SteamOS 3.5: The Next Leap for Steam Deck Performance

SteamOS, developed by Valve, has been a significant player in the gaming world, especially with its integration into Steam Machines and the Steam Deck. The latest release, as of May 2023, is SteamOS 3.4.8. However, there’s a buzz in the gaming community about the upcoming SteamOS 3.5. While the exact release date remains a mystery, there was a preview of SteamOS 3.5.

Significant Performance Fix: SMT Issue

One of the standout fixes in SteamOS 3.5 is related to the Steam Deck’s processor’s support for a feature called SMT (Simultaneous Multithreading). This feature, also known as Hyper-Threading in Intel terminology, allows a single CPU core to run two threads. Ideally, this should enhance performance across the board. However, an obscure issue in the Linux kernel that the Steam Deck originally shipped with sometimes caused a performance dip instead of a boost.

The problem was rooted in a hardcoded behavior in the Linux kernel on the AMD side. When one thread on a core went to sleep, it would invalidate its cache. This behavior made sense in most scenarios, but when two threads were on the same core and one went to sleep, the active thread would suddenly lose its L3 cache, leading to significant performance issues. This issue was especially pronounced in older games and emulators not optimized for modern multithreading.

Thankfully, AMD identified and fixed this issue, and with the kernel update in SteamOS 3.5, Valve will be able to roll out the fix to users. This means that games that previously suffered from stutters or strangely low framerates due to the SMT issue should now run smoothly.

Graphics Driver Update SteamOS 3.5 will also introduce a new graphics driver. Interestingly, Valve fast-tracked a part of this update into SteamOS 3.4.6 to support the “Resident Evil 4 Remake.” Once SteamOS 3.5 is released, it will undergo testing on the Steam Deck preview channel before being deemed ready for a stable release.

You can test SteamOS 3.5 update on Steam Deck preview channel until it’s ready for a stable release. However, the exact release date for the stable version of SteamOS 3.5 has not been specified in the provided information. Valve typically announces release dates closer to the actual launch, so it would be a good idea to keep an eye on official announcements from Valve

SteamOS has evolved over the years, with its initial versions based on the Debian distribution of Linux. The shift to Arch Linux began with SteamOS 3.0, primarily because of the rolling update approach of Arch, which allows for quicker issue resolutions. This version of the OS was the backbone of the Steam Deck, a handheld gaming computer released by Valve in February 2022.

The primary purpose of SteamOS has always been to provide a console-like experience on PC hardware, allowing users to play games natively developed for Linux. It also supports game streaming from other operating systems like Windows, Mac, and Linux. One of the significant advantages of SteamOS is its open-source nature, which means users can adapt or build upon its source code. However, the actual Steam client remains closed.

Valve has been continuously working on enhancing the user experience. For instance, they have added support for movies, television, and music to SteamOS. But, the video content is primarily available from Steam’s store, which has a limited number of films.

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