No need to wait for hours for your games to download. Here’s how to pre-built a microSD card for the Steam Deck. You can then load it with your games from Steam!
Valve’s newest handheld has been getting more and more attention around the gaming community, and chances are you are already waiting for your own Steam Deck while reading this.
The problem is that unless you format your MicroSD card beforehand, you would have to go through hours and hours of game downloads after your Steam Deck arrives – and let’s be honest, we PC gamers aren’t exactly known for our patience with game download times.
A simple solution to this dilemma is to pre-built your MicroSD card for the Steam Deck and load it with your installed games from Steam. This article will guide you through the entire process to do this, the hardware you’ll need, and how you can test your games. But first, let’s start with the challenges you might face with a typical Windows system.
Challenges To Pre-Built a MicroSD Card for the Steam Deck
If you’ve been doing your Steam Deck research, you might already be familiar with the fact that the gaming device uses its operating system – SteamOS. This new operating system is a distro of Linux, and because Linux formats its drives differently, sharing drives between Linux and other systems like Windows has always been a problem.
On top of that, the SteamDeck only recognizes the ext4 format, Linux’s current drive format. All Linux distros like Ubuntu use ext4 as their primary file system because of the stability issues of the previous generations. Windows do not recognize the ext4 format nor allow you to edit or mount/unmount it, making it impossible to install games directly.
Another challenge with the Steam Deck is that it doesn’t download games during sleep, so you will need to keep it on and plug it into the charger for hours on end to download games. While this might get fixed with future SteamOS updates, users currently can’t just select their favorite titles and let Steam Deck download titles while they sleep.
A simple solution to both these challenges is pre-building your MicroSD card to be compatible with your Steam Deck and then installing it with games from your Windows PC using dedicated Linux partition software. This way, you can plug and play right from the moment you hold the device for the first time.
Hardware and Software Requirements
To successfully pre-built your MicroSD card, you need to have –
- A MicroSD card – You’ll at least need a UHS-I standard SD card that has a minimum 100MB/s write speed. If you don’t know which card is the most adequate for this project, check out this guide: Fastest SD Card for Steam Deck.
- SD Card Reader – While even a thrift store $1 USB 2.0 card reader can do the job, a USB 3.0 UHS-I supported card reader can help you get the maximum write and read speeds of your MicroSD card. It all comes down to how much you are willing to spend and wait for your games to copy.
- Windows 7, 8/8.1, or 10 – No Linux disk formatting application currently supports Windows 11. For installing Steam games on Windows 11, your best bet would be to format your MicroSD card from the Steam Deck, mount it through WSL using complex commands, install whichever games you want, and then unmount. Or simply degrade to Windows 10 and then follow the guide.
- Paragon Software’s Linux File Systems – This is one of the best software available on the market that provides full ext4 formatting features and lets you access ext4 drives on Windows. While the product has a 10-day trial that you can use for the first few times, we recommend purchasing the software for $20 for all future game transfers.
- Time – The entire process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours, depending on the size of the games, the write speed of your MicroSD card, and your SD Card Reader. For someone transferring a 10GB game over a standard UHS-I MicroSD card and reader, the process wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes of your time.
How to Format Your MicroSD Card as EXT4
The first step to pre-built a MicroSD card for your Steam Deck is ensuring that you have Linux File Systems installed on your PC, which you can download from here. Sign into your account if you have already purchased the license or continue using it on the free trial.
Now plug in your MicroSD card using your SD card reader.
Once Windows successfully recognizes it, press ‘Win + R.’ In the ‘Run’ window that pops up, type in ‘compmgmt.msc’ like below and press ‘OK.’
A new window called ‘Computer Management’ should pop up. Head into ‘Disk Management in the left index menu and find the disk drive for your MicroSD card in the scrollable menu at the bottom. The volume closest in size to your MicroSD card is likely to be yours. For example, as shown below, a 64GB MicroSD card would appear as a disk volume with 59.46GB of free space.
To further verify, note the file system of the volume. A new MicroSD card should be in the exFAT format and should have a status set as ‘Removable.’
If you have multiple drives and partitions, ensure you thoroughly check and confirm the disk volume is indeed of your MicroSD card and not some other disk.
You need to find the disk number of your MicroSD card, which can range from Disk 1 to Disk 9, depending on how many partitions and hard drives you have. Once you find the disk number, head into Linux File Systems, click on the three dots menu, and then select ‘format a new volume.’
Please select the correct disk volume using the disk number we found earlier, set ext4 in the volume filesystem, and then label the MicroSD card, whatever you wish. We put ours as Steam Deck because that’s the only thing we’ll use the MicroSD card for.
The format might take a while depending on your MicroSD card size – for us, the process took about 5 minutes. The result will be a completely clean disk formatted to the ext4 format.
Once the format is complete, your new ext4 drive will be automatically mounted in the system. Congrats! You just got an empty MicroSD card waiting to be loaded with your favorite games. You can check that your MicroSD card is in a Linux-supported format by simply going into the file manager and seeing the ‘lost+found’ folder, which is commonly found in Linux drives.
It’s important to note that once the format is complete, Windows wouldn’t be able to identify the drive unless Linux File Systems is running in the background.
How to Install Games on a Pre-built MicroSD Card
For installing games onto the newly formatted MicroSD card, you first need to ensure that you have games downloaded and installed on your PC. But even before that, users need to make sure that the game they want to play is verified and supported by the Steam Deck.
While the device supports many titles, there are still a few multiplayer games like PUBG and VR titles like Half-Life: Alyx that Steam Deck does not support. Through their constantly updated list here, you can easily check if your game is verified to be playable on Steam Deck.
Check the games you are planning to transfer to your card in your Steam library and update them if possible – this will only help you avoid unnecessary downloads later on your Steam Deck.
Once you’ve verified that you have downloaded and installed all the games you are going to transfer, go into your MicroSD card disk on your file manager and create two folders – first, ‘steamapps’ and then ‘common’ inside it.
It should be exactly like your local Steam directory where you keep your installed Steam games.
Now, go to your actual Steam directory that stores your local games. For most users with default settings, the file directory is ‘C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common’.
Note – It’s a good idea to have a shortcut to the folder on your desktop to get easy access whenever you need to change the ini or compatibility settings directly from the source.
Once you’ve found it, choose all the games you want to transfer to Steam Deck and copy-paste them into your MicroSD card’s ‘steamapps\common’ directory. We’ll use Celeste to transfer to the Steam Deck for this guide.
To fill a UHS-I 64GB card with games using a standard compatible USB 3.0 card reader, users won’t need more than 10-15 minutes.
Now we need to find the Steam app IDs for all the games we copied. You have two options: go to ‘steamdb.info,’ find the game you copied and jot down their SteamID in a temporary text file.
OR, search for the game on Steam, go to its store page, and note the app ID from the steam URL. The URLs are always in this format – store.steampowered.com/app/APPID. So for Celeste, for example, the app ID would be 504230.
Go to Steam’s local game directory again, this time in the Steam apps folder outside common (default – C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps), and find the ‘app manifest’ or ‘.acf’ files that have numbers correlating to your transferred games’ Steam app IDs. Since Celeste’s ID is 504230, we find an app manifest file with the same ID.
Copy all the app manifests of your transferred games and paste them into the steamapps folder on your MicroSD card.
And just like that, we are almost all done. However, there is still one step left, arguably the most important step in this guide.
IMPORTANT – After all the games and app manifests are copied, DO NOT eject your SD card reader. Go to Linux File Systems and press Unmount on your SD card, and then eject it. Not pressing Unmount WILL make you lose all the data you transferred.
Once you press Unmount, you can safely remove your SD card and directly plug it into your Steam Deck, where you can directly play all your games without any problem.
Testing the Pre-built MicroSD Card for the Steam Deck
It’s been a few months – your Steam Deck is here, your MicroSD card is pre-built and ready to go, and your hands are quivering with excitement. But what should you do to test that your card is working as it should? Are there any errors to watch out for?
The simplest way to test your MicroSD card is by playing the games installed on it one by one. If Steam has verified them for Steam Deck, they should run buttery smooth. If you face any bugs with specific games, we recommend uninstalling and reinstalling the game through the Steam Deck.
You may notice game downloads at the start – don’t panic. These are simply game updates or new files for the deck, not entire games. To confirm, you can go to your downloads and check the size for yourself.
Errors You Might Face.
Error #1 – Transferred content doesn’t show up on the Steam Deck when users plug in their MicroSD card despite it being visible on PC through Linux File Systems.
This usually happens when you format your card on the Steam Deck and skip the step on Linux File Systems. Formatting the MicroSD card on your PC with Linux File Systems should fix the issue. If that doesn’t work, restart Steam or reboot the Steam Deck when the MicroSD card is inside.
Error #2 – MicroSD card does not show up under storage in the Steam Deck.
When users format on Linux File Systems on the default ext2 rather than the designated ext4, they can often get this error with their MicroSD card. Reformatting to ext4 should resolve the issue.
Error #3 – Error 0x80070057 while copying.
Windows Defender is blocking access to disk memory. Shut it down temporarily or put Linux File Systems as application exceptions.
You’ll be surprised to know that besides the method mentioned in the guide about how to pre-built a microSD card for the Steam Deck, a few more methods work splendidly well. But, they’re a little complicated.
Because of the open-sourced nature of the Steam Deck, which got from Linux and the features provided by Windows, almost any PC user in the world can find one way or the other to make the two platforms work together despite both of them being worlds apart.