The True Cost of the Steam Deck is Higher Than You Think

As a devoted Nintendo Switch player, the Steam Deck is incredibly enticing. Another handheld device that can play my expansive Steam library? Yes, thank you kindly. If you’re considering the Steam Deck like me, you are probably already looking at the pricing options for the new console. As of right now, there are three options to choose from: a $399 option, a $529 model, and the big $649 one. It seems that all three have equal power, but one main difference is in the storage.

The $399 version will certainly be easier on the wallet at face value, but when you look at the storage capacity for it, the option becomes less enticing. The $399 version of the Steam Deck only has 64 GB of internal storage. While that amount of space would be enough to start building a digital Switch library, it’s not a great option for players hoping to download several high-end AAA games on the portable device. People will have to go out and search for sizable microSD cards in order to compensate for the lack of internal storage.

A gamer using the Steam Deck in a living room.

Pretend, if you will, that you are a gamer — an elite gamer at that — striving to play all those hip new games with all the polygons and fancy lighting effects. How many games can you actually put on the $399 version of the Steam Deck?

Let’s say that you want to download Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War to your Steam Deck (the game isn’t currently available on the platform, though Steam Deck will reportedly allow players to access other storefronts). The PC version of this game is currently 82GB large. So, you cannot play Cold War on the cheapest version of the console without the help of an SD card. What about The Witcher 3? That’s only about 38GB, so it can fit! But what if you want two games on your handheld console? If you have The Witcher 3 already downloaded, you have about 26GB left over, and that is not enough for most AAA games now. Sure you can download a handful of indie games, but it cannot handle more than one major AAA title game natively.

Fortunately, the console comes with a microSD slot that will greatly expand its storage. You can get a 256GB microSD card for around $100. This will bring you up to about 320GB storage for a total of $500. That’s actually cost-efficient as you are saving about $30 for a little more storage than the $529 version of the Steam Deck.

This makes the cheapest option more digestible, but you’re still running into the same problem with storage for these massive games. Red Dead Redemption 2 is about 100 GB, Gears of War 5 is around 80 GB, and Final Fantasy XV is 100 GB. That’s pretty much all of your storage used up in just three games.

Picking the cheapest version of the Steam Deck, even with a hefty microSD card, will force players to remove games on the console in order to just play them. As someone who didn’t buy a microSD card for his Nintendo Switch until about three months in, I can tell you this is a miserable game to play. You have to make tough decisions, like forcing yourself to beat a game quicker so you can delete the storage to make room for more. You may have to look deep in your heart and ask if you’ll ever finish Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Should you delete it just to make sure you have enough room for Slime Rancher?

One of the core joys of playing games on PC is that it gives players the choice and freedom to play a variety of games on a system that can handle it all. That’s why many of us spend so much time, money, and energy building our own custom PCs. The Steam Deck at its lowest price without a microSD card forces the restrictions of a normal console onto a PC player, and that doesn’t feel right. Even with a sizable microSD card, you will still feel some of those restrictions.

If you do want to feel unburdened by storage size for your Steam Deck, you might have to shell out for that $649 tier after all.

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