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Something to look forward to: Valve's Steam Machines didn't catch on as well as the company would've liked. However, a handheld console for running Steam games might be the hardware it needs to make a mainstream comeback. Hints for the secret device codenamed 'SteamPal' were initially spotted in Steam's beta client, and its existence has now been confirmed by Ars Technica, with a potential release happening as soon as the end of this year.
Earlier this month, Valve boss Gabe Newell told gamers to expect console-related news by the end of this year. It now looks like the company's 'SteamPal' console might be that announcement; a Linux-powered gaming handheld to run Steam games, whose existence has now been confirmed by Ars Technica.
Evidence of the hardware was initially spotted by SteamDB's Pavel Djundik, who noted 'Neptune' and 'SteamPal Games' showing up in code strings for the Steam beta client. The code also includes mentions of CPU cores, VRAM, and connectivity functions like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and power settings.
Other strings like 'Rumble,' 'Haptics,' 'Grip Buttons' and 'Trackpad Input' appear as well, indicating that Valve is working on a proper, full-on gaming handheld to rival the Nintendo Switch. The latter is also poised for a refresh later this year.
Valve is possibly working on a handled Steam console called "SteamPal" (codename Neptune).— Steam Database (@SteamDB) May 25, 2021
Beta client update added plenty of references including controller bindings, new UI strings such as quick access menu, system settings (airplane mode, wifi, bluetooth) and a power menu. https://t.co/BwDWjWWb06
Details around Valve's prototype are still pretty much under wraps. However, Ars Technica notes an SoC from either Intel or AMD could power the device, alongside docking capability to larger displays via its USB-C port. It's too early to say what 'SteamPal' will ultimately cost or what other capabilities (like game streaming) it'll have on board, but a potential launch by this year's end could reveal all.
Valve isn't the only one showing gaming handhelds some love. Qualcomm is said to be working on an Android 12-powered portable console that is expected to release early next year.