Valve’s Steam Deck will soon have one of its biggest problems, mitigating the size of its shader cache. While the 256 GB and 512 GB models of the Deck can support fairly large cache builds for a long time, the same cannot be said for the lowest-spec 64 GB version, where a significant portion of the device’s memory ends up being spent on shaders.
Since all three SKUs of Steam Deck overall share the same internals, the only big difference between the three models is the type and size of their respective integrated storage. While the price of the lowest-spec 64-bit model was very attractive, it also quickly proved to be a hindrance as users’ game libraries built up gigabytes of shader caches.
However, according to Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais, this shouldn’t be much of a problem once the long-awaited SteamOS 3.5 update is released. Notably, the new version of Deck OS comes with a new Vulkan shader pipeline that, when combined with Deck’s single-file disk caching technology, can reduce the cache size of most games by as much as 60%. “That’s our expectation,” Griffais told PC Gamer. The exact details of the shader storage reduction for each Deck user will of course vary depending on the games they have installed, but it should be a substantial improvement regardless.
Valve’s careful handling of shader caching has proven to be a boon for SteamOS users. Specifically, shader pile-up is one of the most common causes of micro-stutters on PC, as seen in the problematic Hogwarts Legacy released a while back. By sharing cache files between Deck users, this problem is either completely sidestepped or at least greatly mitigated, with the only real downside being the constant (albeit small) daily game updates that Deck makes and the space the shaders take up on the device itself.
It’s also odd that Steam Deck is the only gaming platform where Elden Ring doesn’t stutter at all, even when playing the game for the first time. That’s because Valve went out of their way to provide fully compiled shader cache downloads, emphasizing how well Elden Ring works on the deck, even without considering its lack of micro-jank compared to regular PC.
In contrast, even the more powerful Asus ROG Ally gaming handheld is bound to suffer from micro-jank when first running a game, since Windows doesn’t support the aforementioned cache sharing feature. This gives Valve’s handheld gaming PC a distinct advantage over all of its competitors for the time being, especially now that shader stuttering is becoming more of an issue for all PC gamers.