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What the Steam Deck OLED means for your old Steam Deck

The Steam Deck OLED vs. the Steam Deck OLD

a photo of the Steam Deck OLED (top) and the original Steam Deck, lying on a hot pink sheet of thick paper, with Dave the Diver running on both handhelds Photo: Amelia Holowaty Krales/Polygon
Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

The release of the Steam Deck OLED raises questions for early adopters. Will the OLED play more games than its predecessor? Will Valve continue to support the original model? Is an upgrade really worth it? Why am I breathing so fast?

Ahead of the OLED model’s launch, we spoke with Valve to get some answers. Good news: Practically nothing will change for the original Steam Deck. The Steam Deck OLED has a better screen, battery life, and Wi-Fi module. But power-wise, it’s identical to the original. Running a game on the Steam Deck OLED will be the same as on the Steam Deck.

This decision doesn’t only benefit people who just purchased an “old” Steam Deck; it helps Valve and developers publishing on Steam, too. Over the past 18 months, game designers have been able to optimize their games for the Steam Deck’s specific hardware. With the Steam Deck OLED sharing the same specs, creators can continue to hone their games to run well on both devices — without any additional investment.

(Older internal hardware presumably helps keep costs down for Valve, so this isn’t entirely altruistic. But hey, what is?)

Valve will also continue to provide software updates to the original Steam Deck. A new BIOS update will appear shortly after the launch of the OLED model, bringing the latest batch of improvements to the older hardware, including a bit of increased battery life from performance optimizations.

In an email, Lawrence Yang, one of the Steam Deck’s designers, shared some specific updates coming to both the Steam Deck OLED and LCD versions. “There are a bunch of features we needed to ship to support the new screen,” wrote Yang, “like HDR, refresh rate updates, and frame doubling/tripling — these updates will also apply to Steam Deck LCD when connected to external monitors. One other thing we’ll be shipping soon is the ability to do local network transfer from one Steam Deck to another, so you can transfer your library across Decks without having to re-download. We also view battery life and performance optimizations as an ongoing effort.”

Valve does plan to release a more powerful Steam Deck later on, one that makes a generational leap in graphical power. But representatives estimate that that hardware is two to three years away. So for now, if you already have a Steam Deck, you’re not missing out. Except for the awesome OLED screen. And the battery. And all the other little stuff.

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