How Valve is Changing Game Console Design
Product Design

How Valve is Changing Game Console Design

Valve is as good as their word—we can now offer you parts and repair guides for the Steam Deck, and also parts for the Index VR headset.

Update 5/23/2022: Many Steam Deck parts listings are live, and we’ll have more coming online in the next few weeks. Demand has been very high, and we’ve already sold out of our initial stock of some components—rest assured, more are on the way. Get notified when we’re back in stock by clicking “Notify Me” on any product page.

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Steam Deck

A handheld gaming console made by Valve, released on February 25, 2022. Identified by model number 1010.

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We’re thrilled to team up with Valve to provide parts and repair documentation to gamers everywhere. But when it comes to repairability, Valve didn’t stop at the bare minimum. They’ve made smart choices in the design and launch of the Steam Deck that we hope become industry standard. Valve tells us:

The Steam Deck team is very excited about this program. We designed Steam Deck to be repairable, and it just makes sense to us to work with iFixit to enable customers to repair and replace parts on their own.

How’d they do that? Let us count the ways.

Repairability Before Launch

Game hoarders, rejoice: If you need more storage, you can install a bigger SSD—shown here unwrapped from its ESD shielding.

To start, Valve committed to offer replacement parts and responded to repair community questions months before the Steam Deck’s launch—and then upped the ante by ultimately offering Index VR parts as well. Too often, design for repair seems like an afterthought (with a few outstanding exceptions, like the repair-focused Framework Laptop, and of course Fairphone). Game consoles in some ways have been notoriously unfriendly to repair. So it’s refreshing to see repairability baked in from the beginning of a major, highly anticipated gaming system. 

Then Valve posted their own Steam Deck teardown. It’s not perfect—they stopped after removing only the thumbsticks and SSD, and bookended it with over a minute of safety warnings that a typical tinkerer might find a bit over the top. But then Valve sent us (and others) our own Steam Deck for the full iFixit teardown treatment anyway. It’s awesome to see a tech company showing how to get inside their hardware at all, let alone sharing it around before it even hits the shelves.

Modularity = Repairability

When your thumbsticks tap out, the games can go on.

Valve’s teardown also showed off some of our favorite aspects of the Steam Deck’s design. First: Modular thumbsticks are a huge win. Across the entire gaming industry, thumbsticks just aren’t very durable, so the hardware must be designed for easy replacement—which Valve did. Second: Modular, off-the-shelf storage is also huge. We’ve already heard from loads of Steam Deck owners who successfully upgraded their storage even before official parts or guides were available. That’s a sign of a properly repairable device.

While creating our teardown and repair guides here at iFixit, we found more to appreciate. The external enclosure is secured with simple Phillips screws and clips, and anyone who’s replaced a laptop fan will find the Steam Deck fan replacement process very approachable. In another subtle repair win, the display cable is detachable. The display is such a critical, often expensive component, and it’s a terrible feeling when you suffer minor cable damage and realize the whole darn display has to be replaced. Here in the Steam Deck though, the cable just unplugs from the display—easy peasy.

Room to Grow

In a handheld device that’s sure to be carried everywhere, shoved into backpacks, and passed around the room, the Steam Deck’s repairability features are especially crucial. Valve didn’t hit everything on our wishlist—but the Steam Deck netted a very respectable 7/10 repairability score. 

Topping our wish list: a more accessible battery. Batteries have a limited lifespan, and replacing them should be considered basic maintenance. Unfortunately, the Steam Deck battery is glued in place, and buried under several fragile flex cables that must be carefully coaxed aside. We often recommend attacking strong adhesives with isopropyl alcohol, but in this case that’s not a good idea—it’ll leak through the holes in the frame underneath, potentially endangering the display. Instead, you’ll want to use a lot of forceful prying and/or heat, which is why we’ve rated battery replacement “difficult.” It’s definitely doable, and we’re glad to walk you through the procedure, but we wish it was easier. A glued-in battery isn’t an uncommon design choice, especially when capacity is paramount—but it’s a bummer to see in an otherwise repair-friendly device. (Maybe we’ll get some stretch-release strips in the next model?)

The Steam Deck headphone jack sits on its own modular audio board. (We wish the USB-C port was designed the same way.)

Meanwhile, though we greatly appreciate the Deck’s modular thumbstick assemblies, we do wish their capacitive touch cables weren’t soldered in place. This means that if you just want to replace worn thumbstick caps or sensors, you’re in for a challenge—you’ll have to break out the soldering gear, or buy the whole thumbstick assembly. 

One final note: charge ports accumulate a lot of wear and tear from routine use, and we can’t help but notice the Steam Deck’s USB-C port is soldered right to the motherboard. If you damage the port, you better have some serious soldering chops—otherwise, your only option is to replace the whole motherboard. (The headphone jack, on the other hand, has its own replaceable board, sparing you the headache.)

Game Console Makers, Are You Taking Notes?

Overall, we’re super excited about Valve’s commitment to parts availability, their transparency, and especially their repairable design choices. They’re leagues ahead of the competition.

And their timing couldn’t be better. Right to Repair is gaining momentum every day; the entire world recognizes that repair is crucial to a sustainable future. While the industry sometimes moves slowly and reluctantly, it’s wonderful to see a company like Valve embracing repair and empowering its customers to fix their stuff.

We’re hopeful that other game console companies will take a page out of Valve’s book. And we’ll keep our fingers crossed for an even better next generation—Valve has repairability room to grow in the Steam Deck 2, and we can’t wait to play.