the improvement in autonomy is between forty-two and forty-five percent.
|Battery with Cyberpunk 2077||Steam Deck||Steam Deck OLED|
|Frame-rate unlocked||26.1W, 1 hour 32 minutes||23.0W, 2 hours 12 minutes|
|Frame-rate limited to 30FPS||21.9W, 1 hour 50 minutes||18.8W, 2 hours 40 minutes|
Valve has announced other improvements that are too long to list here, but the highlights are WiFi 6E connectivity to triple (under ideal conditions) download speeds, faster charge times for the battery, shorter return times from sleep mode, a 180Hz polling rate for the new touch screen, a new Bluetooth 5.3 module with a dedicated antenna – which allows you to use WiFi and BT at the same time – and improvements to the trackpad and haptic vibration. The fantastic sound of the Steam Deck is now even louder and with more powerful bass, while on the sticks we see a subtle improvement. Valve also explains that the new model is easier to repair, with stronger screws and metal rivets, while the screen can be replaced without having to remove the back of the machine.
All this is summarized in that the Steam Deck OLED substantially improves its predecessor in all sections, and its arrival also alters the variety of available options. There is still an entry-level model for €419, but it now has a 256GB SSD – much better than the old model at that price, which had 64GB of eMMC flash memory. For €569 you have the new model with a 512GB SSD, while for €679 you take home the new model with 1TB of storage.
The other older models of the Deck reduce their price, but the truth is that I find them difficult to recommend after the arrival of the OLED model. If you’ve seen the difference between a Switch and a Switch OLED, you can get an idea of the improvement, but the truth is that the excellent screen specs and HDR support are even better here – it’s simply The best screen I have seen on a laptop. Quality of life improvements, such as better autonomy, weight reduction and improvements in acoustics add up to a more refined product. Unless you have a very limited budget, the new OLED model is clearly the most recommended as a standard purchase.
Critics? The truth is that I would have liked to have had another USB-C port, and users should be aware that it will be a long time before a completely new generation of Steam Deck arrives, so there is no doubt that the most popular games demanding will not work as well at the current level of performance. That said, you won’t be short of games that run perfectly well, and the OLED screen is a perfect excuse to revisit some titles in your library. Batman: Arkham Knight was the first port I tried, and it didn’t disappoint me one bit.
With Windows handheld consoles competing for more power at the expense of a poorer user experience and poorer battery life, what was already arguably the best handheld console/PC you could buy is now much, much better. Valve describes the Steam Deck OLED as the definitive first-generation model and it’s hard to disagree with that, even if it seems to undercut what they had already achieved in the laptop segment with the original model that went on sale. in early 2022.
After a shaky start, SteamOS itself has evolved into a competent and accessible way to play PC games on the go, creating a whole new market segment in the process. With its software, Valve has achieved the perfect balance between mainstream accessibility and the type of customization that the PC audience demands. The Proton compatibility layer rarely intrudes on the experience, and the truth is that some games run even better on SteamOS than they do on Windows.
Throughout its life cycle, the Steam Deck has exceeded all expectations, and with the Steam Deck OLED Valve it seems that it is going to do it again. It is, in short, an exceptional piece of hardware.
Translation by Josep Maria Sempere.