Tech

Steam Deck handles ray tracing and demanding games better than you think

In a nutshell: Valve’s Steam Deck portable PC has already been praised for its ability to play the latest games designed for consoles and desktops, such as Elden Ring. However, Digital Foundry decided to test the device on some of the most demanding PC games currently available. The results were somewhat impressive, confirming that Steam Deck technically supports ray tracing, albeit at a lower resolution than the original 1280 x 800 display.

Steam Deck temperature and power limitations hold it back compared to consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series, but its GPU is based on the same RDNA 2 architecture as ray tracing capable machines. This week, Digital Foundry decided to take a look at how Steam Deck processed some of the most intense ray tracing tests in games like Metro Exodus: Enhanced Edition, Control: Ultimate Edition, and Quake 2 RTX.

Tests like this weren’t possible before Valve released the Windows drivers for Steam Deck, as SteamOS doesn’t support RDNA 2 ray tracing by default.

Installing Windows on a Steam Deck comes with significant downsides, at least for now, such as the current lack of audio drivers and a 30fps power-saving mode.

However, Windows supports ray tracing in Steam Deck. Metro is an advanced ray tracing demo, and Steam Deck manages to play it at 30fps and around 504p (896 x 504) with graphics similar to what players see on the Xbox Series S.

The handling was much worse, possibly due to the fact that the game predates RDNA2, so developer Remedy was unable to optimize ray tracing for that architecture. Players looking to forego ray tracing will have much more fun playing Control on SteamOS. Quake 2 RTX, which uses much more demanding path tracing, can only hit 60fps at just 216p.

Digital Foundry also tested Steam Deck on Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is a notorious PC killer despite not using ray tracing. SteamOS can’t play it due to anti-cheat incompatibilities, but the Windows-based Steam Deck mostly manages 30fps at Series S-like settings at 612p.

The demo version of Unreal Engine 5 Valley of the Ancients was too far for the deck’s processor. However, this is an early example of the capabilities of the next generation engine, and as such, it’s probably not the best indicator of how Valve’s portable can handle future UE5 games.

These tests show that Steam Deck can work effectively with the latest graphics, depending on resolution trade-offs. Dynamic resolution scaling will be a big help, and a future update from Valve could unlock ray tracing on SteamOS. It remains to be seen how long the device will be able to run the latest blockbuster games.


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