Wow. I've been playing with the Steam Deck regularly since I reviewed it in February, and every update Valve has released over the past two months has made something about the Deck a little bit better. But the most recent update, currently in beta testing, is far and away the most significant, dramatically improving the Steam Deck's most obvious flaw: its noisy fan.
We wrote a separate article on launch day about the Steam Deck's fan noting how loud it is when it's trying to keep the powerful AMD hardware cool. Volume isn't the Deck fan's only problem: because of its size or the fan's design, when it spins up to full speed it produces a particularly whiny noise. Steam Deck fans have started talking about the fan lottery because of the two different fan models present in different Steam Decks. I don't have two Decks to test side-by-side, but I can say that I notice the fan every time I use the Steam Deck. It's a nuisance I've been willing to put up with, but the latest update brings the Deck in line with the quiet Nintendo Switch, at least when playing less demanding games.
As Katie explained covering the patch yesterday, the new fan curve allows the Deck to get hotter before the fan ramps up to full power, which means the system can run hotter as a result. I didn't find that it was noticeably hot in-hand, even playing Elden Ring and seeing the CPU temperature hit 80°C. And the exciting thing was even at that temperature and with the fan running, it wasn't as loud as it sometimes got before the update in much less demanding conditions.
Here's the change as described by Valve:
"Added an OS-controlled fan curve to improve the experience in low usage scenarios, and adjusting how the fan responds to different scenarios and temperatures."
After some testing, I found both of these to be true. I first ran Elden Ring before and after the beta update; this demanding game definitely gets the fan spinning in both cases, but it's noticeably quieter after the beta patch.
Elden Ring before: notice how it pitches up again when I re-enter the mansion at the 45 second mark. And it was already loud. (Remember to unmute the gif).
And Elden Ring after. Note the temperature difference: it is running in the high 70s now, a difference of up to 10°C, but I think it's going to be a worthy trade-off.
Meanwhile, with Death's Door, a moderately demanding 3D indie game, and the Final Fantasy 3 Pixel Remaster, which is not demanding at all, the fan was much quieter. After the update the fan didn't even turn on in Final Fantasy 3. I took some quick videos of these tests, too, but the ambient noise of the wind outside my apartment (thanks, San Francisco!) makes it hard to really pick up on the difference.
My main takeaway, is that this is a noticeable improvement for demanding games like Elden Ring and a huge improvement for playing less demanding games on the Steam Deck. Before this update, you were going to at least hear the fan when playing a game like Death's Door or Final Fantasy 3, even if it wasn't running at an annoying volume. Now the Deck's fan is less likely to spin up, period, letting you play some games in silence. After comparing those three games I booted up Yakuza 0 and was stunned by how quiet the fan was: I have the game configured to run at 60 fps and it's always run wonderfully on the Deck, but with the fan constantly whirring in the background. This time it didn't get above a low RPM whirr.
The SteamOS 3.2 update is still in beta, so Valve may make more changes to the fan curve before it hits the stable channel. And this update probably won't be its last change to the fan over the Steam Deck's life, but I can't imagine them making any single improvement that makes me happier than this one.