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Ray tracing on Steam Deck is possible, but there’s a catch

Ray tracing on Steam Deck is possible, but there's a catch

Due to the low-power nature of AMD graphics inside Valve’s Steam Deck, features like ray tracing seem impossible. However, the crazy lads at Digital Foundry showed that ray tracing on Steam Deck is actually possible – as long as you’re running Windows, that’s the case.

Richard Leadbetter put up a video on the Digital Foundry YouTube channel detailing how it works. It was a rather painstaking process of scanning SteamOS, installing Windows 10 to do the test, and then reinstalling SteamOS. Fortunately, there are at least official drivers for Windows 10 from Valve, which opens up completely new possibilities. These drivers were not available when the device was first launched.

As it stands now, ray tracing options are turned off in games that run either on SteamOS natively or through the Proton Compatibility Layer. Running Windows 10 via official game drivers allows RDNA 2 cores to be recognized on the APU and ray tracing unlocked. Of course, implementing ray tracing requires some sacrifice in resolution, i.e. about 540 pixels.

Leadbetter tested a few games that support ray tracing like second earthquakeAnd controlAnd subway displacementAnd Eternal torment. It was able to achieve 60 frames per second (fps) second earthquake With full ray tracing with 252 pixels blurry resolution. Metro Exodus did slightly better at 504p and uses the game’s temporary aliasing raise (TAAU) to offset the ray tracing performance penalty.

The Steam Deck user interface appears on the screen.

Given the partnership between Valve and AMD, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some ray tracing along with AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) on Steam. The Xbox Series X has already been confirmed to use FSR 2.0 (although it’s still not confirmed for PS5 despite similar APU architectures). Using FSR 2.0 will go a long way towards implementing native ray tracing in SteamOS games.

Ars Technica felt that since AMD is taking many aspects of TAAU to implement FSR 2.0, it shouldn’t be difficult to implement this on Steam Deck. In fact, Steam Deck already supports FSR 1.0.

Steam Deck is Valve’s first gritty experience and demonstrates a way to unlink PC gaming from traditional desktop roots. However, as a first-generation product, it has suffered from some glaring problems like buggy software and terrible battery life. The addition of Windows drivers turned SteamOS into an excellent ray tracing powerhouse.

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