Teardown Tuesday: Steam Gaming ControllerFebruary 27, 2018 by Nick Davis
In this teardown, we inspect the innards of a wireless Bluetooth controller, called the Steam Controller.
In this teardown, we inspect the innards of a Steam Controller, a wireless Bluetooth controller with a few surprises hidden inside.
Last week, we tore down a Steam Link streaming console for gaming. This week, we'll rip into one of its custom controllers.
Designed to provide precise control for your favorite games, the Steam Controller (made by Valve) has a slightly different design than many other gaming controllers. Some of its cool features include:
- dual trackpads
- haptic feedback
- dual-stage triggers
- back-grip buttons
Well, let's dive in to see what exciting things we can find inside this multifaceted controller.
The Steam Controller allows you to play all your Steam games from your couch. Images courtesy of Steam.
What You Get with this Wireless Controller
As you can see in the figure below, this wireless Steam Controller comes with a USB-to-micro-USB cable, a USB adaptor, the USB-type wireless module/antenna, and a few batteries.
The Steam Controller comes with a USB cable and USB modules, all of which plug into your PC.
The Steam Controller's Enclosure
Unlike the Steam Link's enclosure, which is a very simple design, this enclosure looks to be quite complicated (see the figure below). I count sixteen buttons and switches spread out over the controller's front side, back side, and top and bottom ends.
The Steam Controller has a somewhat complicated enclosure design, which is necessary for accommodating all its buttons and switches.
Let the Teardown Begin
Given the complexity of this enclosure design, I was not surprised to discover nineteen screws holding it all together. And although most of these screws were easy to locate, three were hidden underneath a label (see the figure below).
Three screws reside underneath the backside label.
With the three hidden screws removed, the enclosure's backside plastic piece is easily removed, thus revealing a very professional-looking PCB. So far, the electronics design of this controller is looking rather simple and straightforward.
With the enclosure's backside piece gone, we can begin to see a professional-looking PCB.
The following figure shows us a close-up view of one of the top-side buttons. From this perspective, we can see how this button, when depressed, actuates a surface-mounted tactile switch.
The top-side buttons are associated with surface-mounted tactile switches.
Now, you may notice that this PCB also utilizes tactile switches that are not surface-mounted devices, but rather they are merely held in place with clear stickers/tape (see the image below).
The PCB also uses tactile switches that are secured in place using clear stickers.
With the removal of a few more screws, I was a bit taken back to find four more PCBs living inside the enclosure, with two of them being flex circuits.
Prying open the enclosure reveals two flex circuits.
After disconnecting the two flex circuits from the main PCB, I separated all the internal components (see the following figure). Take note of the two circular PCBs that are associated with the two large pushbuttons; these two PCBs serve as the Steam Controller's two trackpads.
The controller's internal components including the two trackpads (i.e., the two circular PCBs).
With the main PCB completely removed from the enclosure, we can observe some design similarities between this PCB and the PCB from the Steam Link. Such similarities include:
- The boards use ENIG copper plating (which typically carries a premium price, though not as expensive as hard gold plating).
- Nearly every component (if not all) has a reference designator in the silk screen.
- The PCBs have very cleanly-cut PCB edges (routed edges) as opposed to using PCB mouse bites or V-groove/breakaway methods for de-panelization.
The figure below calls out some of the major components located on this PCB.
Some of the main PCB's primary components have been identified.
- Tactile Switches (embedded): There are two: This is a novel method for mounting these types of switches to the PCB. I'm guessing that this particular approach was adopted to help prevent these switches from being dislodged/sheared off the PCB given their expected repeated use by the gamer/user.
- ENIG copper plating
- Thumbstick: Part marking ALPS
- Tactile Switches (snap dome)
- Power Inductor: Part marking 6R8
- Voltage Regulator: Part marking BRF
- Bluetooth SoC: Part marking N51822
- Motion Tracking: Part marking MP65
- Crystal: 12.000 MHz
- Microcontroller: Part marking NXP LPC11U37F
The two round PCBs are responsible for bringing the magic to the two trackpad buttons. Although these 40 mm round PCBs appear to be designed and manufactured by Valve based on their professional-looking design and assembly methods (as well as possessing the same green-colored PCBs as the Steam Controller's main board), they are actually designed and manufactured by Cirque.
But, because Cirque PCBs appear to be red in color, it looks like Cirque manufactured these boards specifically for Valve—at least with respect to their color—for use in their Steam Controller. The figure below displays one of the trackpad's PCBs and its main components.
Front and back sides of the round PCB.
- Inductor: Obviously, this is a rather large inductor, and one without a part marking. Take note that it includes an internal flex circuit in addition to the external flex circuit.
- Controller: Part marking Cirque 1CA027
This wireless Bluetooth Steam Controller looks to be professionally designed and manufactured. And even though I found a total of seven circuit boards inside this controller—being the main PCB, two 40 mm round PCBs, and four flex circuits—only three of them (the main PCB and the two larger flex circuits) appear to be designed and manufactured by Valve.
All in all, I'd say this is a very well-designed and well-constructed gaming wireless controller.
Next Teardown: Steam Link Streaming Gaming Console