DF Direct Weekly: Should the next Steam deck be more powerful?

Welcome to the latest DF Direct Weekly – and as the year draws to a close there still seems to be enough gaming and tech news to give us a packed show. We’ll begin by discussing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – now dated Fall 2023 – while also sharing our thoughts on how Death Stranding’s content would work for the cinematic transition.

The story that caught my eye this week was Sean Hollister’s interview with Valve on The Verge, where the company revealed that any successor to the existing Steam deck would focus on quality of life features like battery life and an improved screen, rather than delivering a lot of extra performance. Improved performance is always a good thing, but in this case I think the decision is reasonable: it sets a baseline for all Steam deck users, keeps the current in-game hardware, and fixes key issues with the existing one Model. Simply put, the screen redefines “mediocre” while battery life can be poor in the latest games or even by booting up the settings on older titles.

However, as you’ll see on the show, I had concerns about the extent to which Steam Deck could survive the cross-gen transition. It’s unfair to judge the hardware based on subpar PC ports like The Callisto Protocol – where the deck struggles – but I was more concerned about whether the hardware has the power to support Unreal Engine 5 features like Lumen and Nanite handle. I actually followed this up after recording by installing Windows on my deck and running Fortnite. At a resolution of 1280 x 800 with TSR media in quality mode, I can actually use the high-end features and the performance is in the 30-36 fps range (Unfortunately the 30fps cap has framepacing issues and there is some shader compilation stuttering when iterated). I was really surprised by this considering how poorly UE5.0 demos performed on the Valve machine.

DF Direct Weekly #91 will be hosted and conducted by Rich Leadbetter, Alex Battaglia and John Linneman.
  • 00:00:00 introduction
  • 00:01:00 News 01: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is scheduled for release in fall 2023
  • 00:08:51 News 02: Death Stranding movie in the works
  • 00:14:45 News 03: Valve discusses Steam Deck successor
  • 00:26:45 News 04: Aftermath of the RX 7900 XT/XTX review
  • 00:51:34 News 05: Recurring PC requirements announced
  • 00:57:39 News 06: High on Life starts with big problems, quickly patched
  • 01:06:54 DF Supporter Q1: Which games would you like to get RTX Remix improvements for?
  • 01:10:51 DF Supporter Q2: Why doesn’t DLSS lower VRAM usage significantly?
  • 01:12:22 DF supporters Q3: Would you ever open the DF performance analysis tools to the public?
  • 01:17:05 DF Contributor Q4: Would you rather play a game with great ray tracing but stuttering in shader composition, or a non-ray tracing game with no stuttering?

Another interesting point to glean from the Valve interview is that despite the emergence of more powerful APUs, designers remain happy with the custom Van Gogh AMD part they use in the deck – with several handhelds using the Use Ryzen 6800U, which packs twice as many physical CPU cores along with more RDNA 2 compute units. Valve believes the 6800U spec advantage makes it less suitable for a handheld from an efficiency standpoint. This is something I’ll be testing soon, once the AyaNeo 2 has just arrived at the Digital Foundry’s hideout. I can’t wait to try it out – and a 15W power limit duel against Steam Deck is coming.

We’re also spending some time this week talking about the new AMD RDNA 3 GPUs that I reviewed last week. At first glance, Nvidia has given the Radeon team a prime target with the excellent but overpriced RTX 4080 – and it’s clear that the RX 7900 XTX in particular can outperform them in terms of rasterization. However, there’s also a lot of disappointment on social media that the silicon doesn’t live up to expectations – expectations set in part by AMD itself, promising 1.5x to 1.7x performance improvements over the outgoing RX 6950 XT.

Steam Deck doesn’t run Fortnite on SteamOS, but we installed Windows to put Lumen and Nanite to the test and found that a comfortable 30fps was possible with settings largely similar to Xbox Series S – and with minimal tweaks to the Settings.

Per the review, I think the XTX is okay for its price – but not exactly spectacular – while the XT sees AMD following in Nvidia’s footsteps by asking users to pay more for less, setting the decades-old precedent relatively upside down GPU market. It is also clear that the RX 6900 XT could confuse it with its Nvidia contemporary – the RTX 3090 – at least in terms of the grid, but AMD was not able to repeat this trick so effectively with RDNA 3. Twitter is full of theories about under-baked silicon and dodgy drivers, and while there will be some improvements I believe we just have to accept that RDNA 3 is what it is. Whether the multi-chiplet design impacts performance, as some have speculated, remains unknown, but the RX 7800 XT and other low-end cards will be based on single-chip designs, so we may have more insights then.

We also review High on Life, which launched in a somewhat sad state on Xbox Series consoles, with a severe camera stutter issue that made 60fps look more like 30fps with poor frame pacing. The good news for players is that the developer fixed the issue – and subsequently fixed some of our other issues, including fixing the #StutterStruggle issues that made the PC version objectionable. However, it completely obliterated our video coverage, so we scrapped the entire project – mainly because we simply didn’t have time to re-shoot all of the required B-roll. However, the video is available to all supporters of the DF Supporter Program!

And yes, as always, backers have plenty of input on the show – questions are asked each week, a selection of which ends up in the final show, plus there’s early access to backers to watch the new Direct on Saturday, a few days before general release. Want to join us? I would love it if you did, and here are some reasons why you might consider it!

Download at: https://www.eurogamer.net/digitalfoundry-2022-df-direct-weekly-should-the-next-steam-deck-deliver-more-performance

Fry Electronics Team

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