Steam Deck Handheld Gaming PC Has A Socketed SSD Slot But There's A Catch
Valve announced the Steam Deck, a handheld gaming PC, this week and gamers are abuzz with interest. As preorders opened on Friday, questions poured in about various aspects of the device which is powered by AMD's Zen 2 CPU and RDNA 2 GPU technology. It is available in three variants which differ only in storage capacity and type. Among other things, prospective buyers were eager to know if and to what extent the onboard storage options are upgradeable. Co-Founder and President Gabe Newell has confirmed all three models of the Steam Deck use a m.2 slot, though Valve is discouraging buyers from attempting to upgrade the storage themselves.
Gabe's email responses were first posted to reddit's r/Steam community by u/midnight_watch and u/BernardoOne. u/midnight_watch first inquired to know whether or not the SSD was upgradeable, to which Gabe replied "2230 m.2 slot". This indicates the SSD is indeed swappable - but more on that in a moment. Noting the base $399 model uses eMMC storage instead of NVMe, u/BernardoOne received confirmation that the m.2 slot is present in this model, and therefore upgradeable, as well.
Following these exchanges, Valve updated the spec page on steamdeck.com to reflect the inclusion of a 2230 m.2 slot in all models. Then Valve proceeded to include the additional clause, "Not intended for end-user replacement". This phrase is peculiar because Valve was touting the device's open nature. For example, the Steam Deck ships running Valve's redesigned SteamOS which is built on Linux, but nothing prevents end users from installing Windows (or another Linux flavor) instead and using it as a regular PC. At the same time, nothing in the phrasing suggests Valve will prevent end users from performing the upgrade either. Valve is presumably just absolving themselves from responsibility in the event that something goes awry with the swap.
So is the upgrade that easy then? Well, maybe not quite. While m.2 NVMe drives are ubiquitous these days, the Steam Deck does not use a particularly common size. That sequence of numbers, 2230, in front of m.2 indicates the module's dimensions in millimeters. Most PC builders are accustomed to 2280 m.2 drives which measure 22mm wide by 80mm long. These 2230 modules, by contrast, are less than half the length and are typically intended for OEM builds.
As a result, brand new 2230 m.2 drives can be very difficult to find as most models are only sold in bulk. Here in the US, for example, we can only readily find a single 128GB model from KIOXIA on Amazon which only doubles the 64GB base model's capacity. In lieu of new, buyers will need to seek out units pulled from OEM devices and listed on sites like eBay. As a result, it still probably makes sense for most consumers to stick with the supported high-speed microSD card slot for expansion.
Of course, none of these concerns have stopped the Steam Deck's preorders from selling out like crazy. Scalper's have been undeterred by Valve's purchase protection policies and so-called "Confirmed Pre-Orders" are being listed on eBay and other sites for hundreds of dollars over MSRP.