How to install Windows on Steam Deck: Dual booting Windows 11 and SteamOS
The best gaming handheld runs the best operating system.
Valve's portable PC gaming handheld has proved to be a roaring success, but the Steam Deck has a notable limitation. It's totally reliant on its Linux-based SteamOS operating system, which excludes specific titles from true compatibility, primarily due to reliance on anti-cheat hooks designed for Windows. Dual booting is still not an official option, but that doesn't mean you can't boot into Windows on your Steam Deck.
Installing Windows on an external storage device is easier than you might think. All you need is one of the best SD cards for Steam Deck and some patience. I've been tinkering with my 256GB model for a while, and my Samsung EVO Select card has proved more than capable of running my copy of Windows 11, so I can show you exactly how to set everything up.
Which version of Windows should I install on my Steam Deck?
Windows 11 is the preferred option for the Steam Deck since Valve routinely updates its list of drivers. Previously, Windows 10 was the stable choice, but improvements to firmware on the handheld meant that either is now viable. For this guide, I'll be using Windows 11 Home (64-bit.)
How to prepare your SD card in Windows
Installing Windows 11 to an external storage device like a micro SD card is a much safer method for the integrity of your Steam Deck's internal drive. If you toggle an upcoming option, it won't affect the default SteamOS installation either. Although there is no official dual-boot solution, you can still switch to Windows when you power up the console by holding the volume down and power buttons together and accessing the standard boot menu.
- Navigate to the official Windows 11 download page.
- Under the 'Create Windows 11 Installation Media' section, click Download.
- Find mediacreationtool in your downloads directly and launch the app.
- Select the correct language for your region.
- Ensure Windows 11 is selected in the 'Edition' drop-down box.
- Click 'Next' and select the 'ISO file' radio button.
- Choose a suitable download location for your Windows.iso and exit the app when finished.
- Navigate to the official Rufus download page.
- Under the 'Download' section, click on the 'Last updated' version.
- Find Rufus in your downloads directly and launch the app.
- Under the 'Device' section, select your microSD card*.
- For 'Boot selection,' choose 'Disk or ISO image.'
- Click the 'SELECT' button, find your 'Windows.iso,' and click 'Open.'
- For the 'Image option' drop-down menu, choose 'Windows To Go.'
Important: It's critical that you follow this step carefully and choose 'Windows To Go.' This is what allows us to run Windows 11 directly from external storage rather than creating a boot drive to install elsewhere.
* If your device doesn't appear, click 'Show advanced drive properties' and check 'List USB Hard Drives,' but be careful. This is extremely risky if you select the wrong drive. If your SD card isn't on the list, it is more likely a defective unit or a type of formatting error. Drives on this advanced list are not intended to be used with Rufus.
- Leave the remaining options in Rufus alone and click 'START.'
- For 'Version selection,' select your matching edition and press 'OK.'
- On the 'Windows User Experience' popup, select the following:
- ✔ Prevent Windows To Go from accessing internal disks
- ✔ Remove requirement for an online Microsoft account
- ⬜ Create a local account with username: __
- ✔ Set regional options to the same values as this user's
- ✔ Disable data collection (Skip privacy questions)
Important: The second-most vital option to check is 'Prevent Windows To Go from accessing internal disks.' This keeps the integrity of your Steam Deck and SteamOS intact by keeping Windows 11 isolated to your SD card. The larger the card, the more space you'll have for games.
- Rufus will warn that all data on your card will be destroyed, press 'OK.'
- Wait for the 'Status' bar to show green* with a 'READY' message.
* This part can take a long time, depending on your device. Creating a Windows To Go drive is a generally lengthy process, taking almost 34 minutes for my Samsung EVO Select 256GB micro SD card to finish. Be patient, and don't interrupt the process or close Rufus while it's working.
- Close Rufus and navigate to your newly created drive in File Explorer.
- Create a new folder with a name you'll remember, like 'Steam Deck.'
- Navigate to the official Windows Resources download page.
- Download all the driver archives* and unpack them to your new folder.
* We'll need these drivers when Windows completes its initial installation. Although most functionality is intact with generic offerings from Microsoft, it's important to use the packages provided by Valve to ensure compatibility. Be sure to download both audio drivers and consider saving the Windows Resources page to your bookmarks.
How to boot and install Windows on Steam Deck
Now that you have a micro SD card set up as a portable edition of Windows, you can safely remove it from your computer. Turn off your Steam Deck by holding the power button and selecting 'Shutdown' from the menu before inserting the SD card.
You'll be accessing a hidden 'Boot Manager' screen to use Windows instead of SteamOS with this method every time, at least until Valve adds proper dual-boot support. The Steam Deck touchscreen should work fine during the setup process, or you could connect a mouse via USB-C or with the official docking station or an alternative like the JSAUX Steam Deck dock.
- Hold the volume down and power buttons until you hear a chime.
- In the 'Boot Manager,' select 'EFI SD/MMC Card' and press the A button.
- You'll see a 'Getting ready' message on the screen in portrait mode.
- On the 'Let's connect you to a network' screen, press 'I don't have internet.'
- You'll be prompted to connect again, so press 'Continue with limited setup.'
Although the Steam Deck can detect Wi-Fi networks and connect during the setup stage, the default drivers aren't as capable as the ones provided by Valve. Connecting to a wireless access point now would extend the whole process since your download speeds can be significantly reduced with Microsoft's drivers. You have better drivers on your SD card, so don't worry about skipping this.
- Enter a username when asked, 'Who's going to use this device?'
- The password field can be left blank, pressing 'Next' to continue.
If you prefer to add a password, you can. However, booting into Windows on your Steam Deck will naturally be slightly slower since you'll need to enter a password every time. If you only plan to use this SD card to play games otherwise unavailable on SteamOS, I recommend leaving the password blank. Still, a secure password is recommended if you're storing sensitive files in Windows.
- Navigate to the folder you created containing drivers in the C: drive.
- Install each driver by following Valve's instructions:
- APU driver
- Run setup.exe to install.
- Wi-Fi driver
- Run install.bat to install.
- Bluetooth driver
- Run installdriver.cmd to install.
- SD Card reader driver
- Run setup.exe to install.
- Audio drivers
- Right-click* cs35l41.inf and select Install.
- Right-click NAU88L21.inf and select Install.
* The default Windows touchscreen drivers should allow you to access the right-click menu by tapping and holding for a moment; then, the context menu will appear. Both audio drivers use .inf files, whose icons resemble a sheet of paper with a cogwheel, rather than a traditional .exe or even .bat file. If you can't see 'Install' on the right-click context menu, first press 'Show More Options.'
- Right-click the Windows desktop and select 'Display settings.'
- Find 'Display orientation' to select 'Landscape' from the drop-down menu.
- Shut down Windows from the Start menu as you usually would.
- Again, hold volume down and power until you hear a chime.
- In 'Boot Manager,' select 'EFI SD/MMC Card' again.
- Connect to your Wi-Fi network* in Windows.
* If you're unfamiliar with Windows 11, follow our straightforward guide on how to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Tapping the networking icon in the system tray on the right side of the Start menu next to the clock is usually the fastest way to access a list of nearby networks.
Congratulations, now you can boot into Windows on your Steam Deck! What you install and play is up to you, but downloading the official Steam desktop client is the most obvious recommendation. Besides accessing your usual library, you'll benefit from launching games through Steam's Big Picture mode to use the full range of Steam Deck controls.
A few extra tools will make Windows easier to use on Steam Deck, but otherwise, you're free to use any application or game that isn't currently compatible with the Linux-based SteamOS. Bear in mind that the Steam Deck wasn't designed for Windows, but Valve's commitment to updating its collection of drivers keeps your options open. Either way, proceed with caution since this is still considered experimental territory.
Installing Windows 11 on the internal Steam Deck SSD
Installing Windows 11 to an SD Card on the Steam Deck is fine and dandy, but there are some downsides. Even with the fastest SD card that Steam Deck supports, many games, particularly 3D ones with high world streaming speed requirements, may run into problems. The internal SSD on the Steam Deck is much faster and may offer a smoother experience than running some games from the SD card. The downside of course is that in order to do this, you will have to completely wipe Steam OS from the system. It's relatively easy to go back to Steam OS though, if you want to. Valve has a guide on how to recover Steam OS on the Steam Deck here.
In any case, if you fancy turning your Steam Deck into a full Windeck, the steps are quite similar to the above with a few exceptions.
- As above, navigate to the official Windows 11 download page.
- Under the 'Create Windows 11 Installation Media' section and select Download.
- Find mediacreationtool in your downloads, and launch the app.
- Select Windows 11 from the 'Edition' drop-down box.
- Click 'Next' then select the 'ISO file' button.
- Choose an easy-to-find location for your Windows.iso and exit the app when finished.
The next part, as before, is preparing an SD card or a USB-C flash drive with at least 64GB memory as a Windows boot device. The primary difference between these steps and the regular steps is now, we don't want to select Windows To Go, but instead, we want to set up a standard Windows 11 installation.
- Head to the official Rufus download page.
- Under the 'Download' section, select the 'Last updated' version.
- Find Rufus in your files, and launch the app.
- Select 'List USB hard drives' if your device doesn't show up.
- In the 'Device' section, select your microSD card or external USB storage device.
- For 'Boot selection,' choose 'Disk or ISO image.'
- Click the 'SELECT' button, find your 'Windows.iso' that you downloaded earlier, and click 'Open.'
- For the 'Image option', make sure that 'Standard Windows Installation' is selected.
- Leave all the other options alone, and click 'START.'
- Next, a "customize Windows installation box" will pop up. You must select 'Remove requirement for 4GB RAM, Secure Boot, and TPM 2.0', since the Steam Deck doesn't support these features. The other options can be customized to your preferences.
- For 'Version selection,' select your preferred edition (usually Windows 10 Home) and press 'OK.'
- It will give you a warning about destroying data on the HDD, just hit okay. Now it's ready to set up your device as a Windows 11 boot option.
Next, we want to prepare your shiny new Windows 11 boot device with some data for the Steam Deck. Out of the box, the Steam Deck will be missing drivers for running its hardware properly. Below is some details on what you need to bring over with your boot device.
- Exit Rufus and find your newly created boot device in File Explorer.
- Create a new folder in the root directory, with a name you'll remember, like 'Steam Deck Drivers.'
- Head to the official Steam Deck Windows Resources download page.
- Download all the driver archives* and unpack them to your new folder.
- You should also consider grabbing the Steam Deck Tools from ayufan which will enable gamepad support and FPS limiting to improve battery life. You'll also need the RTSS dependency for this, which you might as well grab too. Put them all into your boot device folder.
- Navigate back up to the part of our guide on how to boot Windows on Steam Deck, and continue the steps there.
Note: As a reminder, if you want to go back to Steam OS at any time, consider Valve's official Steam recovery guide. Also, I strongly recommend reading the below sections on must-have tools and tips and tricks for running Windows 11 on the Deck.
Must-have tools for running Windows on Steam Deck
Switching to Windows on Steam Deck has its share of benefits. Still, there are a few downsides, including the lack of a proper performance overlay and questionable controller compatibility in some of the best PC games designed for Windows. Luckily, the PC gaming community already has a handful of ready-made solutions to some roadblocks you might discover while running Windows.
Steam Deck Tools
Headlined by Kamil Trzciński, also known as ayufan, the open-source (Windows) Steam Deck Tools project includes a collection of valuable extras to bring your external Windows drive almost on par with its native SteamOS. It contains an alternative to Valve's performance overlay to show stats like battery life, power consumption, component usage and temperatures, and more.
Steam Deck Tools is particularly useful if you plan to play games from PC Game Pass since it enables full gamepad support with some helpful extra hotkeys. Power and fan control apps are also included, which can extend battery life by throttling the internal components for less demanding games. Highly recommended.
You can download the latest version from GitHub and see a complete list of applications and conditions for running the tools.
Once you've run Steam Deck tools, some will have red icons initially. That's because you also need to download a RTSS dependency. Right-click on the icons and click on "RTSS not running" to instantly go to the download page to install it from your Steam Deck, or download the RTSS statistics server here.
If you're planning to use your Steam Deck for Xbox Game Pass for PC titles, once you've installed RTSS, you can right-click on the monitor-looking icon and go to settings to change the default gamepad to X360. This will remove your ability to use the triggers as right and left click for browsing the OS, but the Steam Deck touchpads work just as well for that anyway.
Consider donating to ayufan for his work on this project.
It might seem minor, but UWPHook offers the invaluable ability to add games from the Microsoft or Xbox Store to the desktop Steam app. If you install any UWP games, you can find them in UWPHook and export them to Steam.
Controller support isn't guaranteed, but developer Brian Lima reports some users found success with the desktop mode if Big Picture mode doesn't do the trick. Alternatively, the official UWPHook Reddit community is a good place for troubleshooting.
Download the latest version from the official UWPHook GitHub page and check out the latest bug fixes.
Steam Deck on Windows: Tips and Tricks
Since Steam Deck on Windows is only sort of semi-supported, some of the features require work arounds or more intimate knowledge of Windows to fix and improve. Over time, we'll list some important tricks here you need to know as you get stuck in.
Settings you need to absolutely change using Steam Deck on Windows 11
There's a range of settings that, by default, make using the Steam Deck on Windows 11 quite annoying. Thankfully, they're easy to change and configure.
- Always show touch keyboard: By default, the touch keyboard on Steam Deck won't open automatically when you tap on a text field, as you might expect. To fix this, use a mouse or your touchpad with triggers to go to Start Menu > Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > System Tray Icons > Touch Keyboard, and set it to show "Always." This will add a touch keyboard icon to your system tray, so you can bring it up whenever you need it.
- Enable touch keyboard when tapping text fields: To make it so the touch keyboard always shows up when entering text fields, go to Start Menu > Settings > Time and Language > Typing > Touch Keyboard > Show the Touch Keyboard when there's no keyboard attached. This should fix the behavior of the touch keyboard not showing up automatically.
- If you're playing on PC Game Pass for Windows 10 or 11: Sometimes, a range of issues can stop PC Game Pass from working correctly on Windows 11. We have a full guide here to troubleshoot issues with the PC Game Pass app, from games not launching, to save sync problems, and more.
Fix slow download speeds on Steam Deck with Windows
One annoying thing about Windows on Steam Deck out of the gate is slow download speeds, in some circumstances. This can be caused by a low-quality SD card, which may have bottle necks for read/write speeds, however, it can also be caused by the RealTek Wi-Fi card drivers preventing 5 GHz Wi-Fi connections. Thankfully, it's relatively easy to fix.
- Right click on the Start Menu and open the Device Manager.
- Select Network Adapter.
- Right click on the top menu item, titled Realtek 8822CE Wireless Lan etc., and select Properties.
- Select the Advanced tab.
- Here, select the Concurrent Operation Preference option, and set the value to "No Preference."
- Next, go to Wireless Mode and set the value to IEEE 802.11a/n/c.
Reconnect to your home Wi-Fi as usual, and now it should try to attach to the 5 GHz band instead. You can check whether or not it worked by going to your Network & Internet properties in the Windows 11 settings menu. At the top, it should say either "Properties, public network, 5 GHz."
At a basic level, 5 GHz is faster than 2.4 GHz, but the signal strength is often less penetrative in some environments. 2.4 GHz may work better if you're far away from your router, otherwise 5 GHz is almost always best.
For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Steam Deck and Windows 11, visit the following resources:
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.
Ben is the channel editor for all things tech-related at Windows Central. That includes PCs, the components inside, and any accessory you can connect to a Windows desktop or Xbox console. Not restricted to one platform, he also has a keen interest in Valve's Steam Deck handheld and the Linux-based operating system inside. Fueling this career with coffee since 2021, you can usually find him behind one screen or another. Find him on Mastodon @firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions or share opinions.
- Jez CordenCo-Managing Editor