Valve’s Steam Deck, just like many of the company’s hardware endeavors, has stirred up mixed responses to the portable PC gaming handheld. The device itself seems to have a yin yang characteristic to it. Its tempting price tag was offset by pre-order chaos, while its capable hardware, at least for a portable computer, was balanced by some puzzling decisions about its performance. The most controversial aspect seems to be the “30 FPS target” for the Steam Deck that Valve revealed. As it turns out, the story is actually more confusing than that simple statement.
The company best known for its Steam games store and platform revealed that the Steam Deck targets 30Hz gameplay. That sounds like an arbitrary and strange limitation considering that the device’s screen is actually capable of 60Hz refresh rates. At the same time, it does sound almost on par with the Nintendo Switch’s capabilities, except the older gaming handheld has far weaker hardware inside.
Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais later clarified that this 30 fps target is simply a floor or minimum requirement. Very few modern PC games run at lower than 30 fps these days anyway, so it’s a pretty low bar to reach. The developer also clarifies that the games they’ve tested so far exceeded that floor, perhaps giving hope that the experience, in general, won’t be as bad as that number sounds.
The more interesting revelation, however, is that the Steam Deck will have an optional built-in FPS limiter. This would allow users to pick between performance or battery life, the latter probably locking games at 30Hz.
This, however, raises even more questions and concerns about the quality of graphics that the Steam Deck will deliver. Considerations about frame syncing, frame-pacing, and tearing when locking games at this 30 fps mode will surely come up, though it’s definitely too early to say how good or bad the Steam Deck’s performance will be.