Anyone who bought one of Valve’s Steam Decks at launch got a very particular model of solid state drive installed in their device. Anyone buying one more recently has received a different drive, one that’s potentially slower.
As Hardwareluxx reports (via PC Gamer), all Steam Decks that originally shipped with either a 256 or 512GB SSD would have had them connected via four “lanes.” Now, some units are shipping with drives that connect via just two “lanes,” a change that could in theory result in slower performance since you’re essentially halving the drive’s bandwidth.
This swap wasn’t publicly announced via a press release or statement, and Steam Decks shipping with these newer drives haven’t been differentiated by a new model number. Indeed the only public mention of the change at all came when Valve quietly edited the handheld’s specs page back at the end of May.
As a result, the only way you can find out whether you have the original SSD installed in your Steam Deck or not is to check its specs in the system’s menu. Under “Hard Disk Drive,” as PC Gamer advises, you need to look for:
In the right panel it’ll have a code. Our 512GB review model has a Phison ESMP512GKB4C3-E13TS drive. That seems to be a custom 2230 SSD using Phison’s Gen3 x4 E13 controller. So, you want to check whether your code ends with -E13T, too, or something else entirely. If it includes a code like -E08 (Phison’s Gen3 x2 controller) then your Deck is one of those with a drive running on a Gen3 x2 interface.
I’ve been cautious with my language about performance above because we haven’t seen any tests that would prove there’s a clear difference in stuff like load times or FPS between the two different builds, at least on games currently available and fully supported on the platform. Which is understandable, given the news has only just been reported, and that with units still hard to get hold of, few if any people will have two Steam Decks they can directly compare.
It should also be noted that there are all kinds of ways a game’s performance can be bottlenecked outside of an SSD’s own performance, and that Valve would have tested these components internally before release. You would expect that had there been any noticeable hits on how a game ran, the change would have been more publicly announced. We’ve contacted the company for comment though and will update if we hear back.
UPDATE July 1, 6:30pm: Valve tells Kotaku:
For improved redundancy and production capacity, many components of Steam Deck come from multiple suppliers. One of our SSD suppliers provides PCle Gen 3 x4 NVMe SSDs, while another provides a x2 (2 lane) SSD.
Our team has tested both components extensively, and determined there is no end-user impact to performance between the two models.
SSD performance is currently gated by factors unrelated to PCIe bandwidth. In extremely uncommon cases, differences in read/write speed caps may minimally impact file transfer speeds, but OS performance, loading times, game performance, and game responsiveness are identical between the x2 and x4 drives.