Valve recently revealed several details about its upcoming portable handheld gaming PC. The business recently sponsored a Steamworks Virtual Conference, which was broadcast live over the internet and was open to anyone who wanted to view it. It covered a lot of ground around the impending Steam Deck.
We already know quite a bit about Valve's Switch clone. We've already had a good peek at what kind of gaming performance we can expect. We also knew the devices would start at $400 USD, that we had a good look at the specs, and that the launch would be delayed. However, anyone evaluating how viable PC gaming will be on a portable handheld would appreciate this in-depth look.
The virtual meeting is divided into many movies. They cover everything from a general introduction to hardware overviews to in-depth looks at the system's proprietary AMD APU and useful hints for both developers and gamers.
The introduction of the AMD chip's actual name is the first significant news from the presentation. It's been called the Aerith SoC, which is obviously a tribute to the character from Final Fantasy VII. Aerith is a four-core, eight-thread APU with roots in the Zen2 microarchitecture. It works with eight AMD RDNA 2 computing units. Valve and AMD have been collaborating closely to optimise for gaming on Linux, and it appears that this will be a success. Rather than attempting to achieve high clock rates, this chip focuses on preserving consistency, which was emphasised throughout the conference.
Valve hasn't put any power limits on the chip but suggests that developers implement their own frame limit. This means it should run the same whether docked or undocked, which is convenient, but it also means it will drain the battery considerably faster if there are no constraints in place. It features a 40-watt-hour battery and can play for up to 7-8 hours on its own. When it comes to heat management, the Steam Deck can slow down and lose some performance, although things like download speeds will suffer before game performance. While we've had a basic idea of the specs for a while, this gives us a better idea of how gaming performance will likely be.
Developers that want to improve the performance of their games on Steam Deck might use additional tools. Using the Steam Deck, developers will be able to upload specialised texture packages. This implies businesses can significantly reduce download file sizes by simply optimising for lower quality screens.
This will be especially useful for anyone purchasing the $399 USD MSRP model, which only has 64GB of eMMC PCIe Gen 2 storage but can be upgraded with a microSD card. It will also be available with NVMe SSDs in 256GB and 512GB variants. These will cost $529 and $649 USD, respectively, which is a little more, but Valve predicts that they will be 12 to 25% faster, depending on the task.
For individuals who don't need to play in a handheld mode all of the time, the Steam Deck appears to be a useful portable gaming system. It can support two 4k screens at 60hz at the same time, and the 45w charging cord allows it to charge while gaming. The USB-C port is even rated to operate with most accessories. You can use a powered USB C hub instead of the Steam Deck's official dock to aid with other ports. However, Valve has stated that it was not created with VR in mind, so don't expect it to run your Vive Pro 2.
One more major change has been confirmed by Valve, and it may affect more than just Steam Deck users. Big Picture Mode, a Steam interface designed to be used with a controller or on a TV, is expected to be replaced with Deck UI, the interface used on the Steam Deck system. The change will coincide with Deck UI being updated more frequently, according to Valve, and will maintain a more consistent presentation. This is fantastic news for anyone who wants to use it more as a console, and it will also make switching between PCs a little easier.
On the official website, you may still book a Steam Deck to join the long line of fans eager to try out this new portable gaming PC. Unfortunately, these will not be available until at least February 2022, so if you need something sooner, have a look at our Black Friday deals.