Valve is not looking to improve performance of the next iteration of Steam Deck, the designers of the portable console told The Verge. Instead, the company will for now try to improve the battery life and display quality of the device. Once computer architectures evolve significantly, Valve will possibly consider a major upgrade.
"I think we will opt to keep the one performance level for a little bit longer, and only look at changing the performance level when there is a significant gain to be had," said Pierre-Loup Griffais, a Steam Deck designer.
Many new games do not really run smoothly on Steam Deck's custom-designed Aerith system-on-chip featuring four Zen 2 cores with SMT at 2.40 to 3.50 GHz and an RDNA 2-based GPU with 512 stream processors operating at 1.0 to 1.60 GHz. As a result, demanding gamers (who tend to buy plenty of games) would prefer a Steam Deck with a higher-performing SoC in order to enjoy their latest titles on the go. But for now, Steam Deck designers Lawrence Yang and Pierre-Loup Griffais are looking forward to improving battery life and display in their next Steam Deck iteration.
While they tend to cost quite a bit more than the Steam Deck, there are competing handhelds that may find more of an audience with demanding gamers. The Aya Neo 2 is based on the AMD Ryzen 7 6800U (eight Zen 3+ cores, RDNA 2-powered Radeon 680M iGPU with 768 SPs), which delivers higher performance, but at the cost of battery life.
"Right now, the fact that all the Steam Decks can play the same games and that we have one target for users to understand what kind of performance level to expect when you are playing and for developers to understand what to target... there is a lot of value in having that one spec," said Griffais.
Indeed, there are many reasons why it makes sense for Valve to retain the same level of performance with the next iteration of the Steam Deck. If it didn't, it would need to run two separate Steam Deck Compatibility programs for two consoles with different specifications. Secondly, game developers would have to target two hardware configurations, which means longer time-to-market and higher costs for them. Thirdly, some owners of the first-generation Steam Deck would feel left behind once the second-generation launched. Finally, reducing the costs of the Steam Deck to make the hardware profitable makes more financial sense than increasing performance and not making any money on hardware. And as long as the Steam Deck is continuing to sell well, the company has little reason to make major upgrades.
While PC gamers may not exactly feel great about the lack of Steam Deck upgrades in the foreseeable future, it is a normal practice in the console world to keep hardware specifications stable for years. For example, Nintendo could have introduced its 'Switch Pro' based on a more powerful Nvidia SoC by now, but the only upgrade that the Switch console has seen over its five-year lifespan is a better OLED display.
And if you're a company that's new to the console market and looking to stay there for a long time, you could certainly do worse than looking to Nintendo for some guidance.