You can install Windows on the Steam Deck, but I'm here to tell you that's a bad idea (2024)

Key Takeaways

  • Windows on Steam Deck may offer familiar OS and anti-cheat games, but lose quick access menu and APU power settings.
  • Steam OS offers better performance, quick access menu, and cohesive handheld experience, making it the best choice for most users.
  • Steam Deck fans may never get a comparable settings menu on Windows due to deep BIOS settings integration with Steam OS.

The Steam Deck and Steam Deck OLED are powered by an AMD APU, and use other off-the-shelf PC components inside their shells. Valve ships them with a customized lightweight Linux distribution called Steam OS, but the same PC gaming handheld hardware can also run Windows if you decide to change the operating system. There are theoretically some benefits to this, including a more familiar OS and the ability to run games that utilize anti-cheat software. But on the whole, in reality, you lose more than you gain. I would only suggest it as a dual-boot setup so that you can stay in Steam OS most of the time. Let's talk about why.

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The Steam Deck is perfectly capable of running Windows

There are even official driver packages from Valve

You can install Windows on the Steam Deck, but I'm here to tell you that's a bad idea (2)

Valve is kind of a unicorn among tech companies, in that they want the user to be able to do whatever they want with their hardware once purchased. That's why Steam OS is based on Linux, so it can be tweaked to personal preferences. It has a huge community of coders that add functionality without proprietary lock-outs like you find on other operating systems. That permissive nature extends to the ability to change the entire operating system to Windows, with Valve even supplying the necessary driver packages. Currently, only the Steam Deck LCD has full driver support, but Valve says they're working on supplying Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Audio drivers for Windows on the Steam Deck OLED as well.

Valve's FAQ page is in need of an update, because you can actually dual-boot your Steam Deck with Windows and Steam OS. We got it working with Windows on the microSD card, and also on the internal SSD after creating partitions for both operating systems. Once installed, you'll need to download Steam again on the Windows partition, and then any games you want to play. It's probably worth only downloading those games that won't run at all on Steam OS, because you'll have a more enjoyable time with Steam games on Valve's OS.

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Steam OS is more functional and often faster

You lose more than you gain by switching to Windows

You can install Windows on the Steam Deck, but I'm here to tell you that's a bad idea (4)

If you install Windows on your Steam Deck instead of Steam OS, you'll lose access to things like the Quick Settings menu. That handy tool lets you see performance overlays and change settings like Bluetooth. Furthermore, where it truly shines is being able to change the Steam Deck's APU power settings on the fly. Lowering the wattage, limiting the FPS in-game, and more can all be accomplished with a few taps of the slide-out menu. That's something you can't do on the Steam Deck if you install Windows. The Legion Go or ROG Ally have custom software packages for Windows that the respective manufacturers created. The Steam Deck has no such program, and likely never will.

But it's not only additional features you'll miss out on if you migrate to Windows. In many cases, you'll be losing performance as well. While we don't have direct benchmarks for Windows running on the Steam Deck, I found a video from a YouTube creator called TheTerk. They found that from a selection of 20 games, only four ran faster on Windows than on Steam OS. Of the games that ran better on Steam OS, five had over 10% more frames per second, with one game, God of War, running 22.3% faster on Valve's OS. That's a significant amount of performance, although I will caution that 10% at lower than 60FPS is only 6 frames at best, so while it will make games a little smoother, it's not a huge jump.

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Related

Best Steam Deck alternatives in 2024

The Steam Deck is one of the best handheld gaming systems, but if you can't find one, or fancy something different, there are alternatives.

It's not just any single thing that makes Steam OS the best choice on the Steam Deck. Every little tweak to Gaming mode that Valve has made, things like the quick access menu with the dedicated hardware button to access it, and every bit of power they managed to get out of the custom AMD APU, all combine into a better experience for the user. Eventually, maybe some Steam Deck fans will get a comparable settings menu working on Windows, but it might never happen due to the deep hooks into the BIOS settings that it would require.

If you absolutely can't live without Destiny 2, or any of the dozens of multiplayer games that use anti-cheat of one sort or another, there is another option. You could look at a gaming handheld that's been designed from the start to work with Windows. That way, you don't have to jump through hoops to get hardware drivers working, and there is a promise of support from the manufacturer if anything goes wrong.

Steam OS is still the best choice for the Steam Deck

The tight integration into your Steam Library makes Steam OS the better choice for most users of the Steam Deck. Valve designed the operating system to feel more like a cohesive handheld console, so that it fades into the background and lets gamers enjoy their libraries. That's a winning formula, as shown by Nintendo, who's undoubtedly still the handheld console champ for usability. The only scenario that makes sense for running a Windows-powered Steam Deck is if you play a lot of multiplayer games that require anti-cheat software to be installed. But even then, you can get away with dual-booting so you don't lose the benefits of Steam OS when you play other games.

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  • Gaming Handhelds
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You can install Windows on the Steam Deck, but I'm here to tell you that's a bad idea (2024)
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