It’s hard for Valve’s Steam Deck to escape comparisons to Nintendo’s mainstream hybrid console: we’ve found that we use our Decks as better and beefier switchesand skin maker Dbrand just released a Switch themed parody vinyl wrap for the bridge. YouTuber SpikeHD went the other way: what if you tried to turn a Switch into a Steam Deck?
The short answer is “you can’t”, but God bless him, SpikeHD tried to install Steam on Nintendo’s aging megahit handheld. The resulting 12-minute video is a fascinating look into the Switch’s digital innards, stripping away that “Nintendo Magic” in a nonsensical science experiment and revealing the sterile, ordinary computer underneath.
You’ve been able to run Ubuntu on Switch for a while now, and it would theoretically allow you to run the Linux version of Steam on a jailbroken console. From there, just open the UI and bada bing, Steam Deck unlocked. The first hurdle is hacking a switch to allow Linux – this is only doable with older console models and it’s a process that stressed me out just watching.
You need your Linux install on an SD card, a USB C based “payload” to interrupt the initialization of the Switch’s own UI, and you need to short the electronic connectors on one of the Joy rails Con of the switch – ideally with a good tool, but you could potentially do it with a trombone. All of this really makes me appreciate how user-configurable and out-of-the-box the Deck is.
From there, after much difficulty, SpikeHD got Linux working on the console, with a wandering mouse cursor thanks to my dear old friend, Joy Con drift. Unfortunately, this is where SpikeHD hits the absolute limits of the Switch’s decrepit Nvidia Tegra system on a chip. The Tegra has an Arm-based processor, while Steam is only meant to run on x86 processors like those from Intel and AMD.
SpikeHD might force install Steam, but no games. As a consolation prize, the YouTuber then installed Android with a Steam Deck-themed skin, the closest thing physically possible to an actual Switch Deck. While it could have been done, I don’t exactly see the practical applications of this hack – it’s the worst of both worlds combining the withered, low-power hardware of the Switch with Linux-like DIY shenanigans. Maximum difficulty, but it’s a fascinating and entertaining project all the same. Honestly, I find the best DIY hacks to be the most absurd and fun that should be impossible to pull off.