Valve recently spilled many of the beans from its soon to be released portable handheld gaming PC. The company recently held a Steamworks Virtual Conference via video stream and accessible to anyone who wanted to watch it, which detailed many aspects of the upcoming Steam Deck.
We already know a bunch about Valve’s Switch doppelganger. We’ve had a fair look at what sort of gaming performance we can expect already. Plus we knew the units are set to start at $400 USD, have had a fair look at the specs, and are of course already slated for a delayed launch. But this in-depth dive is welcome for those considering how viable PC gaming really will be on a portable handheld.
The virtual conference is broken up across several videos. They range from a general introduction to hardware overviews, deep dives into the custom AMD APU on the system, and helpful tips for both developers and gamers alike.
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The first big news from the conference is the announcement of the official name of the AMD chip. It’s been dubbed the Aerith SoC, which has to be a reference to the Final Fantasy VII character. Aerith is a 4-core, 8-thread APU who’s lineage can be traced back to Zen2 microarchitecture. It’s teamed up with 8 AMD RDNA 2 compute units. Valve and AMD have been working pretty closely to optimise for gaming on Linux, and this looks like it’s going to work out nicely. Rather than trying for high clock speeds, this chip is all about maintaining consistency which is something that was stressed throughout the conference.
Valve also hasn't placed power restrictions on the chip, but recommends developers might want to enact a frame limit themselves. This means it should run the same whether it's docked or undocked which is neat, but does mean that it will drain the battery much faster without some limits. It has a 40 watt-hour battery and boasts a game time of about 7-8 hours as is. When it comes to heat management, the Steam Deck can start to throttle and lose some performance, but things like download speeds will be hit before gaming performance is hampered. While we’ve known the general specs for a while, all of this paints a more solid picture of how gaming performance will likely work.
There are additional tools for developers looking to optimise performance of their titles on Steam Deck. Developers will be able to upload specific texture packages to be used with the Steam Deck. This means they can massively cut download file sizes too, when only optimising for the lower resolution screen.
This will be pretty handy for those picking up the cheapest $399 USD MSRP model which only has 64GB of eMMC PCIe Gen 2 storage, though it can be expanded with a microSD. It will also be available in 256GB and 512 GB models featuring NVMe SSDs. These will cost $529 USD and $649 USD respectively, which is a bit more but Valve estimates these will be between 12-25% faster, task depending.
For those not looking to always play in a handheld configuration, the Steam Deck actually looks like it could just be a handy portable gaming machine. It can support two 4k screens at 60hz and with the 45w charging cable, can still charge while at full gaming power. It’s even rated to work with most peripherals through the USB-C port. The Steam Deck has an official dock to help with other ports but you can also use a powered USB C hub. That being said, Valve did also say it hasn’t been designed for VR in mind, so maybe don’t expect it to run your Vive Pro 2.
Valve reaffirmed one more big change that may affect more than just Steam Deck customers. The interface used on the Steam Deck system known as Deck UI is set to replace Big Picture Mode, a Steam interface designed to be used with a controller or on a TV. Valve stated the move will take place alongside Deck UI being updated more frequently, and will keep a more uniformed presentation. For anyone looking to use it more as a console this is good news, plus it will likely make it a bit easier for those jumping between machines as well.
You can still reserve a Steam Deck on the official website, to join the queue of fans wanting to try out this new portable gaming PC. Unfortunately these have expectedly delayed until at least February 2022, so if you’re needing something a bit sooner, maybe check out our list of Black Friday sales.