Steam Deck handles ray tracing and demanding games better than you think

In a word: Valve’s Steam Deck laptop has already been praised for its ability to handle recent games made for consoles and desktops like Elden Ring. However, Digital Foundry has decided to test the device on some of the most demanding PC games currently available. The results were quite impressive, confirming that the Steam Deck technically supports ray tracing, albeit at a lower resolution than its display’s native 1280 x 800 resolution.

The Steam Deck’s thermal and power limitations hold it back against consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series, but its GPU is based on the same RDNA 2 architecture as those ray-tracable machines. This week, Digital Foundry decided to see how Steam Deck handled some of the most intense ray tracing benchmarks in games like Metro Exodus: Enhanced Edition, Control: Ultimate Edition, and Quake 2 RTX.

Tests like this weren’t possible before Valve released the Windows drivers for the Steam Deck, because the machine’s default SteamOS doesn’t support RDNA 2 ray tracing.

Installing Windows on the Steam Deck has some significant downsides, at least for now, such as the current lack of audio drivers and a 30fps battery saver mode.

However, Windows does enable ray tracing on the Steam Deck. Metro is an advanced showcase of ray-tracing and Steam Deck manages to reproduce it at 30 fps and with a resolution of around 504p (896 x 504), with graphics similar to what players see on the Xbox Series S.

Control fared much worse, possibly because the game predates RDNA2, so developer Remedy couldn’t tweak its ray tracing around that architecture. Gamers willing to forgo ray tracing will have a lot of fun playing Control on SteamOS. Quake 2 RTX, which uses much more demanding path tracking, could only hit 60fps at resolutions up to 216p.

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Digital Foundry also tested Steam Deck on Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is a notorious PC killer despite not using ray tracing. SteamOS cannot play this due to anti-cheat incompatibility, but a Steam Deck on Windows mostly manages 30fps at 612p S-series settings.

Unreal Engine 5’s Valley of the Ancients demo turned out to be a bridge too far for the Deck’s processor. This is a prime example of the next-gen engine’s capabilities, however, and therefore probably not a good indicator of how well Valve’s handheld can handle future UE5 games.

These tests show that Steam Deck can run state-of-the-art graphics, depending on resolution trade-offs. Dynamic resolution scaling would be of great help, and a future update from Valve could unlock ray tracing in SteamOS. It remains to be seen how long the device will be able to handle the latest blockbuster games.

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