The details came as part of a Steamworks Virtual Conference, a series of six streamed videos that, while targeted at developers creating games for the Steam Deck, was free for anyone to watch.
One of the most interesting – and nerdy – revelations is the name of the Steam Deck’s system on chip or SOC. Called Aerith, likely after the Final Fantasy VII character, Valve hardware engineer Yazan Aldehayyat says it “has four Zen2 cores capable of eight threads up to 3.5 gigahertz and our GPU is RDNA2-based with 8CUs [Compute Units] running at 1.6 gigahertz.”
Saying that the system architecture should be “very familiar” to developers, Aldehayyat adds that “most games on Steam will not only be compatible with these architectures but a lot of them will also be specifically optimised for it right out of the box.”
The Accelerated Processing Unit has been custom-designed in partnership with AMD, and Aldehayyat says that “the level of performance, per watt, we were able to achieve with this processor would simply not have been possible using any off-the-shelf processor that exists today.”
The handheld’s memory was also touched on, with the Steam Deck opting for LPDDR 5 RAM – Low Power Double Data Rate, generation 5, or LP5 for short. Saying that “Steam Deck is going to be one of the first devices to utilise LP5”, Aldehayyat explains that the APU “runs a 128-bit wide memory bus at 5.5GHz [which] combines to a total of 88 gigabytes per second worth bandwidth.” This, Aldehayyat says, outperforms “dedicated desktop-grade GPUs” when measured on a per-teraFLOP basis.
In total, the system will have 16GB of unified memory, between the CPU and the GPU. This was a decision made with a degree of future-proofing in mind, with Aldehayyat saying “although most games on Steam today are more than happy with 8GB or even 12GB, we think that that might change in the future. We really wanted to make sure that Steam Deck is not only compatible with games that exist today, but could also run games that haven’t even come out yet.”
Consistency of experience is also being considered, with Valve’s “primary objective” being to “provide consistent performance for extended periods of time”. This meant looking at heat management, and that rather than enabling “turbo boost” functions, or enabling overclocking for “any kind of bursty performance”, the manufacturer preferred clock speeds that “we think we can sustain indefinitely.”
Aldehayyat says that translates to “the performance a game gets in the first 10 seconds is likely to be the same performance you get two hours from now, or maybe even indefinitely if you’re plugged into the wall.”
While acknowledging that players in hotter environments (“Florida in July”) may run out of “thermal headroom”, Steam Deck will look at other ways of reducing its power drain before affecting game performance. Aldehayyat says that “things like charge rates, download speeds, even SSD bandwidth” will be throttled first, “to try to maintain the GPU clock running as high as possible for as long as possible.”
As part of its power management suite, the Steam Deck will also be powered by a USB-C port capable of drawing 45 watts which “should be enough power to both run the device at max load and simultaneously charge at the full rate.”
The Steam Deck will also be able to deliver 7.5W of power, enabling it to support external peripherals such as webcams, wired controllers, keyboards, or storage devices.
It sounds like the Steam Deck is shaping up to be an impressively powerful and versatile piece of kit – which due to global chip and component shortages might help explain why its release has been pushed back to 2022. Still, for anyone still champing at the bit for more details ahead of its launch, the full dev-focussed Steamworks Virtual conference can be seen here.
In other news, head of Xbox Phil Spencer has revealed his regret over announcing Halo Infinite as a launch title for Xbox Series X|S, while Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser has discussed the company’s efforts to fix “drift” issues on Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers.