Dual Booting on the Steam Deck will be a mistake. Here's why.

Dual Booting on the Steam Deck will be a mistake. Here's why.
Photo by Edgar Almeida / Unsplash

I've been notorious for saying "The Steam Deck is a console." And that's because all evidence points to the fact that it is. See, the Steam Deck is an entirely custom design meant to play video games. And sure, they're PC games but it's a subset of PC games.

Why a subset? Because for a game to work on the Steam Deck, it will need to be compatible in some way with Steam OS; the Steam Deck's custom operating system built from the ground up to make gaming on the go a better, more performant, and comfortable experience.

But I've seen a lot of comments saying "I'm just gonna install Windows on my Steam Deck." But I'm here to tell you that installing Windows on the Steam Deck will be the biggest mistake you could make on the hardware.

First up, when the Steam Deck launches, the Steam Deck UI will only be available through Steam OS. And we all know that Windows is notoriously terrible to use on a touch screen and it's virtually impossible to use it with a controller. By installing Windows on the Steam Deck, you'll be foregoing the intended and superior user experience. And even when Valve gets around to replacing BPM with the Deck UI, it won't integrate with Windows and will function as just another app... with focus being stolen by background processes, launching a game causing the Deck UI to take focus, etc. Windows on the Deck will provide an immediately degraded and frustrated user experience from a UI perspective. But that's not all.

Have you ever accidentally put your PC to sleep while playing a game? It's a rare occasion that Windows or the game will actually fully recover. This has to do with how the power management interface was engineered on Windows. It's a mess. And I suspect that putting the Deck to sleep on Windows will be problematic for a long time.

And let's not forget about the Steam Deck's Cloud Sync on Sleep feature. If you have a network connection and you put your game to sleep, the Deck will push your save game to the Steam Cloud so you can resume your game on another device. But will Steam for Windows know that it's running on the Deck? We don't know the answer to that.

And that raises another question. See, it's possible for a game developer to publish a special version of their game for the Deck that uses less of the internal storage. You know, they remove some of the high res textures that you'll never use on the Deck... that kind of stuff.

If Steam for Windows doesn't know it's running on Deck hardware, will you be able to take advantage of such space-saving builds?

And that brings me to my next topic:

According to Valve, Steam OS should take up no more than 4 gigabytes of internal storage, however a typical Windows 11 install is nearly 24 gigabytes.

So Windows is about six times larger than Steam OS. And on a device like the Steam Deck where drive space is quite limited, that's a major issue. Especially if you have the 64 or 256 gig drives.

And if you wanted to dual boot between Steam OS and Windows, that would leave you with much smaller partitions. Let's say you have the 512 gig model and you partition your internal storage in half. That leaves you with 256 gigs for each OS. On Steam OS, you'd have 252 gigs, on Windows, you'd have 232 gigs after install. But even 252 gigs isn't enough if you intend to have multiple AAA games installed.

And let's not forget for a second that Windows doesn't respect your storage devices. Have you ever run Windows 10 off of a hard drive? It's so slow--especially when Windows is doing whatever the hell it does in the background--and at that point it's basically unusable. It's called thrashing and it's something Windows does all the time. Especially when you have virtual memory enabled.

Steam OS, on the other hand, is designed with the constraints of the Steam Deck's storage hardware.

It's optimized for random IO on the microSD card. Meanwhile, on Windows, I'm pretty sure you'll see a massive degradation in performance loading from the SD card. Just like I did on my GPD WIN 2 when comparing IO speeds between Windows vs. Manjaro off the SD.

But it's not just IO thrashing. Windows doesn't respect your power budget, either. Windows is a notorious resource hog. Running unnecessary processes in the background that will seriously hamper your performance--especially on such a lower-power device like the Steam Deck. Things like Windows Update, telemetry exfiltration, etc all using bandwidth, disk IO, CPU time and RAM and degrading your overall gaming performance.

And Windows also lacks the custom kernel-level tweaks that SteamOS has. Things like driver optimizations for the GPU that preserve battery life, the global frame-rate limiter, TDP settings, system-wide FidelityFX Super Resolution, etc.

Simply put, Windows isn't capable of this kind of stuff.

But the APIs provided by Windows are also far less stable than what Proton provides applications. Why do I mean by that? Well, Proton provides a versioned set of libraries that games can reliably call upon in order to execute in a predictable way. Windows, on the other hand, has "backwards compatible" mode that has to be enabled manually in most cases. A game running through Proton, on the other hand, can specify exactly which version of Proton the game expects and it's automatically provided.

Plus, all this assumes that Windows drivers will be available by the time you get your Deck. There's no guarantee that will be the case.

Windows 11 and, to a lesser extent, Windows 10, are closed platforms with little concern for the openness of the PC that once made Windows great. If you haven't heard about how Microsoft has slowly been curtailing the rights of its users and closing down their platform, then you must be living under a rock. For those paying attention, Microsoft's brazen power-grabs in the PC space have been shocking. And mark my words, in a few years, you'll have to pay a one-time fee to Microsoft to install software from outside the Microsoft Store. And a few years after that, you'll have to pay a monthly Windows subscription to access your Steam Games.

And that's WHY the Deck ships with Steam OS. Besides the nasty, corporate control that Microsoft's been exerting over YOUR hardware, Windows is just plain worse than most other operating systems. Sure, you might mistake the fact that you have access to more games as meaning Windows is "better", but if we've learned anything in this video it's just how worse engineered Windows is. Especially when compared to a version of Linux that's purpose-built for a specific application like gaming.

In summary, the Steam Deck has many features built right into Steam OS, from battery saving optimizations, streamlined drivers, UI built to accommodate the hardware, and a user experience that will be leagues better than what Windows could ever hope to provide.

And while, yes, on Steam OS there might be a few games missing from your library at launch, I think installing Windows on the Steam Deck will still be a grave mistake. One that I hope I've dissuaded you from making on your Steam Deck.

But I'd like to know what you think. Do you intend to dual boot Windows or even overwrite Steam OS? Let me know in the comments. I'm specifically interested in hearing your rationale either way.