While you can play some AAA titles, indie releases, and even retro classics anywhere you want on the Steam Deck, it does have a key limitation. What if that 7-inch display gets too small?
The answer, of course, is to plug it into a larger display, but this can be a little messy. Rather than relying on a USB-C to HDMI adapter and risking a spaghetti of wires, a dock is preferable. But that’s not the only reason why every Steam Deck owner should buy a dock.
1. Enjoy Big Screen PC Gaming
Big screen gaming is the most obvious advantage of a Steam Deck dock, but that doesn’t mean the advantages should be understated.
Playing on the Steam Deck as a portable device is amazing, but having that Nintendo Switch-like flexibility of simply docking the console is almost like an upgrade.
Mounted on the back of the dock is an HDMI 2.0 port for you to connect your TV or monitor.
Suddenly, you have a PC games console that everyone can enjoy, not just you. Sure, that’s useless for single player games (unless you’re taking it in turns, “life/life” style), but not for multiplayer.
Even if you’re not sharing the Steam Deck’s magic with friends and family, games look great on a big screen. And if you have more than once screen, you’re in luck. In addition to HDMI, the Steam Deck Dock has DisplayPort 1.4. Both can be used together, with multi-monitor support available.
2. Faster Downloads Over Gigabit Ethernet
The Steam Deck has 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networking, supporting the 802.11a/b/g/n/ac standards (also known as Wi-Fi 5). In speed terms, this is between 433 and 6,933 Mbits per second, but in reality it is rarely as fast as that.
Meanwhile, the Steam Deck dock has Gigabit Ethernet. This means a data rate of 1,000 Mbits per second, with a usual maximum of around 900 Mbits per second. While that might appear slower than Wi-Fi 5, Ethernet supports more consistently fast speeds.
Dock the Steam Deck and you get a faster, more reliable connection to the internet. Even if you don’t want to play on a docked Steam Deck, it is ideal for downloading games and DLC.
3. Play While Charging
The Steam Deck’s battery is stated to last between two and eight hours. Why such variance? Well, it’s down to display factors (e.g. refresh rate, brightness, quality) and of course the type of game you’re playing. Red Dead Redemption 2 will eat through a full charge faster than, say, Half-Life.
With a dock, you can plug the Steam Deck in while you play. Of course, you get big screen play into the bargain, but the dock also stands the Steam Deck up.
The official Steam Deck Dock ships with Valve’s USB Type-C PD (power delivery) charger. This both recharges the Steam Deck and powers the dock itself. Note that third party docks don’t ship with the official charger.
4. Use the Steam Deck Like a PC
It might feel more like a Nintendo Switch, but the Steam Deck is essentially a small gaming computer. Underneath the Steam user interface is the SteamOS operating system, based on Arch Linux.
Better still, you can switch to the desktop mode and use the Steam Deck as if it was a computer. The Plasma 5 desktop environment is as easy to use as Windows or macOS, and with a display, keyboard, and mouse attached to the dock, you’ll soon be able to install all the productivity software you need.
You’ll need more than a dock, display, mouse, and keyboard, though. Check our guide to using the Steam Deck like a desktop PC for more information.
4. Strategy Games Are Easier with Mouse and Keyboard
I’ve tried a number of strategy games on the Steam Deck in handheld mode. Among them are Civilization V, Old World, and Iron Harvest. Despite the Steam Deck having a good pair of touchpads, neither game experience was particularly enjoyable.
First off, the display is too small for strategy titles. Second, the software keyboard, while a welcome inclusion in SteamOS, is occasionally temperamental.
The solution is simple: connect a keyboard, mouse, and display. What better way to do this than with a Steam Deck dock?
6. Installing Third Party Game Launchers Is Easier
Similarly, if you want to go beyond the Steam library, it’s easier with a keyboard and mouse connected.
Despite various competing digital delivery services for games in operation, Valve has not closed the Steam Deck to other software. This has various advantages, not least the ability to install games from those other services.
So, you can install the Heroic Games Launcher and get GOG and Epic Games on Steam Deck.
This process is made so much easier with a physical keyboard and mouse (Bluetooth or USB) and a decent display.
7. USB Controller Support
Steam Deck docks ship with USB ports. The Valve’s official and superior Steam Deck Dock features 3 x USB-A 3.1 ports. This means that you can connect any USB controller to the console.
As the Steam Deck doesn’t ship with any controller options (beyond the ones built into the chassis) this is a good option. Almost any type of USB controller can be connected, and there is Bluetooth controller support on the Steam Deck itself.
In short, any game controller you need can be used.
8. Expanded USB Storage Options
It isn’t all about USB controllers, however. USB 3.1 means fast data access from local storage devices. While a microSD card can expand your Steam Deck’s storage, USB SSD storage is ideal for larger games.
Of course, there is a shortcoming. As soon as you undock the Steam Deck, the games and any other data stored a drive connected to the Steam Deck Dock will become unavailable.
Some third party docks offer M.2 ports for NVME SSD storage, which initially sounds like a good option. But given the varying quality of third party docks, this doesn’t seem a reasonable trade-off.
Got a Steam Deck? Get a Dock
Playing AAA games on an ultraportable console is amazing. But you’re not getting the most out of the Steam Deck if you don’t have a dock.
You don’t have to play in big screen mode; your internet connection might not be an issue; you might not need extra storage or USB controllers. But there is a good chance you will need one or all of these Steam Deck enhancements, all of which are available with a dock.
While various alternatives are available, you’ll get the best reliability from Valve official Steam Deck Dock.