The promise of the Steam Deck to allow us to play any game from our Steam library comes with a small print and is that the operating system that comes standard is not Windows, but Steam OS, a Linux distribution based on Debian that allows us to run games from the Steam library for Windows brings with it a number of setbacks.
Is the Steam Deck architecture ready for Windows?
Considering that Steam Deck is based on PC hardware, as its main APU is from AMD with Zen CPU and therefore x86 and a GPU based on RDNA 2, the answer should be obvious. However, although Valve has stated that we’ll be able to install any operating system, the console comes standard with SteamOS, which gives it a modern console look and feel and allows us to use our Steam library directly.
So how does Valve get Windows games to work on the Steam Deck? Well, through ProtonDB, which is an interpreter that translates Windows system calls to Linux system calls and DirectX’s list of graphics commands to Vulkan or OpenGL. What this means is that the CPU has to do extra work to do that interpretation and since in the 3D pipeline the first piece of hardware to compose the next frame is the CPU this affects performance in two possible ways:
- A lower frame rate if we use a variable refresh rate.
- In case the refresh rate is fixed and with dynamic resolution, we will get a lower resolution.
Does the interpreter work well? It depends, the ones that work smoothly require more power and the ones that work relatively smoothly are few. Valve has announced that they’re going to add a mode to set the frame rate to 30 frames per second, which is great for certain games, but lousy in other genres. Anyway. Given that the interpreter is the work of the CPU, it makes sense that Valve would place more importance on power than the GPU.
Is it worth installing Windows on Steam Deck?
It depends, if we look at it from the perspective of games that don’t run well under ProtonDB it makes all the sense in the world, but you have to be very clear about one thing. SteamOS is an operating system designed to keep the load on the hardware to a minimum. It’s not the same to have an operating system as complex as Microsoft’s with all its processes running behind it than something like SteamOS. Not forgetting, of course, the interpreter. Of course, we must remember that there are games that don’t work directly on SteamOS, and some of them are really popular.So if you’re a fan of those games, you’ll have no choice but to install Windows.
Valve promises that we will be able to use SteamOS as a PC, but its biggest advantage is in its portability. Which makes it a unique product with a great value. And there’s nothing better than being able to play certain PC games anywhere. Too bad it’s not for sale, because taking one to the countryside, the hotel or the beach flat would be ideal.