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This article was published on May 26, 2021

Sweet gaming Cthulhu! Valve’s working on a handheld gaming PC

Hardware that THE DEPTHS may deliver this very year

Sweet gaming Cthulhu! Valve’s working on a handheld gaming PC
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Callum Booth

Editor of Plugged by TNW

Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He w Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He writes about gear, gadgets, and apps — with a particular focus on Apple — and also makes the occasional odd video. Basically, he's halfway between an abrasive gadget nerd and thinky art boy.

PC behemoth Valve may have something sweet in store for all us: a handheld gaming PC. Potentially nicknamed the “SteamPal,” reports suggest that this Nintendo Switch-style device could even drop by the end of the year.

This report comes from Ars Technia, which claims to have an array of different sources backing up this hardware’s existence.

So, what do we know about the “SteamPal?” Firstly, the name comes from a recent change in Steam‘s code:

Of course, “SteamPal” could just be a working title — there’s nothing to say this isn’t going to change before announcement. But for now? It’s good enough.

Besides that, Valve’s “SteamPal” is set to look a lot like a Nintendo Switch. It’ll have a touchscreen, dual-joysticks (non-removable), a touchpad, triggers, and… buttons. It’s more likely than not that the “SteamPal” will also run Linux.

We can also assume that it’s going to make great use of Steam’s bulging games library. I mean, it’d be bizarre if that wasn’t the case.

All this is hugely exciting, but the question remains about how likely it is that the “SteamPal” will ever see the light of day.

Well, a video captured earlier in the year shows Gabe Newell — Valve’s co-founder and president — teasing some sort of announcement about Steam games on a console. This, of course, is fuel on the “SteamPal” fire.

Are there any barriers to the “SteamPal” launching?

Technologically, the console is definitely possible. The Aya Neo has proven reasonably successful at delivering a PC experience in a handheld device. The Nintendo Switch has also shown that there is still a strong market for handheld gaming.

aya neo handheld gaming pc
Yes, this is a terrible press shot of the Aya Neo, but what can you do? You get the idea.

The price of the “SteamPal” is a tougher thing to guess. While the Switch retails for around $300, it’s unlikely Valve’s console will get this low. Although the financial power of the gaming company will enable it to buy components in bulk, one assumes the “SteamPal” will likely be costlier than Nintendo’s, simply because it’ll require beefier hardware to play many Steam games.

To me, the technical existence of the “SteamPal” is totally possible. It’s well within Valve’s wheelhouse to release the handheld gaming PC — even though battery life is going to be a huge concern.

The biggest question is how successful it could be. I believe this will be defined by two points: its potential audience and quality control.

Valve’s handheld gaming PC would have to find a niche between Switch owners, mobile gamers, and PC enthusiasts, something far easier said than done. On top of that, the Switch has succeeded on one level due to the amount of high-quality, first party content. If Valve doesn’t set up a robust system for vetting titles on the “SteamPal,” it’s likely that using it deliver an inconsistent experience.

Because PC titles don’t need to account for power drain, they can basically run to the limit of their components. A handheld device like this requires a balance between power consumption and performance — and that’s without even mentioning the issue of heating. You only need to look at what happened with Cyberpunk 2077 to see what running a game on hardware it’s not made for can lead to.

I’m a sucker for a new console and, at best, the launch of the “SteamPal” could shake up the whole industry. And at worst? Well, there’s gonna be a lot of entertaining drama.

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