Valve Steam Console: everything we know about the SteamPal handheld

Is Valve working on a Steam Console? That’s the question on everyone’s lips right now, as fairly strong rumors have surfaced that the company behind Half-Life is secretly developing a dedicated handheld device, dubbed the “SteamPal”. It was previously known by the codename “Neptune”.

While details have only just begun to emerge, Ars Technica is confident that the portable PC gaming is indeed real, and that it will be similar to the types of form-factor, handheld PCs we’ve seen recently, like the Onexplayer

The Steam Console will apparently include one of the ill-fated Steam Controller’s haptic touchpads, which could simulate the feeling of spinning a trackball, as well as the traditional buttons and analog sticks gamers are used to. The Steam Console will also have some hybrid functionality, allowing players to connect the device to a PC monitor via a USB-C connection – similar to how the Nintendo Switch can be docked and displayed on a TV.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A rumored handheld PC from Valve
  • How much will it cost? TBA
  • When will it be released? TBA

In terms of what OS the Steam Console will use… well, that’s very much up for debate right now. There’s a good chance it will run Valve’s open-source Linux distro, SteamOS, but Ars Technica hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the portable PC will run a full-fledged version of Windows.

We also don’t know what sort of hardware will power the device, but CPUs and GPUs have made incredible strides in recent years. They’re far more power efficient and able to more closely match desktop components in terms of raw performance, which previously wasn’t the case. 

Ars Technica’s report suggests the console will use a system on a chip (SoC) made by either Intel or AMD, and not Nvidia. It’s also unclear whether the Steam Console will come in a few different configurations with higher or lower specs. The Nintendo Switch, in comparison, is powered by an Nvidia Tegra X1 chip and an ARM-based processor, but we’d expect Valve to commit to an AMD-based CPU and GPU to help games hit 60fps (the standard for PC gamers) as opposed to the 30fps target that most Switch games follow.

What will the Steam Console look like?

Valve Steam Machine

(Image credit: Future)

Right now, your guess is as good as ours, but it isn’t too difficult to picture a handheld device that borrows from the Switch’s popular design: a large screen in the middle, cradled by two controllers. We doubt that the controllers will be detachable, however, so expect something more akin to the Nintendo Switch Lite, which is a dedicated handheld. According to Ars Technica, the prototype of the Steam Console is “quite wide compared to the Nintendo Switch”. 

Valve could opt for an OLED screen, which is rumored to be included in the Nintendo Switch Pro, but what resolution the screen will output at will be a point of much discussion. Will it be capable of 1080p or 4K resolution? Perhaps it will target the 1440p sweet spot that so many PC gamers opt for today? At this point, details are still unclear.

There will also be a lot of interest in the size of the display. For comparison, the Nintendo Switch has a 6.2-inch screen, while the Nintendo Switch Lite is slightly smaller at 5.5-inch. The smaller the screen size, the less battery power the console will consume, and it can also make lower resolutions like 1080p look more pleasing on the eye. It remains to be seen what screen size Valve will pick, if the Steam Console is indeed real.

How much will the Steam Console cost?


(Image credit: SteamOS)

We’d expect the Steam Console to be sold at a higher price tag than the Nintendo Switch, which retails for $299 / £279.99 / AU$469. If the Steam Console uses higher-end parts, such as dedicated laptop-based CPUs and GPUs, we’d expect it to be a more premium option over the Nintendo Switch. The choice of display will also affect the final price of the device, but we’ll need to wait until more information is available before we can make an educated guess at the Steam Console’s price.

There also isn’t any information available regarding the amount of memory, storage capacity, or the size of the internal battery that the Steam Console will come with. These factors will again influence the final price of the portable PC.

Steam Console release date


(Image credit: Steam/Valve)

Surprisingly, the Steam console, or “SteamPal”, could be released this year. Sources who spoke to Ars Technica suggested that a 2021 release could be feasible, and it wouldn’t be too much of a shock based on Valve’s previous product release history. The Steam Controller was nearly feature-complete and ready to ship when it was revealed, as was the Valve Index.

If the SteamPal does come to market (Ars Technica’s report does stress it could be canceled at a moment’s notice), Valve will be hoping that the portable PC is more successful than its Steam Machines venture. Valve tried to take over the living rooms with smaller form factor PCs, but they were soon discontinued after a lack of consumer interest. 

We’ll be keeping our ear to the ground for any more Steam Console rumors and announcements, and will update this page accordingly should we hear more.

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