Steam Deck: Five big things we learned from Valve’s developer summit

On Friday, PC gaming giant Valve invited the developer community to learn more about the Steam Deck, a $ 400 gaming handheld PC with a comparatively powerful AMD chip. It’s similar to the Nintendo Switch from gaming PCs, and we already knew a lot about the delayed handheld from its announcement, our trip to Valve headquarters, and an official teardown. But today we learned even more.

These are the highlights, unless of course you want to watch Valve’s full live stream or work sessions for you. That is fine too!

Aerith lives

The AMD chip inside the Steam Deck has a name: it is the Aerith SOC, a clear reference to the famous Aerith from Final Fantasy VII. It is an APU rated at 4-15 watts, and contains a 4-core, 8-thread AMD Zen 2 CPU running between 2.4 and 3.5 GHz, and 8 AMD RDNA 2 compute units worth Graphics clocked between 1 and 1.6 GHz, for a total of 1.6 teraflops of raw graphics compute.

Here’s the full Steam Deck block diagram, so you can see how the entire system ties together around that chip:

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It interfaces with 16 GB of unified LPDDR5 memory, with a total of 88 GB / s of bandwidth. While there is only 1GB of dedicated video memory, Valve says the GPU can access up to 8GB of that shared memory as needed.

Valve says the chip is designed to run continuously and steadily at the indicated clock speeds: “The performance you get from your game in the first ten seconds will likely be the same performance you will get in two hours, or even indefinitely if you are connected to the wall, “says Yazan Aldehayyat of Valve, adding that the system is designed to do the same thing docked, undocked, charging or not, even while downloading games or at high temperatures.” If you’re in Florida in July, it’s You might run out of thermal headroom, ”he says, but even then Valve says it will try to speed up downloads and transfer speeds before it throttles game performance.

Valve cautions that developers may need to avoid pushing too hard on the GPU if they want longer battery life. “We did not put artificial limits on how much energy the APU can consume.” As a specific tactic, Valve suggests that games limit their frame rate to save battery life. That could make a big difference: “You can play Portal 2 for four hours on this thing. If you limit it to 30 FPS, you will play between 5 and 6 hours. ” Valve said IGN in August.

Another optimization: Valve revealed today that developers can upload versions of their games with lower fidelity texture packs to Steam’s Depot to improve performance and reduce the amount of storage and the time it takes for a user to download a game. That’s similar to Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system for Xbox One, Xbox One X, and Xbox Series X / S, which routes the appropriate version of a game to each console. (But where Xbox developers are likely aiming for 1080p, 1440p, and near 4K respectively, the portable Steam Deck runs at 720p and 800p resolution.)

Designed to dock and transmit

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With a 45-watt power supply, Valve says the Steam Deck can charge and play at the same time, and power a 7.5-watt external peripheral. The USB-C port also offers external display support for up to two 4K 60Hz monitors (using Display Stream Compression), and Valve says it will offer USB 3 Gen 2 “if you opt for half the display bandwidth.” The optional dock (which has not yet been shown or pre-ordered) will also offer Gigabit Ethernet.

And if you choose to play on a TV or monitor, you’ll probably be happy to hear the first full confirmation that Valve supports AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) upscaling with the Steam Deck. In fact, AMD representatives on the stream confirmed that the Steam Deck not only works with FSR in games that support it, which might make them look a bit better on the big screen, but that the Steam Deck will natively support FSR in an operating system. level with a future update. AMD says it is working on drivers that will allow the recently announced Vulkan Dynamic Rendering, too.

There is no Intel-proprietary USB 4 or Thunderbolt here, obviously, and you only get 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) instead of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, but Valve says the Deck is optimized for “reliability and robustness even in environments congested “. In that way, Valve can offer a “world-class remote gaming experience” for streaming games from your desktop PC to the Deck within your own homes, while using less battery power than games that run natively on the hardware of the device. Deck.

Valve did a great job with Wi-Fi engineering when they built the HDMI Steam Link drive, so I’m excited to give it a go.

Little slowdown in SD (and eMMC)

The $ 400 entry-level Steam Deck only comes with 64GB of comparatively slow eMMC storage and a microSD card slot for expansion – you’ll have to pay a lot more for the faster models with NVMe SSDs, and even then they’ll be pretty easy to do. Fill it with a decent-sized library of Steam games.

But today, Valve assured developers that eMMC and SD are not that much slower – about 12 percent and 18 percent slower, respectively, when it comes to loading games. (Yes, the Y axes are mislabeled or do not line up with the bar charts.)

Boot times are 25 percent slower, but I guess we’ll have to see how long they actually are – Valve didn’t specify the actual number of minutes or seconds it takes for the Steam Deck to boot.

Valve is changing the way the cloud saves work so you can play games

But Valve is also thinking of the Steam Deck as an always-on device, one where it doesn’t always need To boot and launch games from scratch: There is a suspend and resume function built into the Steam Deck that should allow you to quickly pause games like you do on a Nintendo Switch.

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As a result, Valve is changing the way Steam’s cloud saves work – where today’s Steam generally syncs its cloud saves. after you have quit a game, the company offers new APIs in the cloud so that developers can sync their games in the background the moment you suspend the title.

Theoretically, that could also mean that you can pause a game you’re playing on the Steam Deck and quickly pick it up on your desktop PC, or vice versa.

There’s a white Steam Deck just outside Portalbut you can’t have it

Valve's Greg Coomer takes a white prototype from the Steam Deck and displays it.  It has an Aperture logo on the back.

Its not for sale.
GIF by Sean Hollister / The Verge

During the entire Steam Deck presentation, the funds were full of intriguing clues about Valve’s prototyping process, and many viewers noticed a white vapor cover including one straight from Valve’s hit game Portal to the Aperture logo on the back.

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Unfortunately, it is not for sale: “This is just a prototype. We love it too, but we can’t bring it to market at the same time we ship the Steam Deck, “said Valve’s Greg Coomer, adding that the company intends to” look at other color options in the future, but that’s really in the future “.

Other little things

Here are some other random things we learned:

  • It is not made for virtual reality. “We definitely didn’t design or build the device for VR,” says Valve’s Lawrence Yang, though he admits that gamers will almost certainly give it a go anyway.
  • No plans yet for 5G or LTE configurations. You can connect it to a phone, Valve says.
  • Valve is working to bring the Steam Deck to Japan and Australia in particular. Also in other territories.
  • Steam Deck has factory calibrated audio. “Each Steam Deck has been factory calibrated for best performance” and includes a dedicated amplifier and DSP for the stereo speakers. Supports multi-channel audio over HDMI (over USB-C).
  • Once the big picture mode on desktop Steam is replaced by the deck UI, it will be updated more frequently. There is no deadline for the change yet, but this is good news for uniformity. “We can add new features to Steam and you will see them almost immediately in the Deck.”
  • Valve will share the keyboard APIs with multiple IMEs, multiple languages, and emojis.
  • We took a first look (I think!) At the Steam Deck Notification Center and the new controller configurator for mapping your games to the Steam Deck controls. More of that in this session.

In fact, we leave you with a bunch of screenshots of the Steam Deck user interface; we haven’t seen much of this before.

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The Controller Configurator allows you to map and link the Steam Deck’s considerable variety of controls.

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It will look the same on the Steam desktop and on the Deck.

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Notifications will have a dedicated button on the cover.

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