Valve’s Steam Deck has finally started shipping to those who pre-ordered the machine early. It will take a long time for everyone to get their handheld game machine, and maybe Windows will work well by the time they do. It doesn’t work particularly well right now, but Valve did just release the drivers last week. Testing with the early Windows implementation shows the Linux-based SteamOS performing better, which is not what you’d usually expect from a Windows vs. Linux matchup.
The Steam Deck looks like a larger, modern take on the Sega Game Gear — it’s a chunky black slab that runs more advanced games than its handheld competition, but it doesn’t last very long on a charge. Sure, there are compromises, but the Steam Deck can play new high-end PC games like Elden Ring and God of War, which other devices this size cannot. It’s even powerful enough to run Windows, but now we know just how much performance will suffer thanks to some early testing.
According to the LinusTechTips YouTube channel, Windows frame rates are noticeably lower than SteamOS. LTT ran the Steam Deck through its paces with Hitman 3, Doom Eternal, and Elden Ring. With Hitman 3, the Deck hit 34 fps with SteamOS and just 19 with Windows, which is not really playable in my experience. It does better with Doom Eternal at 60fps on SteamOS and 47 on Windows. Elden Ring was closer at 37 fps on Linux vs. 30 fps on Windows.
We’re used to Linux gaming disappointments, some of which have come courtesy of Valve. The Steam Deck doesn’t seem to be one of them. It’s been optimized for gaming on Linux, and the Proton compatibility layer is doing its job. So, there’s really no reason to go out of your way to install Windows on the Steam Deck right now.
We do expect that Windows improvements will come to the Steam Deck. Currently, the Steam Deck only supports Windows 10 because there’s no fTPM, a requirement for Windows 11. Valve will add fTPM support in a future update, but there’s no telling if Windows 11 will run any better than Windows 10. It might even run worse, for all we know. Valve is not exactly incentivised to optimize for Windows when its default OS is already running games surprisingly well.
If you want to get your hands on the Steam Deck, hopefully you’ve already ordered one. New pre-orders are expected to ship late in 2022.