Tested: The actual Steam Deck battery life

The Steam Deck is the most important portable gaming PC ever made and its mobile performance was the subject of much debate before launch. Now it’s finally available to buy – albeit with serious reservations about any purchase – we can talk about Steam Deck’s real battery life. When Valve unveiled its handheld last year, it advertised two to eight hours of playable battery life, which is pretty much what the original Nintendo Switch device offered for its approximate range. I’m sure this is no coincidence given the importance of this number in a system designed to be used on the road and away from power for extended periods of time.

The wild range in this figure comes down to the vagaries of how games and game engines tax a machine’s resources to a greater or lesser extent. The valve itself also listed a few caveats, suggesting that its battery estimates are based on its native 1280 x 800 resolution and capped at 30Hz. In theory, something like Minesweeper on Steam Deck should give you an eight-hour battery life, while a more system-demanding game like God of War could well have you counting down the minutes to the two-hour mark.

At least that’s the theory, but what about the reality? Early testers claimed that the deck’s battery could be depleted in as little as 90 minutes and while this is the exception rather than the rule, that’s definitely what I found in my testing. It turns out that if you let the AMD Aerith APUs from Steam Deck run at peak performance, you can burn your battery even faster than in God of War. This is the worst result in our tests and not even at the most intensive graphics settings. When running with the Original preset with FidelityFX Super Resolution set to Quality, I get 40 to 50 fps, but only about 83 minutes of actual play. A similar situation with Forza Horizon 5, where the “Medium” preset, running at an average of 45fps, provides only 86 minutes of uptime.

For now, it’s worth noting that the Steam Deck has a ton of advanced settings in its arsenal designed to squeeze more time out of a 40-watt battery. By default, Valve has enabled 60fps hard blocking, forcing Vsync to be enabled regardless of in-game settings. This keeps any less demanding game from going beyond the 60Hz that the 7-inch touchscreen is capable of displaying.

But by diving into the Performance menu and clicking the Advanced button, you get access to some additional settings to tweak. This has changed a lot – and is probably the part that has changed the most in the time I’ve used the deck’s pre-launch – and I expect it to continue to evolve in the future. The most powerful of these tools for any gamer using the deck will be the Limit Frame Rate to 30 toggles. It used to be a granular fps slider, but it didn’t work as intended and so Valve made it binary on or off. There is a possibility that it will return to this detailed level as the developers are still working on it behind the scenes and that would be great. Personally, I found the 40fps cap to be a great balance between battery life and smooth gaming performance, so I was disappointed to see that option gone.

What is the battery life of the Steam Deck?

In our own testing with Wi-Fi on and 50% brightness, we found Steam Deck battery life to range from 83 minutes at worst to seven hours and nine minutes. It all depends entirely on the game we were playing and the performance limit settings of the deck. It’s also below Valve’s estimates of two to eight hours of playtime on both the lower and upper scales. As you can see from our battery life tests, dropping to 30fps makes a huge difference to the amount of playtime the deck will allow you to do later. I will also say that after playing this level for a while, I stopped seeing low framerates and just enjoyed the gameplay. It’s different on a fully functional gaming PC, with a large screen monitor attached to it, but on the small screen Steam Deck, I quickly forget that 30fps limit when I’m playing the game I’m really into.

The difference between standard and 30fps may seem surprising when you first see it. After all, in games like God of War, The Witcher 3 and Resident Evil Village, we regularly see more than doubling. But given that in general, you’re looking at a device that consumes a whopping 10W less battery power when it’s locked compared to when it’s flying uncapped at around 25W, this one is seemingly staggering the rise makes sense even when you’re not actually dropping from 60fps to 30fps.

However, it’s less impressive when the unlocked performance is already close to the 30fps mark. In Horizon Zero Dawn and Forza Horizon 5, I only saw increases of 24% and 33% respectively, which isn’t all that exciting less than 30 minutes in both cases. You know what, I blame the horizon.

By far, the games that will give you the longest playing time on Steam Deck are the graphically lite indies. The FTL came out on top in my testing, delivering a potential seven hours of play, but the outstanding OlliOlli World, offering over six hours of obsessive riding is also very enjoyable. But nothing I’ve tried has come close to the vaunted eight-hour battery life that Valve advertises.

If you turn off Wi-Fi completely and run the screen at the lowest setting, you might be able to squeeze a little more time out of it – maybe even play FTL for those semi-mythical eight hours – but you have to be at some level a seriously dimly lit red-eye transatlantic flight to make it work. Even when streaming, I only expect about five and a half hours of play. This is assuming that the AMD Aerith silicon GPU component is measured at 0% load and the CPU cores are only running at 22% load. With Wi-Fi always on and screen brightness set to 50%, the deck consumes about 8 watts of power, which apparently yet not enough to hit eight hours.

There are additional tweaks you can make to improve your uptime. The Advanced section of the Performance menu also has sliders for Thermal Power Limit (TDP) and Manual GPU Clock Control. The combination of these two factors can allow you to reduce the power consumption of the CPU and GPU components at an unprecedented granular level, although this will have a significant impact on performance. But again, these drops only affect the APU itself, not the overall power consumption of the device as a whole.

This all probably sounds pretty negative, but it really isn’t. I just want to temper any hopes that an eight-hour battery life is easily achievable, this will certainly require more tweaking than most people will want to do and only in certain games. For those who don’t think about tweaking these advanced settings, battery life will be a real issue.

But just one switch and you have three and a half hours of GTA V, nearly four hours of The Witcher 3 or more than five hours of Football Manager 2022 and I’ll feel like I’ve had a good game time. These days I’m rarely away from a source of energy for this too long.

The fact that the device charges to around 80% capacity in 100 minutes means it won’t take you long to get back to work. Add to that the fact that 10,000mAh USB Type-C rechargeable batteries aren’t all that expensive these days and there are still plenty of hours of playtime. The Elecjet Apollo battery is a 10,000 mAh graphene-based variant super-fast charging too. Not only is it capable of charging the deck, but it also allows you to play at the same time which is pretty impressive.

So, while the actual battery life of the Steam Deck may seem a bit shorter than you might hope, there are certain ways to squeeze a lot more gaming time out of the device without sacrificing the gameplay experience. If you’re not up to tweaking the deck’s options, its portability is severely limited, but the 30fps toggle makes for truly mobile PC gaming.

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