Valve is building a Switch-Esque portable gaming PC

An early version of the Steam Controller.

Nearly a decade after introducing an ill-fated line of Linux gaming PCs dubbed “Steam Machines,” PC gaming giant Valve is reportedly trying its hand at hardware again — with its handheld gaming computer a la the Nintendo Switch.

That’s the word from Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech, who claims to have multiple sources attesting that Valve has been working on such a device: a touchscreen, touchpad, button, trigger, and dual-joystick-equipped portable that’ll likely run Linux and an array of specially optimized Steam titles. It should have the ability to dock, a la Nintendo Switch, via a USB-C port, too. Ars suggests it could arrive as soon as the end of the year.

It appears to be called SteamPal, or Neptune, according to a recent code dump collected by SteamDB:

Gabe Newell himself also cryptically teased at some sort of announcement regarding Steam and consoles earlier this month:

Valve didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Could Valve build such a thing? It’s possible. We’ve written about a recent explosion of portable gaming PCs thanks to new Intel and AMD chips, and while they’re still a good bit fatter and with shorter battery life than the Nintendo Switch, they’re getting more efficient and powerful every year. I’ve been testing an early version of the Aya Neo for months, and it’s been a great companion for Persona 4 Golden couch sessions.

We have many burning questions, though, like whether the Linux gaming ecosystem (and perhaps streaming games) are compelling enough to sell people on a dedicated portable, and whether Valve will do what it takes to make such a system succeed.

The original Steam Machines failed for a wide variety of reasons, including a lack of exclusive titles and a lack of control over partners that were allowed to build boxes that didn’t make sense, but Valve’s own hardware game was pretty strong: I poured one out for the Steam Controller and Steam Link respectively a few years back, and the Valve Index is still considered the top-tier PC VR headset for a variety of reasons.

If Valve builds more of its games and takes an active role in optimizing for such a system, I’d be interested.

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