Tools Featured in this Teardown

Introduction

Every once in a while, cloud software giant Valve tries their hand at hardware—see the Steam Machine of old. This time around they've promised to revolutionize the way we game with their Steam Controller. They've impressed us with highly modular tech in the past, so let's dig in and find out how much game this controller's got.

While you're at it, keep up with the iFixit crew by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

This teardown is not a repair guide. To repair your Steam Controller, use our service manual.

We open the valve and the specs come pouring out: High-definition haptic feedback Dual trackpads
  • We open the valve and the specs come pouring out:

    • High-definition haptic feedback

    • Dual trackpads

    • USB 2.0 via Micro-USB port

    • 6-axis combination gyroscope-accelerometer sensor

    • Dual-stage digital triggers with 10° of travel, magnetic flux sensor, and tactile switch

    • Up to 80 hours of gameplay from a pair of removable AA batteries

    • 5 meters of wireless communication range

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For comparison purposes: an Xbox One controller next to the Steam Controller. Both controllers share the same AB-XY button layout, but Valve's offering has a substantially larger footprint thanks to its pair of capacitive touchpads. The rear cover snaps off with no tools required to reveal the model number: 1001.
  • For comparison purposes: an Xbox One controller next to the Steam Controller.

    • Both controllers share the same AB-XY button layout, but Valve's offering has a substantially larger footprint thanks to its pair of capacitive touchpads.

  • The rear cover snaps off with no tools required to reveal the model number: 1001.

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After rooting around the battery compartment, we punch through the sticker on  the back to find three T6 Torx screws. With the rear housing removed, we get our first look inside the controller as the glossy black exterior gives way to the mossy green PCB interior.
  • After rooting around the battery compartment, we punch through the sticker on the back to find three T6 Torx screws.

  • With the rear housing removed, we get our first look inside the controller as the glossy black exterior gives way to the mossy green PCB interior.

  • So far we've only used our hands and a screwdriver, but we're already in—this controller's already scoring points in our book.

I bought mine about 10 months ago and it does not have those additional srews under the paddle/battery cover. After unscrewing those 4 Torx on the handles I cannot remove the bottom of the cover without having to worry - it feels as if it rather breaks than become loose. Especially the areas under the usb port and around the release slider of the paddle do not seem to become loose at all. It seems as if they made minor changes to the design. Mine became a bit sticky while carrying it around and the steam button would get stuck when pressed. I wanted to clean the buttons but I really worry to break the thing. It is insanely tight even with those 4 Torx removed.

Primat Inter Pares - Reply

The info decal under the rear cover is extremely heavy-duty and makes it hard to see where the screws are, but rub your fingernail in the three spots shown. You should begin to see the indentations of the screw wells underneath the decal. Then, punch through the decal to access the screws.

hafrieden -

Those two top T6 screws are too deep for my screwdriver to reach, I have the 64-bit set from ifixit. Kind of a shame..

Cas Eliëns - Reply

Deck the Halls
With tools and Fix Kits
Underneath the rear casing, we find a couple of snazzy battery eject levers—something we haven't seen in other controllers. Faster battery replacements mean less time not playing video games. Word. While battery eject levers are nice, what we're actually interested in is Valve's decision to abstain from using an integrated battery.
  • Underneath the rear casing, we find a couple of snazzy battery eject levers—something we haven't seen in other controllers.

    • Faster battery replacements mean less time not playing video games. Word.

  • While battery eject levers are nice, what we're actually interested in is Valve's decision to abstain from using an integrated battery.

    • This design choice eliminates a commonly-failing component to extend the Steam Controller's lifetime, and gives users a choice: disposable or rechargeable batteries. The future of the planet is (literally) in your hands.

They mention battery eject levers, how do you normally hit these levers to get the batteries out? Or do you just push them down and the levers are on a spring?

Zachary Hill - Reply

You press them up from the bottom. There are arrows below the release levers that should show what I mean.

Daniel Vasquez -

It's a trap! Lifting the motherboard out of its housing reveals a couple hidden ribbon cables connecting the touchpads to the underside of the board. Repairer beware: removing the motherboard without dispatching these cables will greatly increase your repair woes. We're never fans of treacherous cables like these, but this is hardly the worst we've seen.
  • It's a trap! Lifting the motherboard out of its housing reveals a couple hidden ribbon cables connecting the touchpads to the underside of the board.

    • Repairer beware: removing the motherboard without dispatching these cables will greatly increase your repair woes.

    • We're never fans of treacherous cables like these, but this is hardly the worst we've seen.

  • Moving right along, we disconnect the ribbon cables with a firm tug, freeing the upper assembly for closer inspection and giving us a glimpse at the inner workings of the touchpads.

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We finally break out our favorite tools to bust the touchpad out from behind its bracket bars. This time, we're using a plastic opening tool from our all-new Pro Tech Toolkit. The ribbon cable plugs into a socket on the touchpad daughterboard and is soldered to the haptic feedback actuators, adding some redundancy and durability to the touchpad module. The whole assembly is a touchpad solution from Cirque, likely the GlidePoint TM040040.
  • We finally break out our favorite tools to bust the touchpad out from behind its bracket bars. This time, we're using a plastic opening tool from our all-new Pro Tech Toolkit.

  • The ribbon cable plugs into a socket on the touchpad daughterboard and is soldered to the haptic feedback actuators, adding some redundancy and durability to the touchpad module.

  • The whole assembly is a touchpad solution from Cirque, likely the GlidePoint TM040040.

    • The brains of the operation is a Cirque 1CA027 companion MCU.

  • Also hiding on the daughterboard we find one of our least favorite things: glue. Those two black globs are mounds of adhesive, securing the touchpad to its bracket.

    • Happily, this is the only adhesive we encountered in this device, and neutralizing it didn't get too messy.

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We deftly dispatch a few more screws and the dual-stage triggers come along for a ride. Much to our surprise they simply slot into the motherboard. No adhesive nor mechanical tricks here! The dual-stage trigger can be broken down into two stages:
  • We deftly dispatch a few more screws and the dual-stage triggers come along for a ride.

    • Much to our surprise they simply slot into the motherboard. No adhesive nor mechanical tricks here!

  • The dual-stage trigger can be broken down into two stages:

    • The first is the smooth motion of the trigger when initially pressed. The magnetic flux sensor measures the position and speed of the trigger based on a time-varying flux.

    • The second part is the click at the end where the trigger physically presses a button on the motherboard.

  • Boom, headshot.

The triggers can actually be further disassembled- there is a small screw hidden underneath that separates the trigger from the actual mechanical frame. This means that all external faces of the controller can be separated from mechanical or electrical components, which will make Counter Strike-esque paint jobs a breeze!

sigoshi - Reply

The motherboard is a fiberglass plane home to a smattering of circuit elements. We do our due diligence and identify: NXP LPC11U37F 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller
  • The motherboard is a fiberglass plane home to a smattering of circuit elements. We do our due diligence and identify:

    • NXP LPC11U37F 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller

    • Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822 Bluetooth Smart and 2.4GHz proprietary SoC

    • Invensense MPU-6500 Six-Axis (Gyro + Accelerometer) MEMS MotionTracking device

It's worth noting that there are spots for Tag Connect connectors for interfacing with the wireless radio chip and the main controller. The radio's is marked radio right underneath it, and the main controller's is marked debug, and is down to the left. Hopefully valve releases a more open source firmware soon so we can have the open controller of our dreams!

sigoshi - Reply

Steam Controller Repairability Score: 8 out of 10 (10 is easiest to repair) The only adhesive we encountered was on the touchpads. All other mechanical connections are made with screws.
  • Steam Controller Repairability Score: 8 out of 10 (10 is easiest to repair)

    • The only adhesive we encountered was on the touchpads. All other mechanical connections are made with screws.

    • The Controller's relatively modular construction means replacing a single component will be a simple task.

    • While we always say screws before glue, the non-magnetic screws used in this controller are apt to get misplaced and throw a wrench into repairs.

    • The most likely-to-fail component, the thumbstick, is soldered directly to the motherboard.

The screws are non-magnetic so they don't interfere with the magnetic flux sensor.

Anthony - Reply

Dante Mazzanti

Member since: 07/13/2015

25,322 Reputation

101 Guides authored

23 Comments

Does swapping the touchpads and reconnecting them work?

The Reloader - Reply

In theory yes in practice no, if you swap them you will end up with an off angle dpad. shape almost like an X Same goes for A B X Y, I tried to do the original nintendo layout but they where angled so it did not work well.

Qlum Wyrfex -

It doesn't work in theory or in practice. I mean it can work. But the effects wouldn't be what you would think. You would actually have to mod the chassis itself which takes patience and artistic craftsmanship. But it can be done just not as easy as one would think. I tried this last night. No cigar. You can always attempt a cross wire and play without the top chassis but it would be uncomfortable and exposed.

Jay Martinez -

So the thumbstick potentiometer is soldered, that's normal, but can the stick itself be replaced? My DS4 has 3rd party metal sticks.

Frank Zhao - Reply

I'd like to know this as well, if I get one of these I'd want to replace it with an Xbox One thumbstick if possible.

Evil Robot -

Yes, actually, I think the XBOne's analog sticks can be used as drop in replacements, I've seen one person replace it with an anodized steel stick, so it can be done.

Might want to check out the steam controler subreddit (/r/steamcontroller) and the steam controller mods subreddit (/r/steamcontrollermods)

Chris DeJoseph -

Well yeah? Anything that is soldered can be unsoldered with a soldering wick and iron. Its roughly the same size. So it should fit through the plastic case. I may be wrong though. It can definitely be replaced though the only problem would be how big the hole in the case is. If it's big enough you should be fine. If not, just do what you do and play without the case. I seen some people do this, you would need to modify everything to make it comfortable though. Personally I think the sticks are fine. Its probably the thumb pad itself you don't like. THAT is easily replaceable, just carefully rip one off an x bone then carefully hot glue it to the top

Jay Martinez -

How big are ds4 thumb sticks, pretty small right? If so. It can be done. Well the ds4 sticks would fit onto the steam Controller, but.vice versa? Maybe not.. the steam stick is small but is it that small? Idk. But they ARe third party like you said. So you should definitely try it and let us know. I'd try it but I don't have a DS. You ARE talking about the Nintendo ds right? Lol

Jay Martinez -

I'm surprised you guys didn't post the exploded diagram of the controller that you can find on the inside of the retail box! From the looks of it, it appears to be fairly accurate.

DogGunn - Reply

My retail box didn't have one, then again my controller is from the first batch of those produced. I noticed a few differences between mine and theirs. I think they either got an earlu proto type or from a later more recent batch

Jay Martinez -

Those 2 pads on the back of the PCB look like "connections" for a yet to be announced battery-pack, or "play and charge kit"

Any confirmation? I don't want to open mine yet...

What is the polarity of these? I suspect the right one would be +5V and the one on the left to be GND - That would make sense because of how the USB connector is laid out

Alia5 - Reply

Measured the pads. Both pads are 0 Ohm to GND.

hornfeldt -

I think that would be interesting to have a plastic covering similar to the xbox one design but with the touch pad sensors included and the feedback motor.

sirdre - Reply

That IS what the steam Controller is. Actually the case.is superior to the x bone controller. Its handles bend in a way that makes it more comfortable. But the layout is essentially the same. Keep in mind this controller isn't really for fps games. Keep a keyboard and mouse for fps but the steam Controller is good for most anything else. I use it for third person shooters and turn based games.

Jay Martinez -

I'm considering a tear-down of mine I just got- I think one of this would look FRESH with a custom paintjob. Especially since (if I read it correctly) I won't have to deal with the hard parts of this controller if I just want to paint the casing- not even the touchpads, just the outer casing.

notMateo - Reply

You should still take it apart. Remove the chassis (plastic covering) and separate the innards including buttons and thumbtack. Anything can be easily soldered or snapped back. Don't risk getting pain on your PCB you will regret it. It should be fairly easy if you use the right paint. There is paint specifically for plastic. Get that, you can find it at any craft store. I'm doing the same soon, I scratched the original paint on accident during a removal procedure.

Jay Martinez -

ATTENTION modders: this guide is perfect but has one is single flaw. It seems most stram controllers have hidden screws on the back panel. This guide doesn't mention they are hidden. But they are exactly where the guide says they are. When you open the panel it looks like they are not there. But you can feel them under the sticker. Cut a hole with a box cutter, its just really thick paper, and you will find the three screws. You can even feel em with your hand if you press down your finger hard enough, it will leave an indent where to cut. All the screws are size t6. They can be unlocked with torque 6 security screwdrivers.

Jay Martinez -

My left touchpad makes a REALLY loud noise when I press it, like something isn't working right. What part could be causing this and how hard is it to fix? A little percussive maintenance temporarily fixes it but I'd like a permanent solution (and unfortunately live outside the US, meaning getting it fixed officially is out of question)

connorchristian1998 - Reply

It may be that the weight inside the haptic motor is improperly attached? Does this happen consistently or only when experiencing haptic feedback?

Evan Noronha -

I've had my Steam controller for about 1 year and at the 6 month mark the left flipper broke. Since it is all configurable I just made left flipper now left grip.

Then a month ago the battery compartment cover / left and right grip, had one of the two plastic prongs break off so of course I got out the duct tape xD

It's electronically sound so far but the molded plastic is giving out !!

The left joystick takes a lot of abuse and is holding up fine so far.

I'll comment again should anything else fail.

Oh I didn't mention that it is used daily for 8 plus hours.

Mary FNPoppnz - Reply

What holds the B button up? Mine is pushed down all the way but moves loosely. I havent taken the controller apart and dont want to accidentally break anything if i do.

Alec - Reply

The bumper buttons are weak af.. I broke them within two months of daily Rocket League (air roll on LB). This is the third time I've managed to do it. So there's definitely a manufacturing/engineering issue here. The mechanism broke so that the LB button is permanently pressed down and cannot be lifted up. Pressing it elicits no LB button response any more. And I can also hear rattling parts inside the controller now. Just to reiterate, this is the third steam controller that I've encountered the exact same problem. Luckily I've broken it so fast I've been able to get warranty replacements. As a result, I don't have any info on the repairing of the LB button mechanisms inside

azizLIGHT - Reply

My r 1 button has broken, and I don't really want to open it up, but I will if I have to. If I shake it slightly it rattles, and it doesn't click anymore, it's more or less just detached in some way. The thing I am afraid of is that the button is completely broken, or detached from the motherboard, because I would rather not solder it. This is my favorite controller, and I don't have a lot of money to spend on fixing it. I really appreciate any help, than you.

Jebus Crust - Reply

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