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Valve Steam Deck performance claims make it a lot easier to skip Switch OLED

Steam Deck being played
(Image credit: Valve)

The biggest question around the Valve Steam Deck is how well will it run games. Sure, Valve has said that this handheld PC will be “targeting 30 FPS,” but that didn't make things super clear; after all, aiming for something isn’t the same as hitting it. 

But thankfully Valve's Pierre-Loup Griffais popped up to add some clarity ,noting that 30 frames per second is actually the minimum framerates Steam Deck users can expect from games. “Games we've tested and shown have consistently met and exceeded that bar so far,” tweeted Griffais. 

That’s some good news, as 30 fps is pretty much the minimum frame rate I’d want for games to be palatable for any length of time.

I can put up with the odd drop in frame rate that can occasionally happen in demanding games on the likes of the Nintendo Switch. But sustained frame rates below 30 fps can make for some unpleasant gaming. And the new Switch OLED doesn't promise any better performance when it comes to gameplay; it's mostly just about the better display with the same guts. 

Of course, diehard PC gamers might not accept anything below 60 fps as acceptable, especially as we live in an era of high refresh rate monitors and powerful graphics cards like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080. But then compromises need to be made when it comes to effectively being able to easily carry around your Steam library. 

Speaking of which, Valve has also recently detailed how the use of SD cards will effectively allow users to have dynamically removable Steam Libraries, thanks to simply swapping SD cards loaded with a selection of Steam games in and out of the Steam Deck. 

With 30 fps as the minimum frame rate, the Steam Deck also has the potential to run games at higher frame rates with some tweaking of settings, especially as it’s only targeting a 720p resolution output. 

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However, Griffais also noted that the Steam Deck will come with “an optional built-in FPS limiter” in order to allow users to fine tune the balance of performance versus battery life.

This is interesting, as for people on a short 30 minute commute, the chance to have access to the Steam Deck’s full power could be handy, especially if they’re playing a fast-paced game like Control, But then the option to scale that back for longer transits, such as an international flight, widens the Steam Deck’s scope.

I also find this to be rather promising, as it seems to reinforce the idea that the Steam Deck will let users do a whole lot with and to it, rather than insisting upon certain settings. For folks who like to tinker, the Steam Deck could be a rather promising handheld machine.

I’m not hugely into the whole tweaking and customization world that has seen some people run N64 games on things like the PS Vita or run Windows 10 on the Switch. But the flexibility of the Steam Deck is rather appealing, especially as the games it can run will also have access to the Steam Workshop mods that can hugely boost the amount of content available for games like Skyrim.

You can pre-order the Valve Steam Deck right now, though expect to wait until 2022 before you actually get your hands on the console.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer is U.K. Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.