Microsoft operating systems
I’m not talking about the lack of full driver support for Microsoft operating systems or the weird little bugs that pop up as you play, I’m not even talking about the performance degradation of games on Windows compared to SteamOS. I mean, it’s definitely with such immature, buggy drivers, but my problem is that booting Windows on deck feels like nothing more than a complete blow-off, like you’re completely missing the device in your hands.
I mean it works. Mostly. Right now, Valve only offers an AMD driver that will give you GPU and Wi-Fi support, but with no sound and actually worse gaming performance. But put on some Bluetooth headphones and the sound will work fine, download Skyrim for the millionth time and it will still hit the screen’s 60Hz limit without fuss, and the controls will work fine and let you play while the battery lasts. Which, however, is not for long.
But Windows is not meant to be lived on the small screen, nor is it meant to be a dedicated gaming device. It is a feature-rich operating system built for the Swiss Army Knife, which is the modern-day PC. On something with such a clear focus on handheld gaming like Steam Deck, it’s a most uncomfortable experience.
However, I was excited to get Windows on deck. I haven’t really gotten along with Linux since I stopped using the ultra-light distro on my netbook in 2009 and occasionally dabbled with different distros on my gaming PC—yes, even SteamOS. But I have always found Windows to be a more comfortable environment for my gaming pleasures. And as soon as Valve gave the go-ahead to install Windows by releasing the Aerith drivers, I wanted to install them on my deck.
And, of course, I needed to install Windows 11. This is probably best suited for a touchscreen gaming device with its updated design scheme, but Valve stated that the Stream Deck was limited to Windows 10 due to TPM requirements. A BIOS update is in the works that will enable TPM and make installing Win11 a standard process.
But almost already. You only need to use the Rufus ISO installation software to create a bootable USB drive, and it gives you a one-click way to bypass these requirements. No modified ISO, no extra hoops to go through, just a simple installation process.
Installing Windows 11 on the deck and in working order did not take much time; Wi-Fi drivers were automatically installed on their own and soon it was up to date and ready to use.
Although the modest excitement of actually installing and running Windows 11 on the Steam Deck, albeit with some trackpad oddities, quickly evaporated. Then I was just left with a soulless portable gaming PC, like everyone else who still failed to interest me.
And if you were hoping Big Picture could be the savior of Windows on the Deck… I’m afraid you’ll be as disappointed as I am. It won’t even show up in the native 16:10 resolution of the deck.
Valve’s aggressive pricing of the Stream Deck is a huge part of its potential as a device, but SteamOS itself is what will make or break it as an ecosystem. This is what makes it stand out from the crowd and makes any other portable gaming PC worth considering.
The SteamOS 3.0 version of the deck has these simple quality of life features that make it a great portable operating system. First, you never have to leave the game. To check your battery life, power profile, or even the time, you need to exit the Windows game with the Alt-Tab key pressed. And this is difficult to do on a device without a keyboard.
In Steam Deck, you just need to press the ellipsis button and it will all be there without distracting you from your gaming pleasure.
With a few exceptions, Windows games also only work through Proton. I was seriously impressed by how effective Linux gaming was in its development. And I have to take my hat off to Steam Controller Stans once again; their controller profiles mean that even non-tablet games can run brilliantly on the deck. Accessing them via Steam on the desktop isn’t as easy on Windows.
But the Microsoft operating system has some advantages. Docking is much easier, and I was able to get a full 100Hz refresh rate at my stock monitor’s native resolution of 3440×1440, where SteamOS strongly stuck to 60Hz and 16:9 1440p resolution. There also appears to still be some connection order etiquette where an HDMI cable can only be connected to the deck’s dock. after this dock was connected to the deck itself.
You’ll also get access to all games that have Steam Deck disabled because they can’t trust Linux security with their anti-cheat software, games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite.
In theory, you could also use the desktop app for GeForce Now instead of going through Chrome with all the possible controller glitches. Chrome doesn’t yet support Deck controllers, so GeForce Now requires some profiling to play effectively on Nvidia’s stellar streaming service. Using the desktop app should work around this issue, except that until Nvidia updates it by checking for an AMD Van Gogh-based APU in the Steam Deck, it will still consider it to be below the minimum requirements for streaming.
However, there is a way to make Windows the perfect partner for Steam Deck, and that is dual boot. Unfortunately, we’re still far from that possibility – Windows won’t install as an additional OS to an already installed one, at least not that easily, and Valve hasn’t released a SteamOS version that you can dual-boot with.
This will give you the best of both worlds and will build on the incredible versatility already built into the deck. You can even reset Windows to an SD card and boot from it.
But you’re missing out on the heart and soul of the Steam Deck by running Windows on it as your only option, and I’m reinstalling SteamOS right now. Luckily, redrawing a deck takes almost no time. In fact, I can’t wait to get SteamOS installed on a bunch of other PCs, though sadly it doesn’t work the other way around right now either.
I tried to install SteamOS 3.0 on OneXplayer Mini and this nearly worked. Well, I have a cursor and a brief flash of the Steam Deck logo. Then nothing.
However, when Valve releases the final open version of SteamOS 3.0, it will open up opportunities for all existing portable gaming PCs already on the market and pave the way for even more. Hell, it might even make a bunch of low-spec laptops look interesting. I definitely put it on my Razer Blade Stealth 13.
I must say it was not what I expected. When I first turned on my Steam Deck, I was most impressed with the hardware, while the frequently patched software felt unfinished. But after spending some time with a completely unsuitable Windows installation, I saw the light, and you’re doing Deck a disservice by ditching your bespoke OS.