Steam Deck games 'play great' off an SD card, and that's a big deal

Shawn Knight

Posts: 13,441   +132
Staff member
Bottom line: A Valve engineer has confirmed that the Steam Deck is perfectly capable of playing games directly off of SD cards. That's noteworthy considering the Steam Deck, even the highest-tier model, only has 512GB of internal storage and that's not a whole lot these days.

Valve last week announced the Steam Deck, a handheld gaming device that looks to do for PC gaming what Nintendo did on the console side with its Switch.

The Steam Deck starts at $399, but that’ll only get you 64GB of internal storage. Additional models were announced with up to 512GB of storage, but bumping up to the top-tier will set you back $649. And let’s be honest – 512GB still isn’t all that much storage when you’re talking about modern PC gaming.

Fortunately, all variants of the Steam Deck also include a microSD card slot for expanded storage.

Stepping back a moment, Valve made a point to highlight the speedy internal storage used in the Steam Deck. But when you run out of internal storage and have to resort to the SD card slot, what sort of performance can you expect?

This very question was recently asked of Lawrence Yang, an engineer at Valve. Yang confirmed that games will load faster off of the system’s internal storage, but noted that they are still very playable from an SD card. “When IGN came by, all of the games they tried (and shot footage of) were played off a microSD card,” he added.

Yang is of course referring to IGN’s hands-on demo video which premiered on the same day the Steam Deck was announced.

Valve started accepting reservations for the Steam Deck shortly after its announcement. The system appears to be in high demand as expected order availability has already slipped to the second quarter of 2022 as of this writing.

Permalink to story.

 

Irata

Posts: 1,675   +2,812
Website still says Q1 2022. It‘s unfortunate that pretty much everything seems to be delayed but things are what they are.
 

Neatfeatguy

Posts: 444   +707
So... Why would you pay 300$ more for 512GB, if you can buy the 64GB one and a SD card for an extra 100$ max?

I haven't checked out anything about the Steam Deck....but maybe they think they're Apple?
Buy an Apple laptop - comes with 8GB of RAM.
Want to upgrade to 16GB? No worries! An extra $500!
Oh...you say you need 32GB? Got you covered! An extra $1000!
 
So... Why would you pay 300$ more for 512GB, if you can buy the 64GB one and a SD card for an extra 100$ max?

The drives in the fancier models are not just larger, they're also much, much faster. The drive in the 64 GB model is slow and SD cards are even slower. This affects performance as well as load times. That being said...I have over 100 GB of games on the SD card in my Switch and the load times are rarely a problem. I'm sure it will be fine. But it's nice to have the fancier option for people who want the best performance. Plus the more expensive models come with a nice case which I would be buying anyway.
 

Gmachine

Posts: 28   +42
It's incredible how these companies keep making up excuses of how removable storage is slow. Two different technologies exist that could solve the problem. First being UFS cards that were announced from 5 years ago by Samsung and the more recent, SD/microSD express.

Under SD 7.0 which uses PCIe 3 and the more recent SD 8.0 that supports PCIe 4 could solve the problem due to their open source nature and drive up adoption for the technology to even trickle down to smartphones and hi-res cameras, but nope... Gotta make that money from charging more obscene prices for the privilege of upgrading your storage.

What's even worse is that the SD/microSD express standard supports NVMe which would be compatible with the internal storage on these.

(Apologies for the grammar) 😉
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 481   +370
If it's HQ build -plus a PC to boot - then I imagine . GOG drm + emulators would be a good fit .
Plus output to TV/Monitor as a media server .
This should be quite popular - especially if it can run modded android build as well
 

Fearghast

Posts: 422   +308
The illumination time!
Guys ... guys ... isn't this PC? It is right?
So why do have the need to explain "You can use SD cards"
"You can use any USB-C dock"
"You can use external USB SSD"
"You can connect mouse, keyboard, headphones, LAN"
It's a PC ... of course it will work ... it's a PC!
It's the same way for OS as the Windows, Android, ChromeOS and many others will most likely run and even be compatible out of the box.

PS: It's a shame TB is just for Intel, as this device could certainly benefit out of faster interface for SSDs.
 

Fearghast

Posts: 422   +308
SD connectivity is not the question this article is addressing.
It kinda does seem that way ... as SD cards are just another storage, they are pretty much fast as an eMMC.
Is really the whole point of "Don't worry guy, we haven't used USB 2.0 SD card reader."?
Not that is matters if they did as you can still use external reader, it would not be just as tidy of a solution.
 

ScottSoapbox

Posts: 109   +167
I run steam games off an microSD card on my Surface Pro without issues.

Worst case loading is slower from an SD not sure why this is newsworthy.
 

Kotters

Posts: 341   +236
I haven't checked out anything about the Steam Deck....but maybe they think they're Apple?
Buy an Apple laptop - comes with 8GB of RAM.
Want to upgrade to 16GB? No worries! An extra $500!
Oh...you say you need 32GB? Got you covered! An extra $1000!

SD Cards and NVME SSDs are very different storage mediums with very different performance and durability. The Steam Deck is also using the M.2 2230 form factor, which is uncommon and requires higher density NAND than your typical M.2 2280.
 

Wereweeb

Posts: 61   +126
It's incredible how these companies keep making up excuses of how removable storage is slow. Two different technologies exist that could solve the problem. First being UFS cards that were announced from 5 years ago by Samsung and the more recent, SD/microSD express.

Under SD 7.0 which uses PCIe 3 and the more recent SD 8.0 that supports PCIe 4 could solve the problem due to their open source nature and drive up adoption for the technology to even trickle down to smartphones and hi-res cameras, but nope... Gotta make that money from charging more obscene prices for the privilege of upgrading your storage.

What's even worse is that the SD/microSD express standard supports NVMe which would be compatible with the internal storage on these.

(Apologies for the grammar) 😉

PCIe 4.0 in that small a form factor would just result in a deep fried microSD card. There's a good reason why nobody makds faster microSD cards: if you want faster performance, it's cheaper and makes more sense to buy an m.2 SSD.

microSD cards weren't built with performance and cooling in mind, but to be an universal standard for portable, removable storage - in the end, they only really need to be as fast as to record 4K or 8K video, and play FLAC audio.

There's an m.2 slot in the Steam Deck. Buy any 2230 SSD with a DRAM cache and TLC NAND (Samsung calls their TLC "3-bit MLC") and put it there.
 

eforce

Posts: 401   +511
My intention is to use 512GB nvme for games and 1TB SD card for everything else, but beware if you're planning on writing to the SD card a lot, get a high endurance model or they tend to die quite quickly.
 

bandit8623

Posts: 335   +186
Because SD card is much slower than internal storage
true, but tech has increased alot for speed. the problem is making sure people buy the proper sd card.

SDUC

Secure Digital Ultra Capacity (SDUC) logo; the specification defines cards with a capacity of more than 2 TB up to 128 TB
The Secure Digital Ultra Capacity (SDUC) format, described in the SD 7.0 specification, and announced in June 2018, supports cards up to 128 TB[72] and offers speeds up to 985 MB/s,