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What we want to see from the possible SteamPal handheld from Valve

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You've all seen the rumours by now, and apparent confirmation from Ars that Valve has been working on the SteamPal, a Linux powered handheld that could be released this year. Here's a short list of what we want from it.

Steam Machines and SteamOS were ultimately a failure, for many reasons. The whole thing was confusing for both users and consumers with multiple models, and most of them wanted far too much money. What will be different this time? How can Valve actually make it work?

This time around at least, it looks like Valve are entering a market that's still relatively in its infancy. However, it's clearly popular with more hardware vendors showing prototypes and the GPD Win series continues showing how a smaller vendor can make it happen. If Valve really do enter, they would be positioned well considering they know how to produce their own hardware after the Steam Controller, Steam Link and now the Valve Index too. Doing it directly with only one model or perhaps two with a higher model would already solve a lot of their original Steam Machine issues. Let's say that's the first thing we want: make it clear. Get the marketing right this time, and actually continue marketing it unlike before.

Game support is something that suffered originally. We had porters like Feral Interactive and Aspyr Media come onboard thanks to Steam Machines but they simply weren't enough. This time, we have a vast library of supported indie games, a couple AA/AAA and then there's Steam Play Proton too. However, realistically, we still need that direct support and porting effort from developers to ensure the games work as good as they can on the hardware, especially since this won't be top-end stuff. Still, with Proton, there is at least that ability to play more than what's supported and the ability to is vitally important to make a SteamPal actually worth even thinking on to purchase.

Having good game support is the single most essential thing. People don't want to wait around for shaders to compile when you hit play, stuttering while Proton/DXVK builds up a cache will be very noticeable on the hardware too and no doubt be the source of many poor reviews. Having developers build and optimize for it will end up essential to making it a win overall.

Another serious point to think on is online gaming. This is a sore spot right now. I can only imagine the reviews of "you can't play x or y, the most popular online games" which will be due to the likes of Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye. Perhaps though, since Valve will fully control the kernel they can have it all signed in a particular way that anti-cheat systems can hook into it. However, that could then split things between desktop Linux and a SteamPal. It's both exciting to think on for support and concerning.

A Steam Game Pass, yup, something like that I think would be in some way needed. Other consoles have a form of it, Valve allows it on Steam already with the likes of EA Play, it would make sense for Valve to have one to not only pull in even more money but to give users access to a library of games right away for a SteamPal when they signed up. Either that, or team up with a bunch of developers to give free copies to those who buy one.

Keep the desktop mode. Please. That was actually a highlight of SteamOS originally. You get the console-like experience, with the option to dive into a normal desktop if you want to do other things. That would extend the possibilities of what you can do with a Valve SteamPal. I think removing that would be a mistake, as long as they lock-down the SteamPal SteamOS side of things so that users can't break it and as easy system-refresh option to set things back to normal.

Send loads out to developers long before release. Gosh I hope they're doing this. How do you get people interested in supporting it? Give them developer kits. Other console makers do this for good reason.

Some form of external streaming media support out of the box. Yes, I know, that the main point is gaming but we're long past the point of such single-use devices. People will expect the likes of Netflix and others to work. So get it sorted before release. It was a sore spot for the original Steam Machines.

I don't think I really need to put down "use a Linux operating system" as a thing we want from it do I? It's pretty obvious it will be. So, SteamOS 3? Let's say I want that to be real and to still allow others to download it and install it just like they could before. Oh, and duh: please don't be a failure.

Don't be too big. I can't stress this enough. The Nintendo Switch is just about right (except the terrible to hold Joy-Cons that is when in portable mode). Any bigger and it would be far too unwieldy and likely defeat the point. That is one thing I am genuinely worried about. Valve could get a little too screen-happy with it but I hope they're being smart about this one.

Just a few thoughts to get it out there to stop the mind from spinning on it, no doubt we will all have more we want and expect from it over time. They key though is to not expect too much. It is, after all (if real), a handheld! We can't expect magic from it, as it will be limited in terms of what power it can cram into the casing.

Over to you in the comments: what do you want from it?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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86 comments
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Liam Dawe 11 Jun
Quoting: CatKillerOn shader compilation: Steam already downloads pre-compiled shaders if your machine has a familiar configuration. This would definitely have a familiar configuration, so it shouldn't have to compile its own shaders for games from Steam.
Downloads yes, but then you have to wait while it does the processing. Sometimes that can end up taking quite some time, if people get impatient and are able to click through it, welcome to stutterfest. It might not be an issue but it's worth thinking on.
dubigrasu 11 Jun
I must say that I'm on the fence with the desktop mode. As a SteamOS user myself for about 7 years I saw the desktop mode being the number one source of user breakage for SteamOS's system.
If the desktop mode is to be kept, then indeed, they must do a better job this time in limiting the damage that the user can do to the system. They had the option to restore the system partition yes, but you could still harm the user partition/folders beyond repair.
I think that GamerOS (soon to be ChimeraOS) has the best approach (at least until a better idea comes up): no desktop, a read-only image for the system and a dedicated tool (steam-buddy) for tinkering, adding roms, games from Gog/Epic and so on, basically covering whatever people wanted the desktop mode for.
Personally, (for a tiny handheld) I see no use for a desktop mode, unless, you can dock it and hook it to a TV (which would be cool though).
CatKiller 11 Jun
Quoting: 0aTTI read in an article with this new AMD APU ("Van Gogh"), it should have the performance of a PS4 (slim). Can that be true and how power hungry would such a device be?

Based on the rumours, I think Van Gogh (or its successor, Dragon Crest) is likely. It's a thing that exists in engineering samples and has Linux support already, but the rumours were that AMD hadn't finalised a decision on whether to mass produce it because they were waiting for a decision from a customer.

The configuration is really weird for a general purpose machine from AMD in 2021/2022, since it uses brand-spanking-new RDNA2 and old Zen 2, but would be a very good fit for a dedicated gaming device. It's the same configuration as the PS5 and new Xbox, but way lower TDP. The rumours say a bit lower than the Switch in power draw, at around 7-12 Watts.

If they can also use their new cache stacking technology on it, that would be awesome. Better performance and lower power draw because you don't need as high bandwidth to main memory. But cutting edge fabrication techniques might be too expensive. The engineering samples don't have any L3 cache at all which you'd expect if the final chip doesn't have L3, but you'd also expect to see that if the L3 is entirely in a separate layer whose inclusion hasn't been finalised yet.
Hooly 11 Jun
With Thunderbolt coming to AMD boards, I could even imagine them selling a docking station with an AMD GPU in it.
From what I've heard, GPU hot-plugging might work better with Wayland compared to X11.

If they keep the desktop mode and include the ability to connect a mouse and a keyboard, and/or watch videos on YouTube, Netflix, etc. the SteamPal could even turn into a laptop killer for some people.


I really hope the SteamPal gains mainstream attention.
If it does, gaming on Linux would gain a lot more native support in the future.

"Linux and open-source are the future of gaming." - Gabe Newell, 2013


Last edited by Hooly on 11 June 2021 at 11:21 am UTC
Eike 11 Jun
Quoting: Liam Dawe
Quoting: CatKillerOn shader compilation: Steam already downloads pre-compiled shaders if your machine has a familiar configuration. This would definitely have a familiar configuration, so it shouldn't have to compile its own shaders for games from Steam.
Downloads yes, but then you have to wait while it does the processing. Sometimes that can end up taking quite some time, if people get impatient and are able to click through it, welcome to stutterfest. It might not be an issue but it's worth thinking on.

I thought downloading the precompiled shaders would avoid having calculations on my own PC? Either way, I would hide that as being part of the game download.
I would love to have support for GeForce Now and other cloud gaming options. That way it wouldn't need the beefiest hardware but still be able to support new titles for years to come.
CatKiller 11 Jun
Quoting: on_en_a_grosBut honestly I'm absolutely not interested in a handheld console / pc, and I don't really see what the target audience is for these product.

I'm very interested in this. I have a beefy gaming rig where I do most of my gaming. I also have a laptop and a NUC where I do some other gaming that favours a controller, either light games that run locally or games streamed from my desktop machine. This device could replace both of those, and be more portable and convenient to be able to play more games more often. People playing more games more often is good for Valve.

Anecdotally, with people having done more working from home recently, they don't necessarily want to be tethered to the same machine for entertainment. Being able to do PC gaming while flopped on the sofa could be quite attractive to them.
Liam Dawe 11 Jun
Quoting: CatKillerAnecdotally, with people having done more working from home recently, they don't necessarily want to be tethered to the same machine for entertainment. Being able to do PC gaming while flopped on the sofa could be quite attractive to them.
That's quite literally me and why I would love such a device.
CatKiller 11 Jun
I'd also like to see them sort out Family Sharing so that you can share your library with your family. Not having to put Steam into offline mode when you're playing something on the desktop and your family wants to play something on the handheld would be sensible. It's a completely unnecessary pain point currently.
ObsidianBlk 11 Jun
Honestly, if the device is no more than $399, can play most of my current Steam library, supports HDMI out, 3rd party controllers over bluetooth, AND I can easily install games that aren't on Steam (I'm a hobbiest game developer and it would be awesome to put some of my own small games on the system to show off to people)... yeah... I'd get the system!
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