Steam Deck performance has been put to the test through a range of the most demanding games, with the portable device itself generally faring reasonably well – with a few caveats as you might expect.
Digital Foundry (Opens in a new tab) (via Tom’s Hardware (Opens in a new tab)) ran this round of testing, and put the Steam Deck through its paces with some of the most challenging PC games including the likes of A Plague Tale: Requiem, Gotham Knights, and more.
A Plague Tale: Requiem looks great, and is a tricky cookie to handle on both the GPU and CPU, which is probably why the Steam Deck struggles somewhat. Digital Foundry picked it up because of that overwrought nature, of course, and noted that all graphics settings had to be pushed to their lowest (except for texture resolution), and the game ran at 720p (from more like 360p).
Net Effect was still a reasonable-looking game, albeit with some omissions (such as low-quality foliage, and indeed a very close draw distance) and visual glitches, and 30 frames per second (fps) was mostly achieved – just not without stuttering in places, Especially in densely populated locations. (The game is notorious for this, though even with a full PC setup there will be stuttering in some areas.)
Gotham Knights falls into a similar category, with its inherent performance issues, and it’s a game that puts some serious stress on the CPU. Even when all graphics settings are dropped, Digital Foundry noted that the game lags well below 30fps in open-world areas, with plenty of stutter appearing.
This isn’t a good experience on the Steam Deck, then, but as mentioned, there are broader performance (and stability) issues with Gotham Knights, so mobile has always been difficult to hack.
Both games highlight that in titles that have heavy CPU workloads, the Steam Deck can struggle more (although A Plague Tale: Requiem still runs fine, albeit with far from ideal visuals).
Digital Foundry also found that Need for Speed Unbound pushed the deck’s capabilities, but that it was “an overall good experience”, The Witcher 3 (with the recent next-gen upgrade applied) worked well enough (and looked good enough on chosen settings), albeit with some stuttering in denser city environments.
The Callisto protocol also works well with reasonable levels of graphics settings, with the caveat that it takes the help of FSR 2—AMD’s frame rate boosting feature—in Performance mode. Finally, the PC port of Uncharted 4 performed admirably on Valve’s mobile device, achieving a solid, consistent 30fps (albeit again with the help of FSR 2).
Analysis: Poop Deck? Not a part of it – besides, the initial performance misses the point for many
Digital Foundry has been quietly impressed with the Steam Deck’s overall performance when up against some of the more taxing games these days – as long as the gamer doesn’t mind dropping the graphics settings appropriately (and may encounter a few minor glitches and visual artifacts here and there).
The article concluded: “It’s quite true that the Steam Deck can run compelling experiences with modern, big-budget games – but… it’s possible to push the system’s limits on major titles – even with everything running on minimal settings.”
“The AMD Van Gogh APU at the heart of the deck is a great mobile chip, but it clearly has its limits — especially in CPU-limited scenarios.”
We suppose the concern might be, then, that with next year’s games challenging, the Steam Deck will start to lag more, and even tweaking and gimmicks (and FSR, when available) won’t get you to play anything in the future.
Perhaps the concern for some people has been exacerbated by what we’ve heard about the next iteration of Steam Deck. That is, it won’t boost performance, preferring to maintain a level playing field for all device owners going forward, rather than focusing on screen and battery life as key areas for improvement. Only with the deck incarnated after that can we (probably) expect better performance.
However, focusing too closely on Steam Deck performance in some ways misses the point. For starters, we have to remember that this is a handheld PC, and it will never give you the same experience as a full desktop setup, with a big old PC case that can fit a giant discrete GPU inside (if you want to shell out for the latter — price is the issue. The other one is here, with the deck being much cheaper than the average gaming PC, of course).
The whole point of the Steam Deck is to make a device that can be taken anywhere and around, or allow you to have a short gaming session in bed, last thing at night – and pound for pound, it delivers impressive levels of performance for what it is.
Moreover, many owners (including the Deck junkies at TechRadar) have no interest in playing AAA or heavily taxing games on the device. They use the Steam Deck to enjoy older (less demanding, naturally) games, and fill in the empty spots and classics that have been stuck unplayed in their game library — or to play indie games, which will run just as well as a dream on the Steam Deck. (Or, in fact, some people go retro gaming with deck simulations, not because we condone the latter practice, of course.)
Arguably, this kind of tool is really what Steam Deck is all about, as a companion to the gaming PC in many (most?) cases. Because, after all, even if Deck could (somehow) run complex and demanding AAA games (somehow) smoothly without breaking a sweat, would you really want to play those games on a small screen? No, you’ll want to be sitting in front of your (ideally) big gaming screen to enjoy those sweeping graphics and landscapes to their fullest.
That’s not to say a faster-performing Steam Deck won’t be a boon, and one such model will no doubt be coming, as Valve seems to have firm long-term plans for mobile devices. Just don’t expect it anytime soon (and apparently not with Next Deck, from what we’ve heard so far as mentioned above).