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Best Micro SD Card for Valve’s Steam Deck

Written by: Glenn R. Onassis
Best Steam Deck SD Memory Card for Gaming

I can’t say that I wasn’t jealous of your regular Nintendo Switch owner once titles like Fortnite, Apex Legends and others started hitting the store. Having a cheap and portable esports machine has it’s perks, and soon enough I succumbed to the N-craze and got myself one. Now, I can’t say that spectating your team mates from a kitchen table, while enjoying a midnight snack, isn’t a game changer, but the sheer power of the device just wasn’t enough for me, and I had to give it back.

Fast forward to 2022, Steam finally got an answer for all of us who love to jump around the house between loading times, map changes or just spectating your team mates while your dead ass is taking a leak or waits for them to respawn you.

The name of the game is Steam Deck, not to be confused with the Stream Deck, and it’s one of the latest handheld gaming PC’s that are all the craze in 2022. If you’re looking to buy one, this guide will definitely help you out.

Valve’s Steam Deck is coming in three versions for now; the 64 GB model that will cost $399, the 256 GB for $529 and the 512 GB version set at $649. Which version should you get? Well, the 256 GB one is the sweet spot due to hardware disparity. It’s price is closer to the 64 GB model, while the performance is equal to the 512 GB model.

Depending on the version you take, there might be situations in which you would find yourself with a lack of storage, and that’s where this guide on the best Steam Deck Micro SD card is coming in handy, so let’s start off with the best options, and then continue on with a FAQ.

steam-deck-valve


About That Steam Deck SD Card Slot…

Before we dig into the topic I wanted to say that this guide will cover only the UHS-I standard that supports SD, SDXC and SDHC cards, since that’s the official Steam Deck SD Card slot speed and the actual limit of the device. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you get a faster card, it will still work at the same speeds as UHS-I. This comes with the implication that whether there’s a better class of micro-SD card (UHS-3, for example) inserted into the Deck, the theoretical maximum transfer speed would still be limited to 104 MB/s. As for the capacity, the largest micro-SD card that money can buy is still 1 TB.

The Best Micro SD Card for Steam Deck With Max Speeds

Largest UHS-I Micro SD Card for Steam Deck

SanDisk Extreme

SanDisk Extreme series of microSDXC UHS-I memory cards. The king of all Steam Deck SD Cards, SanDisk has been a proven brand year in and out, being the number #1 choice not only for handheld games across all platforms, but also for photographers and videographers. The manufacturer claims up to 160 MB/s read speeds and up to 90 MB/s write speeds, with your standard class 2 rated IOPS Speeds. This is the only reliable card on this list that is covered with a three-decade limited warranty, is built for and tested in harsh conditions, and comes in up to seven different sizes, starting from 32 GB and ending with 1 TB. The whole shabang comes with a price though, with an almost 10% premium over other cards on this list. The 128 GB will cost you $21, while the 1 TB can go up to $180, depending on the availability. For the latest pricing it’s best to check out SanDisk’s Amazon Store here.

The Affordable Steam Deck SD Card if You’re on a Budget

Fastest Micro SD Memory Card For Steam Deck

Lexar Play Series

Lexar PLAY Series of microSDXC UHS-I-Cards. Sandisk is the king of SD Cards, but Lexar is the bishop. Their Play series of cards is a cheap alternative if you’re on a budget, or just want to stack up on Steam SD Cards for hot swappable games. The manufacturer claims a read speed of up to 150 MB/s and a write speed of up to 104 MB/s. One downside to the whole jazz is that the warranty can’t compete with SanDisk; Lexar only offers 5 years of limited product warranty. Luckily, what the card can’t beat in warranty, it can beat with the price. Their most affordable 128 GB version starts at $16, after which we have the 256 GB for $28 and up to $133 for the 1 TB option, while offering almost the same performance as every other contender on this list.

The Best Looking SD Card for the Steam Deck

Steam Deck SD Card Speeds

Apex Sigil Card

SanDisk’s “Apex Legends Sigil” MicroSDXC UHS-I Card. As an avid Apex Legends fan, this was my first choice just because I loved the design. Since it has only 128 GB, my own idea was to keep it as a dedicated hot swappable SD card just for Apex Legends and all the patches/updates/screenshots one would need. If you’re interested in that concept scroll down a bit, I touched upon it in this article. Regarding the card itself, it was originally developed to be sold alongside a Nintendo version of Apex Legends, but you also have an option to buy the card separate, without the game, and it works with the Steam Deck without any issues. The read speeds are rated up to 100 MB/s, while the write speeds are rated to 90 MB/s, which our tests confirmed. SanDisk is also flexing its thirty year limited warranty, and I have no clue how useful that is, especially for the price of  $25 over at Amazon.

Worth Mentioning: The PNY PRO Elite MicroSDXC Steam Deck SD Card

Best Micro SD Card for Steam Deck

PNY Pro Elite

PNY has been on the market for decades, and they are well known within the gaming community, especially for their GPU’s, so they definitely deserve a spot here. As with most cards on this list, we have the regular read speeds of up to 100MB/s, write speeds of 90 MB/s, and the standard approach to durability, with a magnet, shock and waterproof housing. Their smallest card starts at 128 GB with a price tag of $18, and then goes up to 1 TB and $169.40. I would recommend to follow PNY’s Amazon page for the latest updates and deals.


How Did We Choose the Best Steam Deck Micro SD Card?

Our conclusion is that the best standard to focus on when choosing the right SD Card for the Steam Deck are Class 2 (A2) rated SDXC cards, and here’s why:

  • Minimum Random Read is set to 4000 IOPS. I know that this is not the standard approach to measuring speeds, but it’s a more reliable one.
  • Minimum Random Write is set to 2000 IOPS. Almost 4 times more than the standard Class 1 SD cards.
  • Minimum Sustained Sequential Write is set to 10 MB/s. Not a flex really, since the same speed was offered in the previous gen version, but still worth mentioning.
  • Maximum Read Speed as a marketing stunt. This is the most advertised value between SD Card manufacturers, but the truth is that this one is the least important. You will not find any challenges here since most cards are marketed with numbers above 100 MB/s
  • Maximum Write Speed as the important spec. For the best loading times and open-world textures you want to have the fastest write speeds available, with our minimum recommendation being 60 MB/s.

Class 1 vs Class 2 Steam Deck MicroSD Card Comparison

How Did We Test the SD Cards Compatible With Valve’s Steam Deck?

When you’re a hardware tester you sometimes find yourself doing the same task over and over again, just with different gadgets in front of you. Last year I covered the guide on general speeds of Micro SD cards, an article that is still relevant even today, and for this guide I used almost the same methodology, just a different device to test everything.

We have an internal SD Card Reader on my Gigabyte Aorus 17G, an external USB-C card reader from Unitek, and CrystalDiskMark, HDparm and Atto as the benchmark tools of choice.

After testing the read and write speeds we additionally compared the price per gigabyte, as well as the warranty and overall availability of the cards.

How Fast Will the Games Load off of an SD Card When Compared to Internal Storage?

The fastest UHS-I cards can go is 100MB/s in read speeds and 90MB/s in write speeds, although this can’t be compared with the performance of SSD’s, it surely can compete with some HDD’s on the market. You will sacrifice loading times for a bit, but the games will run without any issues.

Lawrance Yang, one of Valve’s engineers, stated that most of the gameplay from the IGN video [1] that came out a year ago was created by loading games off of an Micro SD card. Although they didn’t mention the specific model used in the demonstration video, it’s easy to guess that they used the best SD Card for Steam Deck available at that point, which should be one of the three we mentioned above.

Best SD Memory Card for Valve Steam Deck

Valve’s engineer confirmed that games are capable of working directly off an SD Card

Are Steam Deck SD Memory Cards Hot-swappable?

Yes, they are. The Steam OS that comes preinstalled on the device features hot-swappable SD cards, meaning that you can have game dedicated Steam Deck SD cards and then just switch them when you want to play that specific game. Some games like Call of Duty can go up to 100 GB, so with this approach you could have one 128 GB Card just for one game if you want, and then just hot-swapp it when you want to play it. As I already mentioned above, my own choice is to have the Apex Legends Sigil edition SD card as my “game card”, it’s an affordable option for a large game like that, and it makes it stand out in my case.

One cool DIY project that I saw recently was from u/BIGxBOSSx over at Reddit, where he showed his collection of game-dedicated SD cards, check them out below:

Steam Deck SD Cards Sorted Per Game

How Reliable Are SD Cards, What Is Their Lifespan?

SD cards don’t have a definite lifespan, most of them do advertise that they have a theoretical lifetime of 30 years, but that one depends on several factors, and is not a reliable number, especially for heavy usage like gaming. The SD Association [2] states that the lifespan of a card can outlast the lifespan of multiple compatible devices, from cameras and drones up to your Steam Deck, which means that you should be looking at around 10 year of moderate to heavy usage.

Obviously, you shouldn’t store game save data on the SD Card itself. Best way to manage those is the cloud, everything else can get lost.

Can I use UHS-II SD Cards?

Your Steam Deck is limited to the UHS-I standard, so even if you would get an UHS-II microSDXC card, the device would “downgrade” the card and still deliver only UHS-I performance. So, in other words, you would pay more for the UHS-II card, but still have the UHS-I performance. Bummer, right?

Can I use an SDHC?

If you just want to test out the port or not store games on it, then yes, why not. It will work, but the performance will be bad and you’re stuck with a maximum of 32 GB of storage. Remember the long loading times we had on the third generation of consoles, like the PS3 and Xbox 360? Same technology here my friend – same deal, same issues.

Can I use Class 10 SD cards?

Yes, you can, but same as above, you’re risking your loading times. Ideally scroll back up and pick one of our recommendations on the best SD card for the Steam Deck, everything else is just roulette.

Where is the SD Card Slot located on the Steam Deck?

The SD Card Slot is located just below the display on your lower right side of the device, you will see a thin line in which you can then place your card in a way that the branding faces upwards, and the chips face downwards. Here’s an image to show you what I mean:

Valve Steam Deck SD Card Slot Location

What are the Steam Deck Specs?

Steam Deck is essentially a mid-range gaming laptop with a quad core CPU and a GPU similar to GTX 1660. The official specifications have been announced and you can find them below, but keep in mind that they might change with the final product due to the global chip shortage.

  • 7-inch LCD touchscreen display, that runs on 1280 x 800 resolution and at a 60 Hz refresh rate.
  • AMD Zen 2 as the CPU of choice, which comes with a 4-core/8-thread capability and a clock speed that ranges between 2.4 GHz and 3.5 GHz.
  • AMD RDNA 2 as the GPU, with 8 compute units and runs between the ranges of 1 GHz and 1.6 GHz clock speed.
  • 16 GB LPDDR5 of RAM, set at 5,500MT/s 32-bit in quad-channel, which should provide more than enough memory for a device that is mostly aiming at single-app workflows, e.g. running just one game.
  • 40 wh Lithium-ion battery, that should offer anywhere between four to six hours of battery life, more on that later.
  • Storage comes in three versions, with either a 64 GB eMMC for the $399 model, 256 GB NVMe SSD for the $529 model, or 512 GB NVMe SSD for the $649 model. All three models feature the same Steam Deck SD Card functionality.
  • Regarding Audio, the Steam Deck has two stereo speakers paired with a 3.5 mm audio jack for wired headsets or earphones.
  • For recordings, there’s a dual mic setup built on the upper portion of the front-facing plate.
  • Connectivity wise, there is one USB USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C port with DisplayPort 1.4 support, Bluetooth 5.0 for controllers, accessories and audio, with a Dual-band Wi-Fi radio. For now, WiFi6 has not been confirmed.
  • Size and weight, the device has will weight approximately 1.47 lbs (669 grams) with the following dimensions: 11.7 x 4.6 x 1.8-inch (298 x 117 x 49mm).

I personally sent out an e-mail to Gabe asking if there would be a possibility for a WiFi6e module, but I kinda doubt the first version will have it.

Valve Steam Deck Guide 1Valve Steam Deck Guide 2Valve Steam Deck Guide 3

Does the Steam Deck Support Other External Storage Besides a Micro SD Card??

Yes, you can connect all sorts of external storage that sports an USB Type-C connector. The difference of which, aside from the physical design and internal structure, is the data transfer rate. As a general rule of thumb, solid-state drives (SSDs) are generally faster than hard disk drives (HDDs) and therefore are more expensive than the latter, relative to storage capacity.

Will the Internal Parts in the Steam Deck Be Replaceable?

Yes, some internal parts can be exchanged, but it’s not advised. There is a risk of potentially damaging your hardware and voiding the warranty. So, you may want to weigh in on those risks before making any attempt at dismantling the Steam Desk for any hardware upgrade. Valve released a video demonstrating the disassembly of the Steam Deck, which you can check out below:

Should I Install Windows on the Steam Deck?

You can install Windows on Steam Deck, but it’s not recommended. Since Windows 10 or 11 are not (yet) optimized for the Steam Deck, you will not only have issues with navigation and general battery life, but your hardware longevity might go down pretty quick. The only reason to do so is if you’re planning to experiment with the device, e.g. create a dedicated streaming machine or an emulation station, which brings us to the next point.

Is the Steam Deck Good for Emulation?

Yes, it’s probably one of the best handheld devices you could get for emulating older games. Linux is a versatile platform and already supports several emulators, but if you’re used to Microsoft, you could also install the latest Windows edition and work your way throughout the emulation scene. Both operating systems work well at managing them.

Does the Steam Deck Have External GPU Support?

The Steam Deck does not have support for external GPU (eGPU). This heavily implies that the console’s graphics-processing prowess is strictly dependent on its embedded graphics hardware, the AMD RDNA 2. Plugging in an external GPU will simply amount to nothing.

Can I Play Non-controller Games With the Steam Deck’s Built-in Controls?

Yes, The Steam Deck has a touchscreen display that functions similarly to a smartphone or tablet. If there is a game in the Steam library that plays best on the touchscreen, then the portable device can definitely deliver on that. But for other non-controller functionality, such as a gyroscope, the Steam Deck, unfortunately, does not have that built into it. Meaning, you cannot tilt it at any angle or any direction and expect a response: there will be none.

Can I Connect a Wired or Wireless Controller to the Steam Deck?

Yes, the Steam Deck features one USB Type-C port and support for Bluetooth devices. Meaning that you can connect your favorite controllers either through a USB Type-C cable or directly over Bluetooth. In case you’re looking for the best ones, we would recommend a look at our list of Best Gaming Controllers.

Can I Connect a Keyboard and a Mouse to the Steam Deck?

Yes, the Steam Deck features one USB Type-C port and support for Bluetooth devices, meaning that you can connect your favorite combo either through a Hub or through Bluetooth, depending on your preferences.

Can I Connect an External Monitor to the Steam Deck?

Yes, the Steam Deck’s USB Type-C port also acts as a link between itself and an external display. It may require the use of an additional accessory or USB C Hub, but you will be able to connect your monitor.

Can I Connect a High Refresh Rate Gaming Monitor to the Steam Deck?

Yes, you can connect a high refresh rate gaming monitor to your Steam Deck, but it will not make use of it. The Steam Deck is limited to 60 HZ, you could unlock it, but the GPU is not adequate to run games at 144 Hz. In other words, save your money.

Can I Connect a Portable Monitor to the Steam Deck?

Yes, but it depends on the monitor. If the portable monitoring is drawing energy from the Steam Deck, then your battery life will suffer, but if the portable monitor has its own power cable, then you’re good to go.

Can I Connect a USB Type-C Hub to the Steam Deck?

Yes, ideally a powered one. Otherwise, it might entail additional power draw from the Steam Deck. There are already a handful of products that provide that level of functionality.

Can the Steam Deck Run 4K/60 Hz?

In an interview with Rock Paper Shogun, Valve designers Lawrence Yang and Greg Coomer admitted to state that ‘achieving 4K and having a display that runs at that resolution wasn’t really a design target’ for Steam Deck. Despite this notion, the hybrid console is technically capable of running certain games in a 4K display. But such a feat is not without struggle for the Deck when it comes to performance. In light of that limitation, there’s a rumour citing Valve’s plan to incorporate FHD in ‘Steam Deck 2’ [via The Gamer].

Should I Buy the Steam Deck or the Nintendo Switch?

It really depends on what you want from your device. The Steam Deck is essentially a mid-range gaming laptop that is placed somewhere between a desktop PC and a Nintendo Switch. If you love to tinker with your gadgets and want to experiment on a new category of hardware, the Steam Deck will be a perfect choice.

Is the Steam Deck Good for Esports Gaming?

Yes, the Steam Deck is good for esports.  But, there is no contending the fact that a dedicated mid to high end gaming machine is still better in terms of connectivity options and raw power. It all depends on your preferences.