Valve is confident that its Steam Deck portable PC is future proof, despite its compact size and modest hardware specifications. However, the developer is not against the idea of creating future generations of Steam Deck hardware, and even hopes other companies will get involved.
Talking to IGN, developer Pierre-Loup Griffais said that things are looking “pretty good” for Steam Deck in regards to future proofing. “Everything that’s been coming out this year [that we’ve tried] has been running without issues,” he said. “I think this is largely a factor of industry trends. If people are still valuing high frame rates and high resolutions on different platforms, I think that content will scale down to our 800p, 30Hz target really well. If people start heavily favoring image quality, then we might be in a position where we might have trade offs, but we haven’t really seen that yet.”
While the Steam Deck’s hardware is roughly comparable to a last-generation console, Valve notes that the device uses the latest generation AMD hardware for its CPU and GPU, which is a “big factor” in its performance. In addition, the Steam Deck also uses brand new memory hardware. “We’re using the LPDDR5, which is brand new to the industry,” said hardware engineer Yazan Aldehayyat, talking about the device’s RAM. “I think we might actually be one of the first products to showcase this new memory technology. So in that sense, that gives a lot of future proofing.”
Because of the AMD RDNA 2 graphics hardware being used, the Steam Deck is technically capable of ray tracing. Currently ray tracing is targeted by games with high-end graphics, but Griffais believes there will be a time when the lighting system comes within the range of the Steam Decks capabilities. “I think there’ll come a time where we can enable that feature and see what we get,” he said.
One new technology that is already working on the Steam Deck is AMD’s FidelityFX super sampling, which helps achieve higher frame rates through the use of upscaled images. “We’ve actually been working pretty closely with AMD on testing FSR, and giving them feedback throughout the development process,” said Griffais. “As you’ve seen, we’ve released a Dota 2 update that supports FSR. All these games that support FSR just work on this device, and FSR kicks in just the way you’d expect.”
While the Steam Deck may have enough going on inside it to keep it relevant into the future, no hardware can remain current forever. With that in mind, Valve is thinking about how it can evolve and iterate on this first model.
“We look at this as just a new category of device in the PC space,” said Steam Deck designer Greg Coomer. “And assuming that customers agree with us that this is a good idea, we expect not only to follow up in the future with more iterations ourselves, but also for other manufacturers to want to participate in the space.”
“We want to make sure people know that the SteamOS 3 is available free, for any manufacturer that wants to make a similar product,” said designer Lawrence Yang. Similar to Valve’s past idea for Steam Machines, we could see a future where Steam Decks from multiple manufacturers exist in the world.
For more on Valve’s handheld, check out all of our new and exclusive Steam Deck info, how its operating system bridges the gap between console and PC, our hands-on, and how it compares to a Nintendo Switch.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.