Valve provides a deep dive into Steam Deck’s custom hardware design

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Valve’s full, hours-long, developer-focused presentation.

Valve’s transportable Steam Deck hardware could also be delayed by a couple of months, however that did not cease Valve from discussing loads of attention-grabbing particulars concerning the system throughout a wide-ranging developer-focused livestream Friday. That included a lot of nitty-gritty speak about hardware specs and software program interpolation, but additionally design selections surrounding the way to steadiness hardware-power and battery-power issues.
AMD’s custom-built Steam Deck APU, dubbed Aerith after the Final Fantasy VII character, is the core of the system and was a focus of the presentation. AMD says the system is the corporate’s first cellular chip to function an RDNA2 GPU architecture, so it ought to have full assist for DirectX 12 and the newest Vulkan APIs. That additionally signifies that not solely will Steam Deck be compatible with the entire Steam library, however many Steam video games will already be optimized for the precise chip configuration discovered inside, Valve says.

The CPU portion of the Aerith chip options 4 Zen 2 cores able to working eight threads at 3.5 Ghz. Meanwhile, the GPU options eight RDNA2 compute models working at 1.6 Ghz.

While most Steam video games today get by with simply 8 or 12GB of RAM, Valve mentioned it selected to place 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM within the Steam Deck as a result of “we want to make sure that Steam Deck is not just compatible with games today but can also run games that haven’t even come out yet.” A minimal of 1GB of that RAM is devoted to the GPU, however Steam Deck’s unified structure signifies that the GPU can entry as much as 8GB based mostly on what’s occurring within the recreation and even go previous that restrict “on a game-to-game basis.” The RAM’s 128-bit large bus additionally permits for 88Gbps of complete reminiscence bandwidth, or 55GB/s/TFLOP, which Valve says outclasses some desktop GPUs.

As far as storage is anxious, Valve mentioned its checks confirmed little distinction in real-world load time between the eMMC drives (on low-end Steam Deck fashions), NVMe SSDs (on higher-end fashions), and the built-in SD card reader. Despite vastly completely different bandwidth speeds for every choice, boot instances differed by 25 % or much less between them in Valve’s early testing (although the corporate mentioned that testing is at present removed from complete).

Battery sipping

Valve spent a lot of time speaking about how the Steam Deck was optimized for battery life, particularly designed to slot in a tiny energy envelope within the 4-15 W vary. The LPDDR5 RAM additionally is useful there, with no scarcity of power-saving options that come into play in low-stress situations like 2D video games and idle/sleep modes. That means a suspended Steam Deck ought to final “hours or even days” while not having to be plugged in, Valve mentioned.

When it’s plugged in by means of USB-C, although, the Deck can draw 45 W of energy, sufficient to cost at its full charge and energy a recreation on the identical time. The Steam Deck may also present 7.5 W of energy to plugged-in peripherals, sufficient to energy webcams, wired controllers, or exterior storage gadgets. For wi-fi equipment, Bluetooth 5.0 means Steam Deck can assist wi-fi headphones and “several controllers” on the identical time. It may also swap to Bluetooth Low Energy mode for less-intensive use instances.

Valve says it wished to ensure its APU delivered constant efficiency moderately than counting on “turbo boost” or different modes that may briefly up the hardware energy (and energy draw) on laptops and telephones. A recreation on Steam Deck ought to carry out identically within the first ten seconds and after hours of steady use, Valve mentioned, and recreation efficiency on Steam Deck needs to be constant whether or not plugged in, on battery, docked, charging, downloading video games. Even reasonably elevated ambient temperatures should not damage efficiency, Valve mentioned, although if issues get too scorching exterior, the system can throttle battery charging charges, obtain speeds, and even SSD speeds to maintain the GPU working as steadily as attainable.

Since the APU would not have any onerous limits for its energy draw, Valve says video games working on Steam Deck ought to impose a frames-per-second restrict of 60 fps (to match the show) or 30 fps (for video games that push the GPU) so as to preserve battery life. That frame-rate restrict additionally helps contribute to the Steam Deck’s battery life on many video games, AMD mentioned. If a recreation renders a body sooner than the 16.66 millisseconds wanted for the 60 fps body charge, the APU will immediately swap to the very low-power mode till the body is displayed, then swap again to full energy to calculate the subsequent body.

Valve says it is engaged on a world fps limiter to implement the 30/60 fps pointers throughout all video games working on the Steam Deck. Developers could have entry to “extra knobs” to assist tune the steadiness between efficiency and battery life as properly.

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