AMD and Valve are building a better CPU driver for Linux

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Valve’s decision to enter the console hardware business could have a number of long-term ramifications for the PC market. One apparent consequence will be a better AMD processor driver for Linux.

According to Michael Larabel of Phoronix, AMD’s current power management lags behind Intel when running Linux. He writes, “It’s no secret that the ACPI CPUFreq driver code has sometimes been less than ideal on recent AMD processors, delivering below-expected performance / behaviors, with a slow pace to achieve. higher performance or not to be disabled. downright power management functionality.

AMD announced jobs for more Linux engineers earlier this summer, so the company is clearly putting more effort behind the operating system. It’s unclear whether this effort will use proprietary AMD extensions or whether the company will implement better power consumption through more generic implementations.

This kind of close collaboration with Valve will be necessary if the Steam Deck is to compete with other devices. If you dig into the handful of devices that have been launched in the “portable gaming PC” market, they all require clear tradeoffs of one sort or another. Noise, limited wattage, battery life, and weight are tricky areas for any handheld, but it often feels like the PC is skipping metaphorically through this space in its effort to respond. to the needs of various users.

The GPD Win 3, for example, received great reviews for its features, price and performance, but it costs $ 700 and offers no more than 90 minutes of play time according to Notebookcheck.net on a battery of 44 Wh. The Steam Deck’s battery is slightly smaller, at 40 Wh, and its screen resolution is approximately 10% higher. We know the Steam Deck is built around a new AMD APU with RDNA2 graphics and Zen 3 cores, but not how much more efficiency the chip will offer compared to Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake (the GPD Win 3 uses a Core i7-1165G7) is not yet known.

Valve promises that the Steam Deck can handle AAA titles at 720p.

Valve has promised that the Steam Deck will provide between 2-8 hours of performance depending on your settings, and higher-end and more demanding games will consume more power. A key way for gamers to conserve battery power is to limit the machine to 30 fps – rendering more frames per second consumes proportionately more power, and although most of this is incurred on the GPU side of the computer. ‘equation, the CPU is probably responsible for a small amount too. Even so, the practical battery life when playing major titles on the Steam Deck seems to be in the range of 2-3 hours.

AMD working with Valve to optimize its CPU power handling and any other optimizations that could improve the Steam Deck is great news for the likelihood that this number will be higher than lower. In a portable device like this, it is much more important for the CPU and GPU to choose stable clocks that they can hold over the long term than to ramp up to maximum frequency only to fall back down when the SoC drops in. its thermal limits. Careful adjustment of the processor and GPU power states will maximize the battery life the system can deliver while maintaining reasonable pocket temperatures.

In the long run, these improvements should also benefit the Linux community as a whole and improve the overall performance of Steam on Linux both on the Steam Deck and on more general PC hardware. Linux recently hit 1% of Steam’s total user base, having hovered around 0.8% to 0.9% in recent years. Its peak was 2% after the launch of SteamOS and Steam Machines, but if Steam Deck takes off, Linux’s total market share will increase further. Whether this is enough to encourage developers to take the operating system seriously is unknown, but it was a smart move by Valve to tie Linux to the idea of ​​a portable PC gaming system.

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