Formatting a SD Card For Steam Deck

MicroSD Card

It appears that there is a prevalent issue with the Steam Deck corrupting SD cards that can leave them in a unrecoverable condition, this seems to occur mainly on a second formatting rather than the first, so far we’ve not heard anything from Valve about this, but I suspect it’s more likely to be down to the hardware interface rather than a software bug.

Fortunately until we know more you can format your SD card outside of the Deck easily, to do this you will need a Linux live system, assuming you’re not already using Linux, Ubuntu is a good simple choice for this.

Once you have the system running you need to insert your SD card, to identify which device it is use the following command in the terminal:

sudo lsblk

This will show a list of connected storage devices, you can identify the SD card by the size and normally it will be last in the list, in my case /dev/sdg, partitions if there are any will show as /dev/sdg1, /dev/sdg2 and so on.

Once you are sure you have identified the SD card correctly, run the following two commands:

sudo parted --script <device> mklabel gpt mkpart primary 0% 100%
sudo mkfs.ext4 -m 0 -O casefold -F <partition>

The first command creates a new blank GPT partition table, and then a new partition using all the space on the device, <device> should be replaces with your device path, I.E /dev/sdg.

The second command formats the new partition as an EXT4 file system which is what the Deck recommends, <partition> should be replaced with the first partition on your SD card, I.E /dev/sdg1

You can now remove it a insert it into your Steam Deck.

Hot Swapping

Even though Valve have said you can hot-swap SD cards I don’t recommend it, there is no protection against write corruption so you should only remove it when there is no activity or better unmount it in Dolphin first.

Should you get it to the point where you have problems, run sudo e2fsck -pf <partition> to repair it.

Installing Emulators on Steam Deck

The Steam Deck is a great device for playing emulated games on, there are a number of options for settings up emulators but I find the easiest to use is EmuDeck.

Installing EmuDeck

Once you’ve download EmuDeck click on the ‘EmuDeck.desktop’ file and it should ask you if you want to open or execute, if it does not right click on it and select Properties > Permissions and check ‘Is executable’ and press OK.

Once run Konsole will appear and begin installing, it will ask you if you want to install in easy or expert mode, I suggest choosing easy, it will then ask you if you want to install your game roms on internal storage or a SD card, I recommend the latter if you have a SD card.

It will then ask if you want to open the ROM manager, a shortcut will be placed on your desktop as well.

To add games go to /home/deck/Emulation/roms/ or for SD card /run/media/mmcblk0p1/Emulation/roms/, there is a directory for each system, place your ROMs in each one.

Once you are done run the ROM manager, open the preview tab and click ‘Generate app list’, wait until it’s finished then if you’re happy click ‘Save app list’, if you return to Steam game mode you should find your ROMs in the non-steam list ready to play.

If it has incorrectly detected a game wrong you may need to rename the ROM and repeat the process, this should not cause any problems with the game itself.

MS-DOS Games

The ROM manager doesn’t work for MS-DOS games, to deal with these run EmulationStation, shown as Emu Deck in non-steam games, if you placed your games under dos they should already be detected.

Keyboard Shortcuts

The shortcuts depend upon what emulator is being used, for a full list look here.

Lutris

While technically not an emulator sometimes you will want to play Windows games outside of Steam, adding a non-steam game doesn’t always work, to do this the easiest tool to use is Lutris which can also install games for you.

Lutris beta flatpak is now available, to install it do the following in konsole.

flatpak update --appstream
flatpak install --user flathub-beta net.lutris.Lutris//beta

flatpak install --user flathub org.gnome.Platform.Compat.i386 org.freedesktop.Platform.GL32.default org.freedesktop.Platform.GL.default

You can then run Lutris from the KDE Games menu, or add it to Steam, you will need to add a runner first to Lutris, do this in Preferences > Runners > Wine, at this time I’m using lutris-fshack-7.2, once a runner is installed to manually add a game click the add button at the top left, select ‘Add locally installed game’, enter a name and select the Wine runner, under game options set the executable and Wine prefix to a empty directory, the prefix is where the game configuration and virtual filesystem is stored.

You can now right click a game and select ‘Create steam shortcut’ to add it to Steam, all being well it should just work, however this is not always the case, you may need to use Winetricks to install additional components, the Wine Application Database is a good place to start.

Common Problems

Some of the most common problems are:

Game not detectedMost ROMS cannot be placed in sub-directories.
Wrong game detectedRename ROM or directory.
Choppy performance / audioSet the FPS limit to 60.
No game audio (MS-DOS)Run the game installer and set the audio to soundblaster
Game runs too fast / slow (MS-DOS)Press CTRL+F11 / CTRL+F12 to adjust speed.
Yuzu keys not loadingTry place in /home/deck/.var/app/org.yuzu_emu.yuzu/data/yuzu/keys/

Steam Deck – The Future of Portable Gaming?

Valve Corporation (aka Valve Software), the makers of the popular Steam gaming platform announced the Steam Deck a portable gaming handheld on the 14th July 2021, reservations were opened on the 15th for a small fee, first batches are expected to ship in December 2021, although most people will probably receive theirs in early to mid 2022, reservations are currently only open to select countries and require a previously active Steam account, this is clearly in an effort to deter scalping which has plauged the GPU market.

Spectifications

The specifications of the Steam Deck have generated a lot of interest, it uses a 64 bit x86-64 CPU made by AMD using the Zen 2 architechture with 4 cores and 8 threads, this is only one generation behind the current Zen 3, this includes the RDNA 2 APU which has been proven to be very capable at running most modern games at or above 60 fps at 1080p.

Combined with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM it’s expected to out perform nearly all current gaming handhelds, as with many of Valve’s previous products they are likely to be selling this at close to a loss, since the majority of their income comes from the Steam platform rather than the hardware itself.

It features a 7 inch LCD IPS display with touch, which is optically bonded to the front glass, some have questioned why it does not use an OLED display, but given how low they are pushing the price already I would say this is expected, given it’s an IPS panel it will still look great, the display resolution is 1280×800 giving it a 16:10 aspect ratio, this may seem a bit low resolution, but it’s a sensible tradeoff, RDNA 2 may be powerful but resolution is still a big framerate killer, an external monitor can be connected via USB-C DisplayPort if you really want a larger display.

Other features include a 6-axis IMU, bluetooth 5.0, dual band WIFI. stereo microphone and stereo speakers, connectivity includes a 3.5mm headphone/headset jack and a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port.

Battery Life

Valve have stated that it will last between two to eight hours from the internal 40Wh battery, this is more or less what I expected, ultimately how long you get depends on the games you play, very intensive games will naturally drain it faster than a simple game.

For charging and for continuous power it specifies a USB-C 45W PD3.0 power supply, which will likely be included with it, one thing that remains to be seen is if they offer replacement batteries, lithium batteries degrade over time so this could be an important consideration.

Steam Deck as a PC

Valve are advertising the Steam Deck as a portable PC, in many ways this is true as it is capable of doing anything a PC can do, to facillitate this Valve will be releasing an official dock for it which includes DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0, Ethernet, one USB 3.1 port and two USB 2.0 ports.

It can be connected to any monitor or TV up to 8k resolution, although if intended for gaming you should not exceed using it on a 1440p monitor as it may struggle to maintain a playable FPS, resolution scaling is an option for higher resolution monitors, although I tend to find this degrades image quality significantly.

It’s hard to say for sure how well it will perform in this scenario, we will need to wait for benchmarks to be sure, but certainly if you don’t have a PC or your PC is very slow this may be a viable solution.

Input

On the front, the Steam Deck has two analog joysticks with capacitive touch sensing, eight buttons, two trackpads (which Valve note are 55% more responsive than the Steam controller ones); on the top are two bumper buttons and two analog bumper buttons along with the power and volume buttons, on the rear there are four grip buttons, this gives a total of at least 20 assignments which can be adjusted with Steam input.

This should be sufficient for many games, but if you need more then using the USB port or Steam dock with additional controllers is an option.

Storage

The Steam Deck is available in three tiers, the bottom has 64GB of eMMC storage, the middle has a 256GB NVMe SSD and the top has a 512GB NVMe SSD, it has been revealed that it uses a standard M.2 2230 socket, so upgrading your memory should be possible, Valve seemed reluctant to advertise this as it opens the possibility of buying a low tier version and adding your own SSD, which is cheaper.

Because 64GB is such a small amount of storage I would not recommend it unless you plan on adding your own storage, it might do for some more basic games, but if you want to play large AAA games it will quickly become unworkable with some games exceeding 64GB as it is.

All versions also support additional storage via micro SD card, although this is typically quite slow making it the least desirable option, while we don’t have full specs yet it’s reasonable to assume that eMMC will achieve 300-400MB\s, NVMe 2000MB\s or greater, a good UHC-I SDXC card will give at best around 120MB\s.

Another final option is connecting external storage via the USB 3.2 Gen 2 port, although this kind of defeats the main point of the Steam Deck being portable.

Pricing

steam deck prices

The lowest tier version currently costs £349, the mid tier £459 and the top tier £569, this is extremely good pricing for the hardware you’re getting, the nearest competitor in performance would be the GPD Win Max which is around £584, but it’s not really comparable .

The highest teir is not really that great value for money, so I would suggest going for the mid tier, if you’re willing to install a SSD then the low tier is overall an excellent choice.

Software

The Steam Deck will be releasing with a new Steam OS 3.0, this time based on Arch Linux, along with the KDE Plasma desktop environment, this is not currently available but I’m hoping they will release this before the Steam Deck starts to ship.

Steam Deck does not place any restrictions on your software, you’re free to essentially do whatever you like, including installing other operating systems, although given hardware support this mostly means Windows or other Linux distributions, although I’m sure people will have fun getting obscure OS’s working on it.

This opens a lot of options besides your Steam library, certainly I expect emulators will become a popular choice allowing you access to many thousands of games, using alternative stores like Epic Games is also an option if you so desire.

The Steam Deck is fully capable of running most Windows only games using Proton, it’s not perfect but it works in most cases, the only real problem at the moment is that Proton will not work with some anti-cheat software, Valve have already confirmed that BattleEye and EAC will have support ready by launch but other anti-cheat software remains uncertain.

Suitable for Casual Users?

This remains a big question, and generally I would say no, even with the increasing support for Windows games there will be people frustrated at it for not running certain games, or software, at the end of the day it’s still running Linux and some Linux knowledge is preferable to get the most out of it.

Installing Windows is of course an option, but for casual users this may present too much of a problem, it would have been nice to see Valve offer a choice of operating system, maybe they will, it remains to be seen.

Overall Verdict

Overall while there are still many unanswered questions, what we have seen so far is quite promising, we will likely get more details as we get closer to launch, for now you should reserve it as soon as possible before stock runs out or you end up waiting a long time, reservation is only £4 and you can get it refunded if you change your mind.