Why It Matters That Valve Rolled AMD FSR Into Steam Deck’s OS

AMD FSR is now built-in to Steam Deck's operating system.
Image credit: AMD/Valve

Valve’s Steam Deck begins shipping out to early adopters at the end of February. And some of you lucky Deck owners might feel tempted to switch over to Windows for 100% game compatibility. But Valve has an awesome (and proven) secret weapon to keep you on Deck’s default OS. The Arch Linux-based SteamOS 3.0 now has AMD FSR built-in. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

As I discussed in this video, one of my early hopes for Steam Deck was having AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) image upscaling tech built right into SteamOS. (If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a brief overview showing how effective it can be.) Not only will it be useful for gamers wanting to dock their Deck to an external 1080p monitor (it’s a Linux PC, after all), but also for boosting the performance of very graphically demanding games that may struggle to hit 30FPS at the Deck’s native 800p resolution.

That’s because AMD’s tech intelligently upscales the in-game imagery to your display’s native resolution, making it look sharper while dramatically increasing framerate.

(I’ve frequently seen anywhere from 40-percent to 180-percent FPS boost when employing AMD FSR.)

AMD FSR Works Without Official Game Support

For me, the true appeal of tapping into AMD FSR on the Steam Deck — and by extension desktop Linux— is that it works on just about every single game, even if the developer hasn’t built the game with official AMD FSR support.

Let’s examine a game like God of War. Not only does it run flawlessly on Deck, Sony ported it with multiple AMD FSR quality toggles. Just select one in the graphics settings and you’re good to go. (I saw a 60-percent FPS boost in my testing). But thousands of other games on Steam (including those released before AMD FSR even existed) can still benefit from the upscaler.

The problem is that Linux users need to have a custom version of Proton (the compatibility layer that makes all these Windows games playable) and have to type in a custom launch command on a per-game basis. Maybe that’s not a pain for tech-savvy gamers, but for average console players that can be a deal-breaker.

SteamOS + AMD FSR = Piece of Cake

That all changes and gets much, much easier with Valve’s SteamOS compositor, Gamescope. I don’t like diving too deeply into the weeds, so just know that Gamescope is what Valve uses to deliver the best possible gaming performance on top of Wayland (itself a display server used on many Linux desktops like Fedora).

Well, Phoronix just spotted a code merge on GitHub that enables AMD FSR support for any game running within Gamescope. (It’s a very safe assumption that Gamescope is being used as part of SteamOS.)

Besides, Valve already promised us this very capability in their Steam Deck FAQ, stating:

“FSR is already available for some applications that support it. Games that already include FSR will work as is, but also FSR support will be included as part of an OS future release [emphasis mine]. Once that happens, games could potentially make use of FSR even if the games themselves don’t natively support it.”

It remains to be seen exactly how this option will look in the Steam Deck UI, or how it will perform. Rest assured those answers will come by February 25, which is when reviews will start dropping.

Personally, I plan on extensively testing the combination of SteamOS + AMD FSR both on and off the Deck.

This post originally appeared on my Forbes column.

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