Thursday, October 7th 2021

Valve Cracks Open the Steam Deck, so You Don't Have to

If you bought the 64 GB Steam Deck with plans to upgrade the internal drive, then Valve has posted a video just for you. Well, then again maybe not, as although Valve says that you have the right to do whatever you want with your hardware, they point out that if you cause any damage to the Steam Deck while opening it, they won't cover the damage under the warranty.

They also point out that opening the Steam Deck will apparently weaken the structural integrity somewhat. Opening up the Steam Deck requires the removal of eight screws before you can remove the rear panel. Valve hasn't made things easily accessible inside either, as the first thing they ask you to do, is to disconnect the battery. However, the connector is hidden underneath the EMI shield that covers the SSD and the wireless module, which makes it hard to reach.
As Valve is using an M.2 2230 drive, it's also not going to be easy to find a replacement drive and unlike most M.2 SSDs, the default drive inside the Steam Deck features a dedicated EMI shield, which a replacement drive is unlikely to do. Valve makes a disclaimer that swapping out the SSD might cause interference with the wireless module, as the drives the Steam Deck ships with, were specifically chosen to prevent this from ever happening. It would also be largely impossible to fit an EMI shield to an SSD, due to the fact that it would have to be soldered on for something as small as an M.2 drive.

The video also shows how to replace a thumb stick, although Valve points out that it's a custom part that can't be easily replaced. On the other hand, the video also mentions that Valve will be announcing a partner for spare parts for the Steam Deck, which is good news, as it means third party repairs are likely to be possible.

Source: YouTube
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28 Comments on Valve Cracks Open the Steam Deck, so You Don't Have to

#2
TheLostSwede
ZoneDymoifixit hate them?
Well, this is only a partial teardown that doesn't really show all the details iFixit tends to go into.
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#3
Bomby569
it seems clear it could be smaller, it was a deliberate option
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#4
Valantar
... I feel a need to point out that he's wearing his anti-static wrist strap outside of his insulating rubber gloves .... We need a facepalm emote here.

Edit: at least they have the sense to point it out in the video themselves. That's something, I guess.
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#5
lynx29
still glad I went with Switch OLED over this. that OLED screen is going to be gorgeous to play my indie games on.
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#6
Valantar
TheLostSwedeunlike most M.2 SSDs, the default drive inside the Steam Deck features a dedicated EMI shield, which a replacement drive is unlikely to do.
Looking at the video - with the caveat that it's showing pre-production hardware and this might change - it's reasonably clear (~5:00 in the video, slow it down to 25% playback speed for clarity) that the EMI shield on the SSD is just a piece of aluminium (steel?) tape cut precisely to fit and wrapped around the drive. It doesn't have the tell-tale sharp 3D outline of a soldered-on EMI shield, and notably it visibly wraps around the drive (which a soldered-on shield generally doesn't do) with a clear seam on the back. This makes it seem likely that something similar could be done with a replacement drive - or the tape might even be successfully transplanted over to a new drive (assuming they haven't moved to a custom drive with a soldered-on shield at that point). This is TBH a bit surprising to me - doesn't an EMI shield need to be grounded to be effective? Either way, while their concerns are still likely valid - the EMI pattern of a different drive might be quite different - it doesn't quite spell doom on WiFi performance for SSD swaps either.
ZoneDymoifixit hate them?
Ifixit tends to applaud first-party disassembly/teardown videos (it's not like they can do every device out there), so I doubt it.
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#7
lynx29
ifixit is still a good source to get official battery replacements. if you buy a battery from some third party on amazon or ebay you are prob getting garbage. at least ifixit is using official channels (I think so anyway) to source their battery replacements.
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#8
XiGMAKiD
The 64GB model is tempting, it has microSD slot but they didn't tell anything about it except "All models include high-speed microSD card slot"
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#9
R-T-B
TheLostSwedeWell, this is only a partial teardown that doesn't really show all the details iFixit tends to go into.
Yes, but I can already feel their repairability score dropping. Not because of the video, but because it does not look like an easy work environment. Things like "do not open, will compromise structural integrity!" are also big nonos.
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#10
TheLostSwede
ValantarLooking at the video - with the caveat that it's showing pre-production hardware and this might change - it's reasonably clear (~5:00 in the video, slow it down to 25% playback speed for clarity) that the EMI shield on the SSD is just a piece of aluminium (steel?) tape cut precisely to fit and wrapped around the drive. It doesn't have the tell-tale sharp 3D outline of a soldered-on EMI shield, and notably it visibly wraps around the drive (which a soldered-on shield generally doesn't do) with a clear seam on the back. This makes it seem likely that something similar could be done with a replacement drive - or the tape might even be successfully transplanted over to a new drive (assuming they haven't moved to a custom drive with a soldered-on shield at that point). This is TBH a bit surprising to me - doesn't an EMI shield need to be grounded to be effective? Either way, while their concerns are still likely valid - the EMI pattern of a different drive might be quite different - it doesn't quite spell doom on WiFi performance for SSD swaps either.
Doesn't look like tape though, it looks like a folded metal cover, but yes, it doesn't look soldered on like the EMI shields on Wi-Fi cards. However, I would expect final production units to have soldered on EMI shields, if they had to make one for the pre-production units to pass FCC testing.
Not going to be easy to do on your own though, as someone that have tried to remove EMI noise in products in the past, it's a big difference between the various materials used and the tolerances aren't very big. We tested out some "magical" new material at work and it ended up being no different to copper tape...
Also, you can't touch the electrical component with such tape, so you'd have to figure out how to insulate the SSD, which in turn might mean it'll run hotter.
Yes, EMI shields do in general have to be grounded, but ground in something like this is a bit different to what most people refer to as ground and it's possible they've done something to the drive to access the ground plane in it.
Since we only have so much information to go on, it's hard to say, but still, good catch.
R-T-BYes, but I can already feel their repairability score dropping. Not because of the video, but because it does not look like an easy work environment. Things like "do not open, will compromise structural integrity!" are also big nonos.
Yeah, the do not open part is a bit odd and it looks like the screws are screwed into the plastic, rather than using moulded in screw threads, as you would expect for something this expensive. With self tapping screws, there are only going to be so many times you can open a product before you start damaging the plastic, regardless of material.
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#11
Valantar
R-T-BYes, but I can already feel their repairability score dropping. Not because of the video, but because it does not look like an easy work environment. Things like "do not open, will compromise structural integrity!" are also big nonos.
Yep, self-tapping screws in plastic is a bit meh. They are great for strength, but only assuming no disassembly (ever). They're entirely right that this will reduce structural integrity, as a second insertion of the screws into the partially sprung-back threads tapped into the plastic by the preceding screw will never be as tight a fit or as secure as the first insertion. Some thread locker (one that works on plastic) might improve that, but it'll never be as good as the first installation. As for the easy work environment ... I don't know. Eight screws for entry is fine (though two different types is a drag); the battery connector being covered by a screwed-down EMI shield is a bit dumb (why not just have another tape-covered cutout there, like for the central screws?), and the EMI shield screws also partially holding the cooler down is both smart and dumb at the same time. The daughterboard for the USB-C and power button(?) is good (easily replaceable), and the same goes for both thumb sticks and input boards on both sides. Still, no matter what, this isn't getting a 10/10.
TheLostSwedeDoesn't look like tape though, it looks like a folded metal cover, but yes, it doesn't look soldered on like the EMI shields on Wi-Fi cards. However, I would expect final production units to have soldered on EMI shields, if they had to make one for the pre-production units to pass FCC testing.
Not going to be easy to do on your own though, as someone that have tried to remove EMI noise in products in the past, it's a big difference between the various materials used and the tolerances aren't very big. We tested out some "magical" new material at work and it ended up being no different to copper tape...
Also, you can't touch the electrical component with such tape, so you'd have to figure out how to insulate the SSD, which in turn might mean it'll run hotter.
Yes, EMI shields do in general have to be grounded, but ground in something like this is a bit different to what most people refer to as ground and it's possible they've done something to the drive to access the ground plane in it.
Since we only have so much information to go on, it's hard to say, but still, good catch.
Steel tape can be pretty stiff, so it might be that - after all, tape is just some form of foil with an adhesive backing, so whether it's a folded cover or a tape cover is kind of moot as long as it's stuck down (and I don't see any other way of that being held in place) :P Aren't there shielding tapes with insulated backings meant for precisely these applications, btw? If not, a wrapping of kapton tape ought to insulate everything safely without noticeably adverse thermal effects before adding something metal for shielding. Still, as you say, one can't just assume that a DIY solution - even a very good one - will have the same effect as one that's actually developed and tested by engineers with the relevant skills and tools.
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#12
gottimw
R-T-BYes, but I can already feel their repairability score dropping. Not because of the video, but because it does not look like an easy work environment. Things like "do not open, will compromise structural integrity!" are also big nonos.
That feel like a message for an average joe who never done it before and has no idea what he is doing.

From this limited teardown it looks like it will be pretty easy to do common repairs. They even mentioned that spare parts providers will be given. That is great as oppose to apple et al. who would love to ban any repairs altogether.

I was sceptical about the steamdeck and I am still not planning on getting it but repairability and potential aftermarket parts are big plus
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#13
zlobby
It's like I'm staring at the crack of... dawn!
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#14
Liquid Cool
Let's see...

You have full repairability, the parts are relatively easy to access. There will be third party vendors for parts replacements/upgrades. I'm not seeing a single issue here.

Structural integrity? You're not twisting the device in your hands when playing a video game...you're just gripping the unit. How strong does it have to be? It's a plastic handheld device to play video games? I'm sure it'll do what you intend it to do...and do it well.

I've been taking these things apart for over 40 years to see how they tick and i've never run into a single issue after reinstall. Other than "creaking" after I've done it too many times. What device had the creaking problem? The original PSP with an ill fitted casing purchased in the aftermarket.






I'm buying mine to use it...not set it on a shelf and stare at it. Make no mistakes here....I'm going to beat the living hell out of this thing and from what I see of the engineering that went into it...it will be able to handle my abuse just fine.

I'm not seeing cut corners here...I'm seeing overkill and frankly speaking....if the Steam Deck is successful, you'll have 3rd Party vendors crawling out of the woodwork selling you every type of doo-dad possible. Even replacement enclosures aren't out of the realm of imagination...are they?

I took apart dozens of PSP's...never lost a one. Never had a problem with any of them. They don't look even close to as well made as this device.

Again...built like a tank with easy access to replacement parts? Not to mention...Steam is giving you full access when Apple and Microsoft are doing there dead level best to take it away. Runs on linux?

I've said it before and I'll say it again...It's a dream machine for the tinkerer.

Best,

Liquid Cool

P.S. The Blip. was actually mechanical....the oddest device I've ever owned.
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#15
Chomiq
"Turn it over to a pro":


So they made a shield like this:

That screws into the cooling assembly for the APU...

Which you have to unscrew to get to the SSD which is here:

Well how about making two separate shields instead? Or a hinge over the place where the NVMe is screwed in.

That way you wouldn't have to "recommend" users not to mess with replacing the SSD themselves.

It's like they designed it to be user serviceable and then they are telling users not to service it.
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#16
Vayra86
Chomiq"Turn it over to a pro":
Youtube man. Every video you record is destroying a few million brain cells. Uploaded to the cloud.
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#17
Chomiq
Vayra86Youtube man. Every video you record is destroying a few million brain cells. Uploaded to the cloud.
I mean, it's freaking Valve. How about you do another take with ESD strap worn correctly. That's just lazy.
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#18
Vayra86
ChomiqI mean, it's freaking Valve. How about you do another take with ESD strap worn correctly. That's just lazy.
HL3, what more can we say.
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#19
BorisDG
Looks a bit "how-ya-doin'" in terms of layout and cabling, but we see the final version. :) I guess until is widely available, we will have rev. 2.0 or Steam Deck OLED Model. :D
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#20
Valantar
Chomiq"Turn it over to a pro":


So they made a shield like this:

That screws into the cooling assembly for the APU...

Which you have to unscrew to get to the SSD which is here:

Well how about making two separate shields instead? Or a hinge over the place where the NVMe is screwed in.

That way you wouldn't have to "recommend" users not to mess with replacing the SSD themselves.

It's like they designed it to be user serviceable and then they are telling users not to service it.
Given that the WiFi module looks like it's (partially) underneath the SSD, that's likely not feasible - that module also needs to be shielded from outside interference, and the module needs to be shielded from the (very close by) SSD. The only real solution there would be to place these components differently - which I'm sure they've considered and have good reason not to.

I have to say though, that is one impressively small motherboard. Damn.
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#21
Maenad
S.T.A.R.S.
The 64GB model with few 256/512GB µSD cards could be interesting. I thought that those larger cards are more expensive than what they are, though it's wise to not buy the cheapest (= slowest) ones.
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#22
cadaveca
My name is Dave
Am I crazy, or did everyone just miss the sarcastic humour?

o_O
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#23
Valantar
cadavecaAm I crazy, or did everyone just miss the sarcastic humour?

o_O
Not at all. Just discussing the non-sarcastic parts of the video :)
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#24
LabRat 891
Wish we could get a current spec on the SSD. Found some affordable 256GB 2230 Samsung pm991a(s) and at only 1.4A. Most 2230 drives I otherwise found were 1.8-3A IIRC.
I've had luck 'DIY'ing EMI shielding before. Had a couple 'cheapy' x1-x16 risers that wouldn't work correctly until I threw some Reynolds wrap and aluminum tape on the ribbon cable. I feel that I could figure something out.
Honestly, I adore the fact that this little device is going to bring awareness to EMI inside of computers. Many *experienced* enthusiasts and techs haven't the slightest clue as to the issues that can come up because of it.

Looking forward to Replacement Casings with in-built x4-4x x1 pcie switch and/or a semi-externalized PCIe/m.2 slot. A slight change in the ergonomics would allow a shielded riser out of the m.2 on The Deck, or even a x4 Lane pcie 'dock'.
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