Soon, Valve's Steam Deck will be in the hands of gamers across the world. Other console/mobile/PC hybrid devices have existed before, but the Steam Deck is the most powerful and most accessible one ever made. Accordingly, this will be most people's first experience with a device like the Steam Deck. It's only natural to wonder how easy (or how tough) Steam Deck will be to repair. In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about opening up your Steam Deck.
Inside the Steam Deck
The Steam Deck isn't a console like a PlayStation; it isn't a mobile platform like a phone; and it's not simply a computer. It's all of these things at once.
Steam Deck won't really have games built to run on Steam Deck like a game on PlayStation is built to run on PlayStation. Steam Deck plays full-fat modern AAA games and not mobile games designed for small screens and low-powered hardware. And Steam Deck is, internally, a PC, much like any variety of laptops on the market.
This means that a Steam Deck won't be as modular as a desktop computer (even a prebuilt desktop with some proprietary parts) and will instead be more like a laptop. Laptops generally use pretty standard components from CPU to RAM to GPU and everything else, but sometimes they have proprietary hardware inside them, too.
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What makes most laptops complicated to repair or disassemble, though, is not usually a particularly weird in-house cooling system, for example, but rather the way a manufacturer has to engineer a laptop to fit everything inside a compact form factor.
This can make simply taking apart a laptop tough to do without technical experience, and oftentimes more specialized parts designed to be low-powered and extremely small are substituted in for larger, hotter desktop components.
The Steam Deck is much more like this. It's built and designed in such a way that it's less easy to repair and disassemble than your regular desktop PC, and it does have some custom-designed components, but ultimately it's a lot more reasonable to get inside of a Steam Deck and swap out something than it usually is with a traditional console or a laptop.
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However, this is just how the Steam Deck is designed. Sourcing parts and Valve's stance on repairs can complicate the repair process on Steam Deck much like Apple complicates this process with their products, severely limiting what can be repaired by the consumer.
Valve's Stance on Right to Repair
Luckily, while a private company, Valve is a lot more open than Apple when it comes to modifying its products. Steam and Valve have a long, long history of working with the modding community to let gamers do whatever they want with their games, their engines, their IP, and their mechanics.
Valve is also taking steps to make sure Steam Deck is reasonably open and accessible to users. They've published teardowns of the Deck themselves as well as sent Decks to major tech publications online to do their own teardowns. The consensus is that Steam Deck, with a little technical know-how, is manageable to open up and repair, and Valve generally supports this practice.
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Taking this a step further, Valve has also released the CAD files for Steam Deck such that anyone with a 3D printer at home can print out their own shell for Steam Deck. This is another good step in a pro-consumer direction when so many companies decide to massively profit off an accessory business surrounding their mainline product.
However, it doesn't just end there. Designing a device that can be opened up and, as a company policy, supporting the consumer's right to repair is a great thing, but ultimately, when it comes to electronics, you're going to need to be able to source replacement parts. If there isn't a good way to get a replacement part, even if the part is easy to replace, not much can be done.
Luckily, Valve has officially partnered with iFixit, a maker of various tools designed to help consumers take apart and repair their own electronics, to be an official reseller of Steam Deck replacement parts. The details are still being worked out, but eventually, you'll be able to order whatever replacement part you need for Steam Deck from the iFixit site.
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iFixit is an extremely reputable and well-trusted brand when it comes to the world of electronics repair, so Valve choosing to partner with them sends a strong message that Valve is actually serious about making sure Steam Deck is a device that you can reasonably expect to work for years and years, even if a minor repair is necessary.
This approach is fundamentally different from a lot of other major gaming companies, like Nintendo, for example. If you want to get a Nintendo product repaired, mostly you've got to hope you're within a warranty and you've got to deal with the tedious, slow process of sending your console to Nintendo to be repaired and sent back.
With a Steam Deck, if you've got a problem that isn't too serious, you'll likely be reasonably able to order a part off the iFixit store, wait a few days to receive it, and then install it yourself while watching a YouTube tutorial, as long as you have some minor comfort working with electronics.
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It's not a perfect situation, for sure. Because of how much power is crammed inside a relatively compact shell, some repairs or replacements, while possible, will be a lot more complicated, so unless you've got a lot of repair experience, you'll want to take your Deck somewhere to be repaired (or send it to Valve if the warranty allows) in certain circumstances.
However, Valve has made tons of information surrounding Deck available to the public, Valve's working with third-parties to make sure replacement parts are accessible, and Steam Deck is designed to be reasonably repairable. As far as the right to repair you tech goes, the Steam Deck is a comfortable win.