Valve Provides Deep Dive Into Steam Deck Custom Hardware Design

Full, hour-long, developer-focused tour of Valve.

Valve’s portable Steam Deck hardware may be delayed for a few months, but that hasn’t stopped Valve from discussing many interesting details about the system for a while. a large-scale developer-focused livestream Friday. This included many in-depth discussions of hardware specifications and software interpolation, but also design decisions about how to balance hardware power and battery power issues. AMD’s bespoke Steam Deck APU, nicknamed Aerith after the Final Fantasy VII character, is the heart of the system and has been the focus of the presentation. AMD says the system is the company’s first mobile chip to feature a RDNA2 GPU architecture, so it should have full support for DirectX 12 and the latest Vulkan APIs. This also means that not only will Steam Deck be compatible with the entire Steam library, but many Steam games already will. optimized for the specific chip configuration found inside, Valve says.

The CPU part of the Aerith chip includes four Zen 2 cores capable of running eight threads at 3.5 Ghz. Meanwhile, the GPU has eight RDNA2 compute units running at 1.6Ghz.

While most Steam games these days get by on just 8 or 12 GB of RAM, Valve said they chose to put in 16 GB of RAM. LPDDR5 RAM in the Steam Deck because “we want to make sure that Steam Deck is not only compatible with games today, but can also run games that haven’t even been released yet.” A minimum of 1 GB of this RAM is dedicated to the GPU, but the unified architecture of Steam Deck means that the GPU can access up to 8 GB depending on what is happening in the game or even exceed this limit “game to game”. Game”. RAM’s 128-bit wide bus also allows for a total memory bandwidth of 88 Gbps, or 55 Gbps / TFLOP, which Valve says outperforms some desktop GPUs.

When it comes to storage, Valve said their tests showed little difference in actual load time between eMMC drives (on low-end Steam Deck models), NVMe SSDs (on high-end models). and the integrated SD. card reader. Despite very different bandwidth speeds for each option, boot times differed by 25% or less from each other in Valve’s first tests (although the company said tests are currently far from complete).

Drums sipping

Valve has spent a lot of time explaining how the Steam Deck has been optimized for battery life, specially designed to accommodate a small power envelope of 4-15W. LPDDR5 RAM is also useful there- low, with power saving features that come into play in low stress scenarios like 2D games and sleep / wake modes. This means that a suspended Steam Deck should last “hours or even days” without needing to be plugged in, Valve said.

However, when plugged in via USB-C, the Deck can consume 45W, enough to charge fully and power a game at the same time. The Steam Deck can also provide 7.5W of power to plugged-in peripherals, enough to power webcams, wired controllers, or external storage devices. For wireless accessories, Bluetooth 5.0 means Steam Deck can support wireless headphones and “multiple controllers” at the same time. It can also switch to Bluetooth low power consumption mode for less intensive use cases.

Valve says he wanted to make sure his APU delivered consistent performance rather than relying on “turbo boost” or other modes that can temporarily increase the hardware power (and power consumption) of laptops and phones. A game on Steam Deck should perform identically within the first ten seconds and after hours of continuous use, Valve said, and the game’s performance on Steam Deck should be consistent, whether plugged in, on battery, docked. , charging, downloading games. Even moderately high ambient temperatures shouldn’t hurt performance, Valve said, but if things get too hot outside, the system can reduce battery charge rates, download speeds, and even video speeds. SSD to keep the GPU running as smoothly as possible.

Since the APU doesn’t have hard limits for its power consumption, Valve says games running on Steam Deck should impose a 60 fps frame-per-second limit (to match the display) or 30 fps (for games that push the GPU) to conserve battery life. This frame rate limit also contributes to Steam Deck battery life on many games, AMD said. If a game renders an image faster than the 16.66 seconds required for the 60 fps frame rate, the APU will instantly go into super low power mode until the image is displayed, then return to full power to calculate the next image.

Valve says he’s working on an overall fps limiter to enforce the 30/60 fps guidelines in all games running on Steam Deck. Developers will have access to “extra buttons” to help adjust the balance between performance and battery life.

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