The Steam Deck is nothing short of a revelation. Representing a stylish and effective way to play the latest indie darlings and high end PC games on the move, Valve’s chunky handheld gaming device is clearly beloved by many. In spite of its pick up and play nature however, there are still a number of tweaks and optimisations that you can make to get the most out of your trusty Steam Deck, especially where the most demanding Steam Deck games are concerned. So be sure to bookmark this handy guide as we let you know the best Steam Deck settings, tips and tricks you should be using to get the most out of your AAA games.
Some Steam Deck Games Soak Up More Battery Power Than Others
With Valve estimating the battery life of the Steam Deck at ‘between two and eight hours’ when playing games, it’s certainly fair to say that you’re dealing with a broad spectrum of potential battery usage there. Simply put, it really depends on the games that you’re playing on Steam Deck. If you’re playing less technically complicated fare such as retro JRPG Live A Live or less recent 3D titles such as Burnout Paradise Remastered, you’ll arguably get much closer to that eight hour limit. On the other hand though, if you’re intending to get stuck into games which boast higher quality visuals and more complex simulations that push the Steam Deck harder, such as Cyberpunk 2077, Returnal and others, then you can certainly expect battery life to be closer to the lower end of that scale. Thankfully, the Steam Deck provides no shortage of ways for players to tweak performance to secure the most battery life possible with any given title.
Turn Down The Brightness
It might seem obvious, but much like a mobile phone, there’s no real reason to have your poor Steam Deck running at full brightness all the time. Certainly given the varying light conditions that you’ll be playing the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Horizon Zero Dawn and others in, toning the brightness down to around the 50-60% mark will be helpful in allowing you to claw back a heap of precious minutes to keep the gaming going. You can find the brightness setting by pressing the ‘Steam’ button on the device itself and then go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Display’ and from here you can adjust the brightness however you like.
If Your Game Doesn’t Use The Internet Or Bluetooth – Turn Them Off
Like any mobile device, either being connected to WiFi, having a Bluetooth connection or always seeking out both types of connections is a major drain on battery life and Steam Deck is no different. So unless you’re playing games that require an internet connection, turn on Airplane Mode, kick back and enjoy all that extra battery life. To turn off WiFi and/or Bluetooth simply press the ‘Steam’ button on the device, navigate to ‘Settings’ and then go into either ‘Bluetooth’ or ‘Internet’ respectively to enable/disable Bluetooth and/or WiFi.
The SteamOS Performance Settings Have Everything You Need
Beyond tinkering with fairly generic options such as brightness, WiFi and other such considerations, the real lion’s share of variables which you can play with to extend the Steam Deck’s battery life can be found in the SteamOS performance settings. Allowing you to fiddle with everything from resolution, scaling filters to frame rate and thermal power limits, you can access the SteamOS performance settings by pressing the Quick Access Menu button (you can find it underneath the right touchpad). From here, simply navigate down to the battery icon, press A to open the Performance menu and a bounty of tweakable options will appear to help you extend the battery life of your Steam Deck. It’s also worth mentioning that there are some elements of the Performance menu that don’t really have much impact on performance. One of these elements is the ‘Allow Tearing’ which will disable the Vsync option within the software and can potentially make some games more responsive but without any real gain in battery life.
Be Realistic About Your Display Resolution
The resolution that you run games with on the Steam Deck directly affects the level of power consumption happening at any one time. The higher the resolution, the more power is consumed and of course the opposite also proves to be true. With its 800p screen, there’s not much point in running Steam Deck games at 1080p or higher since not only will you struggle to see the uptick in visual fidelity, but you’ll be sacrificing frame rates and bucketloads of battery life too. For many AAA games, including the likes of Cyberpunk 2077, Resident Evil 4 Remake and others, 720p is quite good enough and the gains in battery life are more than worth it. You can change the display resolution within the options menu of whichever game you happen to be playing, or you can override the resolution by going to the ‘Properties’ menu for that particular game, navigating to ‘General’ and then choosing the resolution you prefer from there.
Scaling Filters Can Smooth Out Lower Resolutions
Though lowering resolution is indeed an effective way to save battery life, particularly on more demanding and power hungry games, it’s understandable that lowering resolution too far can create a soft and lower detailed image that is less appealing to the eye. Keenly realising that gamers would want the best of both worlds, Valve have helpfully included a number of scaling filters that allow the Steam Deck to upscale from a lower resolution, resulting in a sharper image without unduly taxing the battery as a consequence. This is especially true with demanding 3D games where the use of the FSR filter can provide a good balance of image fidelity and battery life efficiency. The scaling filters can be accessed via the SteamOS performance settings overlay.
How Half-Rate Shading Can Help
Another useful option that the SteamOS performance settings provide is half-rate shading. What this essentially does is half the quality of shading in-game resulting in a more consistent framerate that doesn’t continually spike, reducing unwanted power draws on the Steam Deck battery in turn. It’s not a game changer that will save you a huge amount of battery life, but it all adds up in the end and every little bit helps, right?
Find A Refresh And Frame Rate You Are Comfortable With
As much as high resolutions can drain the battery of your Steam Deck, so too can high frame rates have the same effect. The important thing to remember is that not every game needs to run 60 frames per second, as nice as that would be. So it makes sense to tweak the Refresh Rate and Frame Rate Limit accordingly depending on the game that you’re playing. For example, while it might be nice to have the likes of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order speeding along at more than 40 frames per second, it arguably makes more sense to lock it at 40 frames per second and enjoy more stable performance and battery life instead.
To do this, simply navigate into the SteamOS performance settings overlay and navigate down to the refresh rate slider. From here, the refresh rate that you set will also directly affect the frame rate limit that you can set. Essentially if you have a game that is running at 43 to 48 frames per second because you have the refresh limit set at ‘60’ or ‘off’ you’ll get a decidedly stuttery visual presentation that unduly taxes the battery. Setting the refresh limit to a lower and more sensible number such as ‘40’, not only results in a smoother experience but saves a chunk of battery life into the bargain too. Every game is different however, with some running perfectly fine at a locked ‘60’ and others which don’t, so don’t be afraid to experiment with locked refresh rate settings to find that sweet spot.
Don’t Be Afraid To Fiddle With Thermal Power Limits
Another great thing that the SteamOS performance settings let you tinker with are the Thermal Power (TDP) limits which can have a sizable impact on how much juice the Steam Deck battery uses. Essentially, the TDP limit is a measurement of how much power the Steam Deck sends to the parts of the silicon that are needed to run games. The trick however, is that some games actually use more power than they need to and through the use of Steam Deck Game Profiles (which we’ll get to in a bit), you can set the TDP limit lower to claw back some of that precious battery life for your Steam Deck.
Getting A Balance Of Visual Presets
It stands to reason that the more intensive shadow, lighting and other effects that you have enabled in a given title, the more battery life is going to be sucked up as a result. So just about every game that you can run on the Steam Deck has a veritable smorgasbord of tweakable settings and options that you can tinker with to adjust performance and this is especially true with AAA games such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, DOOM Eternal and more. As a general rule while it’s wise to tone down special effects like shadows and lighting as they’re big battery life savers, it’s also worth remembering that the Steam Deck’s 800p screen won’t show many of those effects in their best light anyway, so you won’t be missing much.
Steam Deck Game Profiles Are Your Best Friend
While the Steam Deck offers a broad swathe of games that span the entirety of the technical spectrum, there are those that are clearly optimised for the Steam Deck (referred to by manufacturer Valve as ‘Deck Verified’) and those that are, well, not. Luckily, the Steam Deck allows users to configure game profiles on a game by game basis, enabling players to experience each game with its optimal settings at any given time.
To enable game profiles simply press the Quick Access button located underneath the trackpad and then access the Advanced Menu. To begin with, all games will run on the default settings, but when the game profile option has been enabled, specific profiles can be created for each game, allowing players to tailor each to their performance preferences.
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