Valve Steam Deck Designers Say They Are Focusing on Optimizations Instead of Performance Upgrades for the Next Model

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Valve Steam Deck designers have said they are looking at optimizing the handheld for its next iteration(s) instead of an APU upgrade. Steam Deck designers Lawrence Yang and Pierre-Loup Griffais said in an interview with Sean Hollister of The Verge that despite competitors releasing their own handheld gaming devices with the AMD Ryzen 7 6800U 8c/16t APU the performance gains are minimal versus power draw. The Steam Deck currently uses a custom AMD 4c/8t APU clocking at 2.4-3.5 GHz featuring RDNA 2 graphics.

“Right now the fact that all the Steam Decks can play the same games and that we have one target for users to understand what kind of performance level to expect when you’re playing and for developers to understand what to target… there’s a lot of value in having that one spec,” says Griffais who added, “I think we’ll opt to keep the one performance level for a little bit longer, and only look at changing the performance level when there is a significant gain to be had.”

Competition for the Steam Deck is growing as companies like AOKZOE, AYA-NEO, and One-Netbook, each offer multiple models with laptop AMD Ryzen 7 6800U featuring different types of displays, storage, and memory options. A drawback of that APU is that it can consume 40 Watts of power compared to 29 Watts for the current Steam Deck’s custom Aerith SoC and the only solution would be to increase the battery size, which in turn also can increase the manufacturing costs.

Griffais stated that “The performance level you get between 8 and 12 watts, which is kind of the sweet spot in terms of efficiency… I don’t think you’ll see off-the-shelf offerings based on mainline notebook product lines significantly outperforming that in maybe a few generations.” The Valve Steam Deck designers say instead of similar upgrades they are currently looking at improving things like battery placement, cooling fan noise, and software improvements.

Battery, Cooling, and other improvements

The Steam Deck, while marketed as a self-repair-friendly device has been criticized for its battery being a challenge to replace. The designers acknowledge this and explained the constraints of having to make a confined space to prevent it from damaging other components while also giving it enough room to expand when charging.

“You don’t want a Steam Deck maraca, and you don’t want a battery possibly touching other important components and jostling them around,” said Yang.

 “We have rolled in a change to the geometry of the adhesive, making the battery easier to loosen,” added Yang in regard to the next design change. Pierre-Loup Griffais also explains that Valve continues to work on software and feature bugs but iterates that the Steam Deck may never be stable in the traditional sense due to Valve constantly adding new features to it.

“The bug list grows as more people get Steam Deck and we get more feedback about things — and the feature list kind of stays the same size because as we add features, we get more features we want to add based on our own experience and what we’re hearing from customers,” Griffais says.

Another software goal is having the update process complete as smoothly as possible with it downloading in the background and then the final step gets completed simply with a restart so that users experience a minimal impact during it. Other software tweaks include Bluetooth audio lag fixes, seamless transitioning between the Deck and PC, per-game power profile sharing, and various kinds of game optimizations.

The Steam Deck’s cooling fan has received criticism for its whine which at one point resulted in Valve shipping the unit with an alternative fan. Yang said that Valve resumed shipping with the original fan after it “engineered foam solution to reduce fan noise“. This fix is something being included in units currently being shipped. The team says that other changes are in the works which could be seen in units shipped toward the end of summer.

“For example, the Steam and Quick Access button, we looked at improving the feel of those and I think the outcome of that is already rolling out to new units as of August.”

So, for now, instead of a Steam Deck Pro or a new next-gen version, Valve is focusing on improvements for the original. However, the duo did note that they look forward to working with competitors as they release their models and that Valve would be interested in offering the SteamOS to them. “We actually want to work with them to make sure that, if they want to use SteamOS or offer a SteamOS-based alternative, that can be done,” said Yang. They also acknowledged a better screen could be in the works but right now they want to focus on improving the experience with the current generation.

Lastly, the team shared how the success of the SteamDeck could see Valve’s failed Steam Machines revived in some sort of fashion and also bring about a Steam Controller 2.

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Peter Brosdahl
As a child of the 70’s I was part of the many who became enthralled by the video arcade invasion of the 1980’s. Saving money from various odd jobs I purchased my first computer from a friend of my dad, a used Atari 400, around 1982. Eventually it would end up being a lifelong passion of upgrading and modifying equipment that, of course, led into a career in IT support.

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