Valve‘s Steam Deck has been quite the success for the company. Despite the handheld’s various shortcomings, the sheer “fun” factor combined with the flexibility of basically having a fully-fledged PC in your pocket is hard to beat. Not only that, but the console is also priced very reasonably.
However, solid value doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a steal since more people are now eager to get their hands on one, driving up the scarcity. Plus, the Steam Deck was announced last year, in the height of the scalper-mania that plagued PC and console hardware. Both of those mixed together to create unprecedented demand for the device, a kind of demand that Valve simply cannot keep up with.
Valve is currently using a reservation model to sell its Steam Decks. The company sends invite-only reservation opportunities to customers to book their Steam Deck for the next quarter. This is done to alleviate the supply constraints, and to make sure that the console is going in the hands of as many gamers as possible.
One of the side effects of such a boom in demand is supplier diversity. Valve works with a bunch of vendors to source components for the Steam Deck. In wake of higher demand, the company is forced to expand its supplier pool to get components from as many places as possible, to ship Steam Decks as quick as possible.
Hello! Some great news on the production front. We just sent the last batch of Q2 emails, and we’ll start sending Q3 reservation emails on the 30th.
Production has picked up, and after today we'll be shipping more than double the number of Steam Decks every week! pic.twitter.com/kAHE0zRrV7
— Steam Deck (@OnDeck) June 27, 2022
This is not something that’s rare in the tech industry; nearly every major company does this. However, Valve’s adoption of this technique has lead to an interesting consequence.
Steam Deck’s storage downgrade
See, the Steam Deck comes in three different storage configurations: 64GB eMMC, 256GB PCIe Gen3, and 512GB PCIe Gen3. For the sake of relevancy, we’re going to put aside the base 64GB option and focus on the other configs. Both the 256GB and 512GB Gen3 SSDs are running on a x4 interface. That means they’re using four separate PCIe lanes to connect to the SoC.
Valve made it clear that it was using industry-standard, non-proprietary M.2 2230 modules for its SSDs with, once again, PCIe Gen3 x4 width. Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly true for all Steam Decks now. The company just recently updated its website, revealing that some models of the Steam Deck are shipping with a much more inferior SSD.
Under the “Tech Specs” portion, Valve now lists two different widths for its 256GB/512GB models, the standard x4 width and a new x2 width. HardwareLuxx, a German publication, discovered this change and pointed out that Valve started putting in PCIe Gen3 x2 SSDs in Steam Decks from May.
As you could probably tell, the shift from Gen3 x4 to now Gen3 x2 means the storage speeds are essentially halved, since now it’s only using two lanes instead of four. This would have a significant impact on read and write speeds across the system.
The Gen3 x4 SSD inside the Steam Deck was capable of delivering a 4GB/s throughput, so the Gen3 x2 would be able to only do 2GB/s now. However, Valve was come forward and said that this seemingly massive on-paper change does not translate into real-word differences in performance whatsoever. This is what a spokesperson told PCGamer:
SSD performance is currently gated by factors not related to PCIe bandwidth. In extremely uncommon cases, differences in read/write speed caps may minimally impact file transfer speeds, but OS performance, loading times, game performance, and game responsiveness are identical between the x2 and x4 drives.
Valve is claiming that due to some hardware bottlenecks present inside the Steam Deck, the Gen3 x4 storage was not reaching its full potential anyways. Therefore, the now-reduced capability of the x2 drive should not have any effect on gaming performance. You may experience slowdowns in some ‘rare’ cases when transferring files, but other than that, there is virtually no difference, performance-wise, between the two.
A silent decision
As for the reason why Valve even went ahead with this endeavor, well, I already spoiled the surprise for you. Due to wanting to increase the supply of Steam Decks, the company chose to get components from more supplies, which resulted in Valve making this compromise that apparently is completely fine.
Many Steam Deck components come from multiple suppliers for improved redundancy and production capacity. One of our SSD suppliers provides PCIe Gen 3 x4 NVMe SSDs, while another provides a x2 (2 lane) SSD. Our team has tested both components extensively, and determined that there is no impact to performance between the two models.
Even if we take Valve’s word for face value, the troubled part is how the company didn’t properly inform its (potential) buyers of this change. In fact, in the Tech Specs screenshot attached above, you can see how the German website for the Steam Deck hasn’t even been updated to reflect this change, meaning the customers are constantly getting deceived just for trusting Valve.
Had the company just made an announcement or just be more transparent about this, such a fiasco wouldn’t’ve transpired. Regardless, we will have to wait for a bunch of tests and benchmarks from reputable sources to verify whether Valve is right about this or not. Till then, let’s just hope half the width doesn’t hurt you too much.