16 Sep 2021 1:58 PM +00:00 UTC

Do Emulators Work on Steam Deck?

Credit: Valve

Valve's upcoming console/PC hybrid, and rival to Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck starts shipping in December 2021. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a pre-order, you probably have a ton of questions about what the device can and can't do. In this article, we'll explain the emulator situation on Steam Deck and tell you if you'll be able to play your favorite retro games on it.

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Credit: Valve

The good news is here: Emulators of all kinds will work on Steam Deck. The bad news is that they won't work out of the box. Though, unlike all other consoles, from Switch to PlayStation to Xbox to everything in-between, getting an emulator up and running will be a simple process on Deck.

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Steam Deck runs SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system, and relies on Proton, a translation layer that allows games not built for Linux to run on Linux. This means that Steam games will work on Steam Deck without any extra work needed, but it means that other programs will require some setup first.

Related: Where to Buy Steam Deck: Is It in Stores?

Luckily, Steam Deck supports Windows 10. Plus, Windows 11 will be workable on Steam Deck, too, and Windows 11 natively supports Android applications, which will open up a whole new suite of games and apps to install and use on Deck. With Windows, you'll have access to emulators for essentially every platform you can imagine.

The Steam Deck is powerful enough to run emulators all the way up through the Wii U. And for consoles released after the Wii U, it's less so that the Deck won't be beefy enough to run them and more so that for modern devices like the PS4 or Xbox One, emulation really hasn't been developed enough to support really good experiences just yet.

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Credit: Valve

While an emulator for a console like the PS2 will be no problem for Deck at resolutions much higher than what the actual PS2 could put out there, for a system like the PS3, though it will certainly run on Deck, performance probably won't be ideal. Once again, though, this is less of a comment on the Deck and more of a comment on the state of PS3 emulation, which has made a lot of progress in recent years but still isn't anywhere near perfect yet.

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Related: Is Steam Deck Upgradeable?

Not only will emulators work on Deck, but if you use cloud saving for your emulated games through a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, that will work on Windows on Deck, too. With a Windows installation, Deck can do anything a regular Windows PC can do. And considering the beefy internals of the Deck, it will be able to punch above its weight when it comes to how much the Deck costs as compared to a gaming PC.

If Deck is successful and finds its way into the hands of many different people, it's also possible emulators will get direct Steam Deck support: i.e. optimizations that improve performance on Steam Deck hardware, much in the same way emulators get ported to all kinds of different consoles and computers and optimized for specific hardware/software configurations.

You probably won't be emulating games on Deck the night you pick it up, but with a little work to get Windows up and running on Deck, you'll be off to the races with emulation, able to play whatever games your heart desires spanning across the console and gaming generations.

Related: Does Steam Deck Have an OLED Screen?