Nintendo Switch OLED threat escalates as Steam Deck speed upgrade confirmed

Valve has recruited AMD to help build a new Linux CPU driver that should mean even better Steam Deck performance

Nintendo Switch OLED Steam Deck
(Image credit: Valve)

Nintendo Switch OLED first impressions are now out, and they appear mixed to say the least. On the one hand the console's new OLED screen seems to enhance the portable offering of the system, but on the other the machine's lack of any internal hardware upgrade, or addition of long-overdue basic features like Bluetooth headphone support, have left many commentators disappointed.

And, things appear to have just gotten a lot worse for the Nintendo Switch OLED, too. That's because the other hot new handheld to be unveiled recently, the Valve Steam Deck, has just been reported as being set to benefit from a powerful new processor upgrade that should mean it capable of even better gaming performance.

The report comes courtesy of tech site Phoronix, who states that, "along with other optimizations to benefit the Steam Deck, AMD and Valve have been jointly working on CPU frequency/power scaling improvements to enhance the Steam Play gaming experience on modern AMD platforms running Linux."

In basic terms this means that, thanks to smart new optimisations being worked on by AMD, the tech that powers the Steam Deck (a Zen 2 based custom APU) should be able to be used even better as its OS is based on Linux, thereby leading to faster framerates in games.

Now, Valve has already gone on record stating that the Steam Deck is "a Zen 2 + RDNA 2 powerhouse, delivering more than enough performance to run the latest AAA games". And also that it is targeting 30fps for games at its native resolution of 800p. What Valve hasn't done, though, is go into details of just how well the Steam Deck will run those games in terms of frame rates, which has led some to question if a framerate of over 30fps would be possible on brand new graphically intensive titles.

However, when you factor this incoming Linux processor driver upgrade, which seems completely geared around squeezing the absolute most performance out of Zen 2 hardware (like in the Steam Deck), it suddenly seems a lot more likely that gamers are going to be enjoying high-fidelity, high framerate portable gaming experiences on the console. The idea of playing titles like Assassin's Creed Valhalla while on the go, and with good performance, too, suddenly seems very real.

All of which is really bad news, in my opinion, for the Nintendo Switch OLED. If the Switch OLED's half-a-decade-old internal hardware didn't seem outdated right now to gamers, just think what the experience comparison will be like when Steam Deck drops?

Yes, I get it, the two consoles are largely made for different audiences, but when Steam Deck looks set to deliver genuine modern AAA gaming experiences, with the latest and greatest, most graphically intense games playable at high framerates, and the Switch OLED unable to thanks to creaking hardware, how many gamers will have their heads turned, or see their interest in the Switch platform die off?

I've loved the Nintendo Switch and, to a lesser extent, Nintendo Switch Lite and feel the consoles have delivered excellent gaming experiences, but I needed a serious hardware upgrade to maintain my interest in the platform and what Nintendo hasn't delivered, it looks increasingly like Valve really has.

According to the reported information AMD will be revealing more about this upgrade next month, so hopefully we'll get even more information about just how much more performance we should expect from Steam Deck then.

Robert Jones
Robert Jones

Deputy Editor for T3.com, Rob has been writing about computing, gaming, mobile, home entertainment technology and more for over 15 years. You can find Rob's work in magazines, bookazines and online, as well as on podcasts and videos, too. Outside of his work Rob is passionate about motorbikes, skiing/snowboarding and team sports, with football and cricket two favourites. Feel free to contact him with any related products, events, and announcements.