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

Valve, the PC gaming giant, invited developers to discover more about its Steam Deck, a $400 gaming device with an AMD chip. It's similar to the Nintendo Switch of gaming computers. We already know a lot about the delayed handheld, including its announcement, our visit to Valve's headquarters and an official teardown. Today, however, we learned more.
These are just the highlights. It's okay!

Aerith lives

The Steam Deck's AMD chip has a name. It is the Aerith SOC. This refers to Final Fantasy VII's famous Aerith. The APU has a power envelope between 4 and 15. Watts and contains an AMD Zen 2 CPU with 8 cores that runs between 2.5 and 3.5GHz and 8 AMD RDNA 2 compute unit graphics running between 1 and 1.5GHz. This gives it a total of 1.6 Teraflops of raw graphic compute.

This is the entire Steam Deck block diagram. It shows how everything fits together around the chip.

It can interface with 16GB of LPDDR5 unified memory with a total bandwidth of 88GB/s. Although there is only 1GB dedicated video memory, Valve claims that the GPU can access 8GB of shared memory.

"If you are in Florida in July you might run out of thermal headroom."

Valve claims the chip is designed to run continuously and consistently at the quoted clockspeeds. "The performance your games get in the first ten second is likely to match the performance you get in the next two hours, or indefinitely, if you plug into the wall," Yazan Aldehayyat from Valve states. He also says that the system is designed to work at the same docked or undocked charging, downloading, or otherwise, regardless of whether it's at elevated temperatures or while downloading games. He says that it may be difficult to get enough thermal headroom in Florida in July. However, Valve will throttle your downloads and transfer speeds in order to maintain your game's performance.

Valve warns that developers should not push the GPU too hard to prolong their battery life. Valve suggests that games limit their framerates to conserve battery power. This could make a huge difference. "You can play Portal 2 on this thing for four hours. You'll be playing for between 5-6 hours if you limit it down to 30 FPS," Valve said to IGN in August.

Valve also revealed today that developers will be able to upload lower-fidelity textures to Steam's Depot in order to increase performance and decrease the time it takes to download a game. This is similar to Microsoft's Smart Delivery system, which routes the correct version of a game to each console. The portable Steam Deck, however, runs at 720p resolution and 800p resolution, whereas the Xbox developers likely target 1080p, 1440p, and near-4K respectively.

Designed for docking and streaming

The Steam Deck is powered by a 45-watt power supply. It can also charge and play simultaneously and power up to 7.5 watts of external peripherals. External display support is also available via the USB-C port. It can display up to two 4K monitors at 60Hz using Display Stream Compression. Valve also claims that it will offer USB 3 Gen 2 if you choose to have half of the display bandwidth. The optional dock, which has yet to be pictured and go on preorder, will offer Gigabit Ethernet.

If you prefer to play on a TV, or monitor, you will be pleased to hear that Valve has officially confirmed support for AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution. AMD representatives confirmed that the Steam Deck works with FSR in FSR-enabled games, potentially making them look better on a big screen. Additionally, the Steam Deck will support FSR at the operating system level with an upcoming update. AMD claims it is working on drivers to enable Vulkan Dynamic rendering, which was recently announced.

You won't find an Intel-proprietary Thunderbolt or USB 4 here. Also, you will not get 802.11ac (WiFi 5) instead. However, Valve claims that the Deck offers a "first-class RemotePlay experience" where users can beam games from their PCs to the Deck, using less power than the Deck's hardware.

Valve did a great job in Wi-Fi engineering when they built the Steam Link HDMI puck. I'm eager to test it.

There is no slowdown in SD (and eMMC).

The $400 entry-level Steam Deck comes with 64GB of slow eMMC storage, but it does not have a microSD slot for expansion. You'll need to pay significantly more for faster models with NVMe SSDs and they will be easy to fill up with a decent-sized Steam Library of games.

Today, Valve assured developers that eMMC or SD are not that slow. They load games about 12 percent and 18% slower, respectively. (Yes, the Y axes are mislabeled and don't align with the bar graphs.

Valve claims that 64GB eMMC Steam deck games might take 12 percent longer to load a game than the NVMe model and may take 25 percent longer to boot.

18% slower when loading a game from an SD card. -- Sean Hollister (@StarFire2258) November 12, 2021

Boot times are 25% slower than usual, but we'll have to wait to find out how long they actually take -- Valve hasn't specified a time it takes for Steam Deck to start.

Valve is changing the way cloud saves work, so you can play and pick up your device

However, Valve views the Steam Deck as an all-on device. You won't need to launch new games every time you use it. The Steam Deck also has a suspend/resume feature that will allow you to pause and resume games quickly just like on a Nintendo Switch.

Valve is changing the way Steam's cloud save system works. Instead of having Steam sync your cloud saves when you quit a game, Valve now offers new cloud APIs that allow developers to have their games sync in the background whenever they suspend the title.

This could theoretically mean that you could pause a Steam Deck game and pick it up quickly on your desktop computer.

You can get a white Steam Deck out of Portal but it is not yours.

The backgrounds of the Steam Deck presentation were filled with interesting hints about Valve's prototyping process. Many onlookers saw a white Steam Deck among them, one straight from Valve’s Portal, right down to the Aperture logo.

It's not available for purchase. It's a great idea, and we love it even more, but it's not possible to ship it simultaneously with the Steam Deck," Greg Coomer of Valve said. He also stated that they will "examine other color options in future but that's still a long way off."

Other tidbits

These are just a few of the random things that we have learned.

It is not designed for VR. Valve's Lawrence Yang says, "We certainly didn't design or build the device to VR," but admits that most gamers will try it anyway.

Valve's Lawrence Yang says that the device was not designed and built for VR, but admits that most gamers will try it anyway. There are no plans to add 5G or LTE connectivity. According to Valve, you can tether it with a smartphone.

. According to Valve, you can attach it to your phone. Valve plans to ship the Steam Deck to Japan, Australia and other countries. There are also other territories.

There are also other territories. Steam Deck comes with factory calibrated audio. Each Steam Deck is calibrated at the factory to ensure the best performance. The Steam Deck also includes a dedicated amp for the stereo speakers and a DSP for the amplifier. It supports multichannel audio via HDMI (via USBC).

"Every single Steam Deck has been calibrated by the factory for maximum performance." It also includes a dedicated amp for the stereo speakers and a DSP for the audio system. It supports multichannel audio via HDMI (via USB -C). It will be updated more frequently once Big Picture Mode on desktop Steam is replaced by the Deck UI. Although there is no timeline yet, it is good news for uniformity. "We can add new features in Steam, and you'll be able to see them almost immediately at Deck."

Although there is no timeline yet, it is good news for uniformity. "We can add new features in Steam and they'll be almost immediately visible on Deck." Valve will use the same keyboard APIs for multiple IMEs, multiple language and emojis.

Our first glimpse (I believe!) was given to us. The Steam Deck notifications center, and the new controller configurator that maps your games to Steam Deck's controls. This session will cover more of this.

We'll even leave you with a bunch of screenshots of the Steam Deck user interface -- this is something we haven’t seen before.