Capping your Steam Deck display to 40Hz gives a big boost to battery life

Steam Deck shot from the front on a purple background
(Image credit: Future)

The Steam Deck is a mighty-fine piece of kit, as verified by our review. But given that it’s essentially a deceptively powerful handheld PC, it may require a fair bit of tweaking both by owners and the Deck devs at Valve before we find those sweetspots between battery life and performance. After all, what’s the point of playing Deathloop at 60fps if your battery drains in little over an hour? Conversely, what’s the point of playing Deathloop (or any other FPS game) at 30fps at all?

Well, it looks like YouTuber The Phawx has found that sweetspot. By capping the Steam Deck’s display to 40Hz, he found that it was draining about 20W when playing Sekiro—that’s around two hours of play time. Running the same game with the display running at its full 60Hz without limiting the framerate was draining the battery around 25% faster (25W), even though the game was still only managing around 55-58fps.

It’s a nice improvement, but the catch is that you can only set a 40Hz refresh rate on your Steam Deck if you have Windows installed on it, as well as a tool called CRU (Custom Resolution Utility). For now, you can only set 30Hz and 60Hz refresh rates through SteamOS, though Steam Deck developer Pierre-Loup Griffais commented on The Phawx’s video on Twitter, saying that the feature will be “coming soon” to the Steam Deck. Griffais said that the main issue preventing FPS limiting on SteamOS has been the screen-blanking time when switching refresh rates, which certainly doesn’t sound like an insurmountable problem.

But before you abandon SteamOS and turn your Steam Deck into a handheld Microsoft Machine, bear in mind that Windows isn’t terribly well optimised for Steam Deck yet, and gaming performance will be less consistent than on SteamOS. It’s probably worth waiting until either Valve updates SteamOS to support that sweet 40Hz frametime limit, or the Steam Deck and Windows learn to play a little nicer together.

Robert is a freelance writer and chronic game tinkerer who spends many hours modding games then not playing them, and hiding behind doors with a shotgun in Hunt: Showdown. Wishes to spend his dying moments on Earth scrolling through his games library on a TV-friendly frontend that unifies all PC game launchers.