DF Direct Weekly: Should the next Steam Deck deliver more performance?

Welcome to the latest edition of DF Direct Weekly – and while the year is drawing to a close, there’s still not enough gaming and technology news to allow us to put on a show full. We begin by discussing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – now dated for ‘Fall’ 2023 – while also sharing our thoughts on how well Death Stranding’s content will make its transition to cinema.

The story that caught my eye this week was Sean Hollister’s interview with Valve on The Verge, in which the company revealed that any successor to the current Steam Deck would focus on quality-of-life functions like battery life and screen optimization, rather than offering too much. In the way of extra performance. Improved performance is always a good thing, but in this case, I think the decision is sound: it lays a foundation for all Steam Deck users, keeps existing hardware in-game, and addresses major issues you’re having with existing hardware. Model. Simply put, a display redefines “average” while battery life can be lacking in the latest games, or even by bumping up settings in older titles.

However, as you’ll see in the demo, I had concerns about how well the Steam Deck would survive the generational transition. It’s unfair to judge hardware based on suboptimal PC ports like the Callisto protocol – that’s where Deck struggles – but I was more concerned about whether the hardware had the performance to handle Unreal Engine 5 features like Lumen and Nanite. I actually followed this up after signing up by installing Windows on my deck and running Fortnite. At a resolution of 1280×800 with the TSR moderator in quality mode I can actually use the high end features and perform in the 30-36fps region (unfortunately the 30fps cap has framerate issues and there is some stutter in the traversal shader compilation) . I was really surprised by this considering how poor the UE5.0 demos were on the Valve machine.

DF Direct Weekly #91 is hosted and executive produced by Rich Leadbetter, Alex Battaglia, and John Linneman.
  • 00:00:00 Introduction
  • 00:01:00 News 01: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 will be released in the fall of 2023
  • 00:08:51 News 02: The Death Stranding movie is on
  • 00:14:45 News 03: Valve is discussing a Steam Deck successor
  • 00:26:45 News 04: RX 7900 XT / XTX review results
  • 00:51:34 News 05: PC return requirements announced
  • 00:57:39 News 06: High on Life launches with major issues, quickly corrected
  • 01:06:54 DF Support Q1: What games would you like to have RTX Remix optimizations for?
  • 01:10:51 DF Support Q2: Why doesn’t DLSS significantly reduce VRAM usage?
  • 01:12:22 DF Supporter Q3: Will you release DF performance analysis tools to the public?
  • 01:17:05 Supportive DF Q4: Would you rather play a game with great ray tracing but no shader pooling stutter, or a game without ray tracing without stuttering?

Another interesting point that emerges from the Valve interview is that designers remain happy with the custom Van Gogh AMD part they’re using in their deck, despite the advent of more powerful APUs – with many mobile devices arriving with the Ryzen 6800U, which packs in twice the amount Physical CPU cores along with more RDNA 2 compute units. Valve believes that the advantage of the 6800U specification makes it less suitable from an efficiency perspective for a handheld device. This is something I’ll be testing soon as the AyaNeo 2 just hits the Digital Foundry lair. I can’t wait to try this out – and it will be up against the 15W power limit against the Steam Deck soon.

This week, we also spend some time talking about the new AMD RDNA 3 GPUs, which I reviewed last week. On the face of it, Nvidia has given the Radeon team a prime target in the form of the excellent but very expensive RTX 4080 — and it’s clear the RX 7900 XTX in particular could outpace it in terms of rasterization. However, there’s also a fair amount of disappointment on social media about silicon failing to live up to expectations — expectations that were set in part by AMD themselves, promising performance improvements from 1.5x to 1.7x over the outgoing RX 6950 XT.

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

According to the review, I think the XTX is good — but not quite amazing — for its price point, while the XT sees AMD following in Nvidia’s footsteps by asking users to pay more for fewer contracts, relatively speaking, up from precedents in the GPU market. What’s also clear is that while the RX 6900 XT can mix it up with Nvidia’s contemporary — the RTX 3090 — in rasterization at least, AMD hasn’t been able to effectively replicate the trick with its dodgy RDNA 3 drivers, and while there will be some improvements, I think we need to. Just to accept that RDNA 3 is what it is. Whether the multi-chip design is as much of a performance drag as some had predicted remains unknown, but the RX 7800 XT and other lower-end cards will be based on single-chip designs, so we may gain more insight after that.

We also discuss High on Life, which launched in a slightly unfortunate state on Xbox Series consoles, with a deep camera stutter issue that made 60fps feel like a poorly paced 30fps. The good news for gamers is that the developer fixed the issue – and followed that up by addressing some of our other issues, including a fix for #StutterStruggle issues that made the PC version objectionable. However, it made our video coverage completely redundant, so we ended up canning the entire project – mostly because we didn’t have time to recover all of the required complementary footage. The video is available to all DF Supporters, however!

And yes, as always, backers have a great deal of input on the show – questions are asked each week, and a selection winds up on the final show, plus early access to backers, who can watch the new live show on Saturday, two days before Public version. Fancy joining us? I would love it if you did, and here are some reasons you might consider it!

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