The Steam Deck is one of the most notable game console releases in years, capable of running the latest AAA games. It’s small and light enough that you can take it anywhere, and flexible enough that you can plug in additional controllers and connect it to a TV for traditional console gaming.
Behind the UI, the Steam Deck runs a custom version of Arch Linux. As such, it doesn’t take much effort to turn the Steam Deck into a standard PC.
But could it replace your desk?
How suitable is the Steam Deck’s hardware for PC-style use?
At first glance, the Nintendo Switch-like dimensions of the Steam Deck make it an unlikely personal computer. After all, it has two thumbsticks, a D-pad, shoulder and back buttons, touchpads, and very little you’d associate with a PC other than, perhaps, removable storage (the slot for microSD card).
Inside, however, it’s a different story.
The AMD APU (accelerated processing unit) features a Zen 2 processor, with four cores/eight threads. There’s also 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM in the Steam Deck, along with 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage.
Meanwhile, SteamOS 3.0 operating system with KDE Plasma 5 desktop environment is more than enough to run desktop software.
What you’ll need to use Steam Deck like a PC
If you want to try out the Steam Deck as a full-fledged computer, you’ll need to plug in a few accessories.
First, there’s the option of a docking station. Several Steam Deck docks are available, but they can be considered expensive. Luckily, a standard USB Type-C to HDMI adapter with one or two USB ports should suffice, much like connecting a Nintendo Switch to your TV without the docking station.
Additionally, you’ll need an HDMI cable to your regular monitor or TV, and a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. If you only have standard USB input devices, or your mouse and keyboard have their own wireless receivers, consider a USB hub as well.
Switch to Steam Deck desktop mode
With everything connected to the Steam Deck, it’s time to access its desktop interface.
To do this:
- press the Steam button
- Use the D-pad to select Power
- Hurry A
- Select Switch to office
- Hurry A
The message “Switch to desktop” will be displayed. Wait for the Steam Deck to change modes.
Access the Steam Deck browser for internet and email
In the desktop environment of Steam Deck you will find everything you need to use the system like a PC. Some apps are pre-installed, while others can be added later.
To access your favorite websites, the Steam Deck has an already built-in browser. This is Ungoogled Chromium, a version of the Chromium browser on which Google Chrome is based.
Start this as follows:
- Open the Application Launcher (lower left corner)
- Open the Internet
- Select Chrome not googled
Note that you also have the option of Install Firefox.
You can also open the Steam app, which has the standard desktop appearance rather than the UI you see when you start the console.
Using the browser, you should be able to access your favorite websites and webmail account (eg Gmail or Outlook).
How to Install Non-Game Software on Steam Deck
In addition to the built-in tools, you can add other software using the Discover app. This is a software center that provides installation links to all the important apps you might need.
You can launch Discover from its taskbar shortcut. Once opened, you’ll find a directory of apps — and games — that you can install on the Steam Deck.
Conversely, it is more difficult to install software via the terminal using pacman. My own attempts have run into issues like corrupt PGP keys, and it’s probably best avoided in most cases.
An alternative is however available in the form of Flatpaks. (See our guide to flatpaks for beginners). This comes pre-installed in SteamOS 3.x and later, so it’s ready to go.
If, for example, you wanted to install Microsoft Teams for Linux, you would use
flatpak install flathub com.github.IsmaelMartinez.teams_for_linux
Follow the prompts to complete the installation.
You can open Teams for Linux with
flatpak run com.github.IsmaelMartinez.teams_for_linux
You can also launch the application via Application Launcher > Desktop
Install an office suite and work on your Steam Deck
The vast majority of productivity software you can run on Steam Deck can be found in Discover, or you can use the flatpak command.
LibreOffice, for example, can be installed on the Steam Deck, providing you with a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool. Just open Discover and search for “libreoffice”, then click Install.
It can be launched by opening the Application Launcher > Desktop and selecting your favorite office tool. Data such as documents and other work projects can be stored on the Steam Deck’s internal storage, but not on the microSD card if you’re using one.
It’s time to play games again
When you’re in Steam Deck’s desktop mode, you’ll notice that any games you have installed in Steam appear as a desktop shortcut. Many can be launched from the desktop environment, including those you may have added using the Heroic Games Launcher for Epic Games.
But what if you want to go back to the main Steam interface?
To exit desktop mode, you must restart the Steam Deck. To do this, click on the desktop menu button for the Application Launcher and selecting To restart.
The Steam Deck will then restart and load the usual game selection screen.
Steam Deck: A portable gaming PC for work and play
With its amazing hardware specs and USB OTG functionality, the Steam Deck makes for a surprising desktop replacement. With the Discover app and Flatpak support, a multitude of productivity apps can be installed, from desktop software to development tools and beyond.
There’s even room for editing media on the Steam Deck.
Although command-line installation is less successful on this platform, the Discover tool has all the productivity software you could possibly need. Office tasks can be completed, emails answered, and the Steam Deck restarted for a return to play.
In short: the Steam Deck perfectly replaces the desk.