Valve's Steam Deck portable device could be the start of something beautiful for Linux gamers; proves that your operating system is more than capable of running your favorite games on the go. However, even before its release, the handheld PC game could be paying dividends for Linux games, as Valve and AMD join forces to improve CPU performance in the open source operating system.
Valve's next handheld gaming PC, the Steam Deck, is built around an AMD APU, which includes both a Zen 2 CPU and an RDNA 2 GPU. It's a Linux-based system, running SteamOS 3.0. an operating system that changes to use the Arch Linux distribution. This means that you will only be able to run Windows games using a compatibility layer, so Valve has it Steam Play, also known as Proton.
The Steam Play compatibility layer is the way Steam Deck will run games built for Windows, which are the majority, and it’s very important for Valve to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
How Phoronix notes, AMD and Valve are working together to improve the performance and energy efficiency of the ACPI CPUFreq controller, which is directly related to CPU frequency and power scale, when used in conjunction with Steam Play.
"[The ACPI CPUFreq driver] was not very effective in terms of performance / power for modern AMD platforms," quotes Phoronix, "a new CPU performance scale design for the AMD platform that has better performance per watt at scale, such as 3D games like Horizon Zero Dawn with VKD3D-Proton on Steam. "
Providing the existing CPUFreq ACPI driver leaves performance on the table, which apparently a much improved driver should be able to give Linux more direct and effective CPU control to get better processor performance with Steam Play.
Essentially, it will give Linux machines the means to make better use of the hardware at their fingertips. This is important when trying to get the most out of a battery-powered PC gaming computer, such as Steam Deck.
Valve hopes to achieve 30 fps gaming with Steam Deck, and with the low GPU power available on board, it will need to make sure the operating system and drivers are as streamlined as possible.
I suspect Valve and AMD will try to push new optimizations to the Linux driver package in the coming months. Valve to give Steam Deck the best opportunities when it arrives this December and AMD will give better support to its hardware ecosystem with optimal drivers for its partners. And to better compete with Intel, of course.