Contrary to popular belief, the best SSDs for Valve's Steam Deck aren't the ones with the fastest performance or the biggest capacity. That's right. The best SSD for the handheld gaming console is one that fits.
The Steam Deck has an M.2 2230 slot to house M.2 NVMe SSDs. While there are M.2 2230 SSDs on the market, it's not one of the widespread form factors such as M.2 2280. However, Twitter user Belly Jelly (opens in new tab) has discovered a way to expand the M.2 2230 slot to an M.2 2242 slot, opening the door to more SSD options. The resourceful Steam Deck owner ordered some small M.2 adapters to modify the device's standard M.2 slot. With the 30mm to 42m adapter, he could extend the slot's length to house the longer 2242 SSDs.
Belly Jelly noted that the Steam Deck's PCB was generous to allow him to adapt the M.2 2230 slot into an M.2 2242 one. His simple mod didn't interfere with any electronic components on the PCB or strain the cables. The only caveat was that the mod made the heat spreader bend slightly; however, it didn't stop him from reassembling the back plate. He highlighted that he had to remove a thermal pad on top of one of the inductors by the M.2 slot.
Belly Jelly didn't specify which M.2 2242 SSD he had installed in his Steam Deck, but the photograph partially reveals a KingSpec logo. The drive could be one of the brand's NE-series units with 3D TLC NAND and sequential read and write speeds up to 2,100 MBps and 1,000 MBps, respectively.
The Twitter user's experiment produced positive results as he could reinstall SteamOS and download his games onto the SSD. In addition, he reported average write speeds up to 406 MBps during installation once his download was completed.
Although the SSD inside the Steam Deck is user replaceable, DIYers must pay attention to specific parameters. Valve designed the Steam Deck to work with one particular SSD. Therefore, replacing it with an aftermarket unit could affect the handheld console's performance. According to Valve's guidelines, users must pay close attention to the power consumption of the SSD. If a third-party SSD draws more power than the stock SSD, users could experience overheating and reduced battery life.
Valve placed the M.2 2230 slot very close to the wireless module. The company has tested various SSDs to find one that doesn't interfere with the Steam Deck's wireless and Bluetooth connection. An aftermarket SSD could have a different emission pattern that might degrade wireless performance.
Other aspects include the mechanical and assembly elements of the SSD. Valve has placed components underneath the SSD, and a different drive may interfere with the components. Furthermore, the company states that a particular screw holds down the thermal module onto the AMD SoC and the board shield. Removing it could potentially affect the thermal module's performance.
Swapping the SSD inside the Steam Deck doesn't seem like an easy task. However, DIYer Belly Jelly was seemingly successful in his attempt, though he hasn't reported any battery life or other testing before and after the upgrade. It may work fine, but there may also be some unexpected bugs or other issues using his aftermarket M.2 2242 SSD mod. Proceed with caution, in other words.