There are reasons you’d want to stick Windows on Valve’s Steam Deck. Of course, contrarianism is one of them. Morbid curiosity, geek, another. Then there’s a desire to play Destiny 2, Fortnite, or a bunch of Microsoft games that were dropped from the original Linux-based SteamOS 3.0 install. But having made the jump to Windows 11 myself last weekend, I have to tell you that none of these reasons are good enough to rob the Steam Deck of its soul.
I’m not talking about the lack of full driver support for Microsoft’s operating systems, or the weird little bugs that crop up as we go along, I’m not even talking about how gaming performance is in drop on Windows compared to SteamOS either. I mean, it certainly is with such immature and buggy drivers, but my problem is that booting windows on the bridge feels nothing less than completely deflated, like you’re completely missing the point of the device between your hands.
And you are.
I mean, it works. Most. Right now, Valve only offers an AMD-made driver that will give you GPU and Wi-Fi support, but no audio, and actually worse gaming performance to boot. But attach some Bluetooth headphones and the sound works fine, fire up Skyrim for the millionth time and it’ll still hit the screen’s 60Hz limit without issue, and the controls will work fine and keep you playing for as long as the battery lasts. Which, of course, is not long.
But Windows isn’t designed for small-screen life, nor is it designed for a dedicated gaming device. It is a multifunction operating system designed for the Swiss army knife which is a modern PC. On something with such a pure focus on handheld gaming as the Steam Deck, it’s a rather awkward experience.
However, I had been delighted to install Windows on the bridge. I haven’t really gotten along with Linux since I stopped using an ultralight distro on my Netbook in 2009, and I’ve periodically hung out with different distros on my gaming PC – yes, even SteamOS. But I’ve always found Windows to be a more comfortable environment for my gaming pleasures. And the moment Valve agreed to a Windows install by releasing the Aerith drivers, I wanted to install it on my Deck.
And, of course, I had to install Windows 11 there. It’s probably best suited for a touchscreen gaming device, with its updated design scheme, but Valve said the Steam Deck is limited to Windows 10 due to TPM requirements. There is a BIOS update in progress that enables fTPM, and this will make a Win11 install a standard process.
But it almost already is. You just need to use Rufus ISO mounting software to create a bootable USB drive, which gives you a one-click method to bypass these requirements. No modified ISOs, no extra hoops to jump through, just an easy installation process.
It didn’t take long to get Windows 11 up and running; the Wi-Fi drivers installed automatically, and it was quickly updated and ready to use.
Although the modest thrill of running Windows 11 on the Steam Deck, albeit with a few trackpad quirks, quickly evaporated. Then I ended up with a soulless portable gaming PC like all the others that failed to excite so far.
And if you were hoping that Big Picture mode could be the savior of Windows on the Deck… I’m afraid you’ll be as disappointed as I am. It won’t even render at the Deck’s native 16:10 resolution.
Valve’s aggressive pricing for the Steam Deck is a big part of its potential as a device, but SteamOS itself is what will make or break it as an ecosystem. It’s what separates it from the crowd, and it’s what’s going to make every other portable gaming PC worth getting your hands on.
The Deck version of SteamOS 3.0 has those simple quality of life features that make it a great portable operating system. For one, you never need to quit your game. To check battery life, power profile, or even time, you need to quit a Windows game with alt-tab. And that’s hard to do on a device without a keyboard.
On the Steam Deck you just have to press the ellipsis button and it’s all there without removing you from your gaming pleasure.
With a few exceptions, Windows games also work through Proton. I was seriously impressed with the efficiency of a solution for Linux games in which it evolved. And I must once again take my hat off to the Steam Controller Stans; their controller profiles mean that even games not designed for a pad can run brilliantly on the Deck. Accessing these through Steam on the desktop isn’t such a straightforward experience on Windows.
But there are some advantages to having Microsoft’s operating system. Docking is much easier, and I was able to get a full 100Hz refresh rate at my standard monitor’s native 3440×1440 resolution, where SteamOS stuck firmly to 60Hz and 16:9 1440p resolution. There is also apparently still some current socket order tag, where an HDMI cable can only be plugged into the Deck’s dock after this dock was plugged into the Deck itself.
You’ll also have access to all the games that have dropped Steam Deck support because they can’t trust the security of Linux with their anti-cheat software, games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite.
Theoretically, you could also use the desktop app for GeForce Now, instead of having to go through Chrome with all the controller failures that come up. 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 get around this, except until Nvidia updates it with an AMD Van Gogh based APU check inside the Steam Deck, it will consider it still as not meeting the minimum requirements for streaming.
However, there is a way to make Windows a perfect partner for the Steam Deck, and that’s dual booting. Unfortunately, we’re still a bit far from that eventuality – Windows won’t install as a secondary operating system to the one already in place, at least not easily, and Valve hasn’t released a version of SteamOS with which to install. you can dual boot.
This will give you the best of both worlds and build on the incredible versatility already built into the Deck. You can even transfer Windows to an SD card and boot from it.
But you’re missing the heart and soul of the Steam Deck by running Windows on it as your only option, and I’m reinstalling SteamOS right now. Fortunately, reimagining the Deck takes almost no time. In fact, I can’t wait to be able to install SteamOS on a bunch of other PCs, although unfortunately at the moment the situation doesn’t work in reverse either.
I tried pressing SteamOS 3.0 on the OneXplayer Mini and it almost work. Well, I got a cursor and a brief flash of the Steam Deck logo. Then nothing.
However, when Valve releases a final, open version of SteamOS 3.0, it will pave the way for all existing portable gaming PCs already in the market and pave the way for even more. Hell, it might even make a bunch of low-spec laptops worthwhile. I definitely slap it on my Razer Blade Stealth 13.
I must say it was not what I expected. When I first fired up my Steam Deck, it was the hardware that impressed me the most, while the oft-fixed software felt unfinished. But after spending time with a totally unsuitable Windows install, I’ve seen the light, and you’re doing the Deck a disservice by ditching its bespoke OS.