Today, Valve released a long-awaited update for its portable PC. SteamOS 3.2 brings a lot of nice changes to both the operating system and the Steam client itself, allowing for Remote Play Together, tweaks to some visual and UI elements, and the ability to change the screen refresh rate. The fan noise updates, however, will no doubt be hotly (sorry) discussed in the corners of the internet.
Essentially, an ongoing issue with the Steam Deck was that, to keep this pocket PC from going up in flames, the fan was on most of the time. And by usually I mean: All. From. The. Time. And it’s loud! It blows easily past my heavy metal induced tinnitus to produce enough sound to actually reach an audible pitch. I’ve gotten used to it (I have hearing damage too), but others aren’t so happy.
The sound inspired iFixit to sell new fans that, if you’re into DIY, are fairly easy to replace and offer a quieter solution. But for those of us who’d rather not crack open the device, SteamOS 3.2 makes it possible to adjust the fan curve so that the device doesn’t start singing in its mezzo-soprano range.
This is where things probably get heated online (again, sorry). Reducing the fan speed will make the unit hotter. How much hotter? We will, PC gamer measured the change to 10°C (that’s 50° in Freedom units) in just one example a few weeks ago. It was enough for them to consider this update unworthy, given the potential impact on the Steam Deck’s lifespan.
Digital Foundry had a more nuanced view; essentially, fan speed, temperature, and usage, all mixed to deliver different results. So you’ll probably see temperature rises from 4° or 5° to as much as 10°C. It was their opinion (as well as mine, to be fair) that since this is still within expected operating temperatures for the unit, you will probably won’t run into any problems.
This is not much different from discussions about whether you should always leave your computer on or turn it off when you are not using it. As a science professor once told me, “Heat is real”, so yes, using the device at high temperatures is not nothing† But technically, unless we’re pushing the device into temperatures it’s not designed to work, why should we have a problem?
I don’t want to get rid of this debate too quickly. According to an old military manual on the expected life of electronics, 10°C could be halve the expected life of a device. Of course, there are so many factors to consider that this is likely to become a debate that we will continue to have on Twitter and Reddit.
I think the only real way to find out is to buy about a dozen Steam Decks, and have them run the same scene in something like Cyberpunk 2077 for four or five years, set half to the lower fan curve while the other half use the original settings. We’ll see which ones die first. Until such science can be achieved, it may be best to leave the old fan curve settings on if noise isn’t too much of a problem for you. You will more than likely encounter a fountain of opinions and facts, filled with anecdotes and internet math about this one detail. Until we’re a few years into the life of the Steam Deck and we start to see real results, somehow we just won’t know.
I’ll leave it to the comment section to discuss further, I suppose.