The overwhelming majority of consumer technology companies take a dim view when it comes to customization.
Many brands — most notably Apple — prevent aftermarket upgrades by soldering components directly onto the circuitry, or affixing parts in place with intractable globs of adhesive.
With that in mind, the Steam Deck is a curious beast. Valve treads where most tech brands avoid, offering schematics and disassembly guides for those lucky enough to have already received their pre-orders.
It even offers parts via iFixit, for those handy with a spudger and Torx screwdriver.
But on the other hand, it vociferously discourages consumers from tinkering with their pricey handheld PCs. Its approach to user-modifications can be summed up as: “You can, but you shouldn’t.”
To illustrate this point, here’s a tweet from Lawrence Yang, designer of the Steam Deck, in response to a Canadian modder upgrading his device with a larger 2242 M.2 NVMe drive:
Yang warned that opting for a larger-format flash drive will “significantly shorten the lifespan” of the Steam Deck.
The Steam Deck ships with a smaller 2230 M.2 drive. Although both parts use the same connector, 2242 format drives have a larger thermal envelope, draw more power, and are slightly longer.
As a point of trivia: the first two digits in a M.2 format name refer to the width (in millimeters). The latter two digits refer to the length. Therefore, you can infer that a 2242 M.2 drive is 12mm (1.2cm) longer than a 2230 drive.
Length isn’t everything, but it matters when you’re talking about flash drives. The longer an M.2 drive, the more space it has for NAND flash chips, which usually results in a greater capacity.
In large form-factor devices, like a desktop computer, length is seldom an issue. But remember: the Steam Deck is tiny.
Valve has accounted for every millimeter of space. If it’s not already housing components, it’s playing a role in the thermal management and heat dissipation of the device.
In the case of this Steam Deck modification, Yang warned against moving the thermal pads located by the charging IC (integrated circuit). In most devices, charging circuitry generates a lot of heat. If you don’t properly manage the high temperatures, the chip is liable to break.
Another point: the charging IC is a board-level component. You can’t just replace it. You’ll either have to find someone with the necessary microsoldering skills to fix it, or just buy a new logic board. Both options are expensive propositions.
Yang also noted that larger NVMe drives often draw more power, and thus, generate more heat. This is more likely to be the case if you opt for a cheaper, low-end drive.
Credit where credit is due
This approach is consistent with Valve’s hands-off ethos with the Steam Deck. It departs from established consumer tech convention by letting users modify the device. If you’re so inclined, you can change the internal storage, or even install Windows.
On the flip side, it makes it clear that most people should leave the device as Gabe Newell intended. Repairs and mods are best left to the experts, and those with a higher tolerance for risk.
This is a stance that even the most fervent right-to-repair advocates can get behind.
In short, Valve is treating its customers like adults. It’s a refreshing change, and I wish the industry took note.
Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.