Valve creating new, Nintendo Switch-style portable PC

Steven Rondina • May 26, 15:37

Valve’s first foray into making gaming hardware ended unceremoniously but the company isn’t calling it quits.

According to Ars Technica, Valve is set to launch a new portable PC with the codename of SteamPal. The news comes after SteamDB unearthed coding changes in the latest Steam client beta that make references to the device related to “Neptune” which appears to be some manner of controller.

Ars Technica is reporting that the SteamPal and Neptune code strings refer to an in-development portable PC that will be in the same vein as the Nintendo Switch. The SteamPal is being designed to run a number of Steam titles on the device through a Linux OS, which is likely similar to or a straight upgrade of the short-lived Steam OS.

Though the news is surprising it follows a number of small hints from the publisher in recent months that have hinted that something big is in store. The big question is whether this new project will go any better than Valve’s numerous flops over the last five years.

Valve’s SteamPal portable PC is interesting but questionable

After the WiiU flopped in epic fashion, Nintendo needed to hit a home run with its next console. It got one with the Nintendo Switch. The console-handheld hybrid has been an enormous sales success for the company and has appealed to a broader audience thanks to its casual appeal and stylish look.

Since then, a number of hardware manufacturers of all walks have maneuvered to do something similar. The most notable example is the Alienware UFO, a portable PC that has an identical button layout to the Switch and similar detachable controllers that can be snapped into a separate dock to serve as a standard console controller.

According to Ars Technica, the SteamPal will not have the same detachable controller gimmick that the Nintendo Switch does. Still, by all descriptions, it should look and feel similar to the Nintendo Switch Lite.

Though there is certainly appeal to a device that gives gamers complete access to their Steam libraries in a new way, there is plenty of reason to doubt Valve’s ability to execute on this.

First and foremost is that electronics manufacturers of all sorts are struggling with supply issues and an ongoing computer chip shortage. This has caused grief for everyone from PC to toy manufacturers, with the biggest victims likely being Sony and Microsoft who are struggling to ship PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S|X consoles.

On top of that, Valve’s poor record over the last several years when it comes to creating new things is hard to overlook. By the company’s own admission, it habitually starts new projects and cancels them without explanation. Even if something does ship, the immediate abandonment of Dota Underlords, Artifact, and literally every multiplayer game that launched on consoles should leave all customers wary over the notion of getting their money’s worth on a Valve product.

There is some cause for hope, though. The Valve Index VR kit has been a major success for the company in terms of both its quality and development. This stands in harsh contrast to Valve’s previous foray into hardware manufacturing, the Steam Machine. 

Steam Machines were a series of PCs designed by other PC manufacturers that ran on the Linux-based Steam OS. The platform was met with poor sales and Valve was lackadaisical when it came to updating Steam OS, leading to the platform being abandoned by all parties in short order.

If everything comes together for the SteamPal, it could be huge as the Switch proved that there is a market for devices that can deliver console-style games in a portable package. There are plenty of reasons to be wary of Valve when it comes to this sort of project, however.

Will the SteamPal be unveiled at E3?

It is unclear whether the SteamPal will be revealed at  E3, or if it ever will be. Though it seems to be a fact that Valve is working on a portable PC, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those plans will come to fruition. 

It’s unclear how far into development the SteamPal is and even if it’s near completion, that won’t prevent Valve from killing the project. On top of that, the logistical difficulties of manufacturing gaming hardware in 2021 could see the project delayed indefinitely for a relative newcomer to the space like Valve.

Confirmation of the project could come at E3, but don’t necessarily expect more information to come anytime soon.

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