Steam Deck Might Be the Console Modders Have Been Waiting For

Official CAD files and replacement parts challenge the status quo

  • Valve has published CAD files to help modders create enclosures and accessories. 
  • Replacement parts will be available through iFixit.
  • The ease of modding could encourage owners to tweak the Deck to their liking.
an outline illustration of Valve's Steam Deck

Valve

Valve’s Steam Deck has console modders hyped. 

For decades, modders have tweaked and enhanced handheld consoles by reverse-engineering each console’s design and hardware. The results range from Retro Future’s absurdly wide Gameboy Advance to PiBoy’s genuinely useful Game Boy enclosure, but in every case, modders were left without official support. The Steam Deck challenges that status quo - and it’s exciting news for the console’s mod scene. 

“By Valve being really open with how they’ve enclosed the device, it’s going to enable consumers to replace the shell of their device or create new versions of it,” tech YouTuber TheTerk said in a video call. “You could technically yank all the guts out and put it in some other enclosure.”

3D Printing Makes Custom Enclosures Possible

Valve surprised modders by releasing a set of CAD files for the exterior of the Steam Deck on February 11, 2022, several weeks ahead of the console’s official launch. 

The files give modders a foundation for creating case modifications or an all-new enclosure, which can then be produced with a 3D printer. This is an unprecedented perk for the mod community. 

Nintendo and Sony have never released CAD files for a handheld console. The mod community has crafted unofficial CAD files through careful measurement of existing consoles, but this can be time-consuming, and the results vary depending on the skill, consistency, and preferences of the modder taking the measurements. Valve’s official files should help modders start on the right foot. 

The basic Game Gear aesthetic is cool, but I think a clear acrylic case would be really sweet.”

"You're going to see a lot of consumers making these new chassis that can fit SSDs on the back, or extra battery banks on the back, and stuff to improve the overall ergonomics, like adding a kickstand," said TheTerk. 

Tito, a hardware modder who runs the YouTube channel Macho Nacho productions, is also optimistic about the Deck's potential. "I do have to say Valve's approach so far with the SteamDeck appears to be fairly open and unconventional," Tito said in an email. "The fact they released a video showing you how to disassemble the Deck and replace components such as the SSD, in conjunction with the release of their CAD files for the shell, is very much welcome." 

And it's not just hobbyist modders and YouTube creators looking to get in on the action. DBrand, a company that makes retail skins and cases for a variety of devices, has teased Project Killswitch, an impact-resistant case with a built-in kickstand. 

Hardcore Modders Care About What’s Inside 

The release of CAD files for the Steam Deck was followed by more good news: Valve has partnered with iFixit to provide official replacement parts sometime after its release. This, too, is unprecedented for a major handheld console. Nintendo and Sony ask customers to send in a console for repair if it’s defective or damaged.

Readily available replacement parts are helpful if you drop your Deck but also a key for hardware mods. Hardcore modders can experiment with less fear of permanently damaging the entire device. Modders could also use replacement parts to prototype a mod before placing it in the Deck they use daily.

“Just looking at the circuit, people are going to be able to test things out,” said TheTerk. “If someone wanted to build a daughterboard to replace the joysticks, as long as the inputs and outputs match and the connectors match, some of these components could be upgradable.”

Display mods have become a popular topic of conversation on the hardware mod channel of the unofficial Steam Deck Discord. Early reviews have praised the Deck’s LCD screen, but modders are hopeful they might swap in an OLED alternative to improve on the base display’s contrast and color performance. Some have even proposed using an eInk display to enhance the Deck’s battery life.

Modding Is Personal

Valve's Steam Deck

Valve

The Steam Deck is attractive to hardcore modders looking to swap out or upgrade the hardware, but the ease of modding the Deck should also open it to those who’ve never tried a hardware mod before. Many modders jump into the hobby to make relatively minor tweaks that reflect their personality or preferences - and that’s what TheTerk is looking forward to most.

“The basic Game Gear aesthetic is cool,” said TheTerk, “but I think a clear acrylic case would be really sweet.”

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