Valve Steam Deck Gets A Major Performance Boost Feature And It Hasn't Even Shipped Yet
Folks who had experience with the old version of SteamOS might recall that it was little more than Ubuntu with a Steam-flavored coat of paint. The upcoming release of SteamOS, initially shipping with the Steam Deck, however, is not going to be that. Though the new edition of SteamOS is derived from Arch Linux, Valve is expending considerable amounts of effort writing custom operating system components that will make it more suited for use on a gaming machine.
One of the main features contributing to this change will be the Gamescope desktop compositor. To put it in simple terms, this is an operating system component that sits between the display driver and the rest of the operating system, and controls how window graphic data is composed on screen with other window graphic data. Gamescope is based on Vulkan and Wayland, and intended to massively improve performance and compatibility while running games alongside other applications.
Gamescope already supported a bunch of cool features, like integer scaling for pixel-perfect upsampling of low-resolution content, but according to Phoronix, it now has a new fancy feature: AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution. Regular HotHardware readers are sure to be familiar with "FSR," but in case you've just crawled out of a hole (or are a console gamer), it's a carefully-tuned shader package that helps upscaled 3D games not look quite so crunchy as they otherwise might.
We directly compared FSR against NVIDIA's DLSS as well as a "TAA upscale" in our God of War review, so check that out if you haven't seen it. The short version is that while FSR doesn't quite compare to the AI-based technique from Mean Green in terms of overall quality, it's a darn sight better than nothing at all. Games that integrate FSR would already have worked on the Steam Deck, but this update to Gamescope means that it can in theory be used on any title played on the Steam Deck. Fundamentally, this gives feature parity with AMD's "Radeon Super Resolution" feature on Windows.
Valve's handheld's internal display has a pretty low resolution, so we don't expect FSR to actually be all that useful for games played in handheld mode, but if you dock your Steam Deck with a full HD (or bigger) monitor, it could be a lifesaving feature for the little Van Gogh APU inside. Van Gogh will surely be potent for its size class, but full-HD AAA gaming in 2022 is still a big ask for a single sub-15W chip. Frankly, it's sort-of astonishing that we're even talking about it as a possibility.
Of course, we'll see how the Steam Deck performs when it comes out. We could be in for a surprise. Did you pre-order one? Let us know what you're expecting in the comments below.