The promise of the Steam Deck to allow us to play any game in 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 you to run games from the Steam library for Windows brings with it a series of setbacks.
Is the Steam Deck architecture ready for Windows?
Considering that the Steam Deck is based on PC hardware, since 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, despite the fact that Valve has stated that we can install any operating system, the console comes standard with SteamOS, which gives it a look and feel of a current console and allows us to use our Steam library directly.
So how does Valve get Windows games to work on the Steam Deck? Then via ProtonDB, which is a interpreter that translates system calls for Windows to system calls for Linux and the list of graphical commands from DirectX to Vulkan or OpenGL. Which means that CPU has to do extra work To make this 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 the case that the refresh rate is fixed and with dynamic resolution, we will obtain a lower resolution.
Is the interpreter working well? It depends, the ones that run smoothly require more power and the ones that run relatively smoothly are few. Valve has announced that they are adding a mode to set the frame rate to 30 per second, which is great for certain games, but lousy in other genres. In any case. Since the interpreter is the CPU’s job, it makes sense for Valve to place more importance on power than the GPU.
Is it worth installing Windows on the Steam Deck?
It depends, if we look at it from the perspective of games that don’t work 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 so that the load on the hardware is minimal. It is not the same to have an operating system as complex as Microsoft’s with all its processes running behind it than something like SteamOS. Without forgetting, of course, the interpreter. Of course, we must remember that there are games that do not directly work on SteamOS and some of them really popular, so if you are fans of those games you will have no other option than to install Windows.
Valve promises that we will be able to use the Steam OS as a PC, but its greatest advantage is in its portability. Which makes it a unique product with great value. And there is nothing better than being able to play certain PC games anywhere. Too bad it’s not for sale, because taking one to the country, to the hotel or to the beach floor would be ideal.