clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How to extend your Steam Deck’s battery life

Valve’s handheld is a beast, but it devours battery

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Two sets of hands hold Steam Deck units. They’re playing Stardew Valley co-op. Image: Valve

Valve’s Steam Deck is an incredible machine with the ability to play thousands of PC games in handheld form, not to mention a wide-open system that has enabled users to do all kinds of crazy things with it. But if there’s one area where the Steam Deck could use a little help, it’s the battery life.

Playing system-intensive games on your Steam Deck can drain the battery in no time at all, and the thing uses so much juice that many of your existing chargers probably can’t supply it with power quickly enough to keep the frags going. Thankfully, there’s no reason to lose hope. There are plenty of steps you can take to eke out more life from your Steam Deck.

Peruse your performance settings

Let’s get the complex stuff out of the way first and dig into your Deck’s performance settings. With any game open, press the Quick Access menu button (the one with the three dots under the right trackpad) and navigate to Performance Settings (the battery icon). By default, the only thing that will appear in this menu is the performance overlay slider, which allows you to control how much performance-related information you can see on screen. Play around with it if you want, but more importantly, head into the Advanced View menu.

This is where you’ll find the bulk of your performance settings. Note that, if you scroll down to the very bottom, you’ll see your battery’s current capacity, plus an estimate of how much time is remaining until it drains to empty with your current usage and settings.

Activate per-game profiles

The first thing you have to understand is that your results are going to vary widely by game. The majority of titles that you play on your Steam Deck were not designed or optimized with a handheld system in mind. In some cases, you might take all the steps you can and still find they make little to no difference, or that the game performs so poorly with lower settings that it’s not worth the trade-off.

With that in mind, take a look at the Use per-game profile setting. With this off, your game will use your universal, default settings. With the setting toggled on, any tweaks you make will be saved to the currently open game’s individual performance profile. Since every game will perform differently, this is an incredibly useful tool.

Turn down your frame rate and refresh rate

The next settings as you scroll down are Framerate Limit and Refresh Rate. The first controls your game’s frames per second (fps), while the latter is how often your screen refreshes to show a new image. These settings are linked: For example, if you cap your Deck’s refresh rate at 40, your frame rate limits will change from 15/30/60 to 10/20/40.

The Steam Deck’s Performance menu shows options for reducing the frame rate. Image: Valve

Limiting how many frames your game displays and how often your screen refreshes can affect battery life, but these settings can also have a significant impact on a game’s performance. Some games only run at 30 fps anyway, while others default to 60. Even then, you can often turn the frame rate down in small increments (say, from 60 to 40) without noticing much of a difference. In return, you’ll gain significantly more playtime.

Consider these additional options

You’ll find more options below the refresh rate slider. Half Rate Shading or Variable Rate Shading cuts down on the number of on-screen pixels your game needs to calculate the shading (color) for, which can grant you some battery life, although it can also noticeably affect your game’s appearance by making it look like it’s running at a lower resolution.

Below that, you’ll find Thermal Power (TDP) Limit, which lets you set a physical limit on how much wattage your Steam Deck’s processor can pull from the battery to run games. By default, the battery outputs 15 watts. You can turn this all the way down to 3, but doing so can cause a massive performance hit, depending how much power each specific game uses — a metric determined by countless factors, from graphics intensity to a game’s age. If you’re using a lot of power with specific games, try seeing how low you can get this setting while maintaining acceptable performance.

The Steam Deck’s Performance menu shows options for extending the machine’s battery life, including Half Rate Shading, and Thermal Power Limit, Manual GPU Clock Control toggles. Image: Valve

Same goes for the Manual GPU Clock Control option, which lets you set a similar limit, but for the GPU instead of the CPU. Again, play around with it on a per-game basis. Make sure to note whether these changes are actually having a positive effect — for example, capping the CPU and GPU usage on Deep Rock Galactic created notably wonky gameplay, but had little impact on the actual battery life.

Lastly, the Scaling Filter slider lets you choose a level of resolution upscaling, with four options: linear, nearest, integer, and FSR. These will have vastly different effects depending on the game, although you’re arguably better off simply capping each game’s resolution.

Cap your game resolution

Your Steam Deck’s screen is 1280x800 pixels, so why are you running games at 1080p or even higher? When you start up a game on Deck for the first time, head into the graphics or display settings menu and check what resolution it’s running at. If it’s higher than 1280x800, take it down until it’s at that or lower (then, if you want to, revisit the upscaling settings from the previous point).

While you’re in your game settings, check for any other ways that you might be able to reduce processor load while retaining performance. This can be as simple as flipping a single overall graphics quality setting from “high” to “medium,” or as complicated as tweaking individual options like shadow or particle quality. Again, you’ll need to experiment with each game individually, since these settings vary so widely from title to title.

Turn down the brightness

You might be surprised to see an option this simple so far down the list, but it bears mentioning: If you’re in a low-light environment like a plane or your bedroom, turn down the brightness from the quick settings menu (also accessed via the three dots button on the right). The Steam Deck’s nice little screen uses up a lot of power displaying all those pixels for you.

You can also enable or disable automatic brightness adjustments, though you’ll have to dig a bit deeper into settings. Press the Steam button on the left, then navigate to the Display section of the general settings menu. You’ll see the Enable Adaptive Brightness setting there. Having the Deck automatically turn down the brightness when it detects a lower-light environment can help save battery life.

Disable ancillary functions

These days, plenty of games require an internet connection. However, a lot of the single-player games you’re likely to play on Steam Deck don’t. If your current activity doesn’t necessitate being online, try turning Wi-Fi off. You’ll find Airplane Mode in the quick settings menu, but toggling it on turns off Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi. Of course, if you’re not using a Bluetooth device like a keyboard, headset, or controller, then there’s no reason to leave it on, and you might conserve your battery even further by entering Airplane Mode strategically.

Stream your games instead of running them natively

Here’s one option that’s surprisingly easy to overlook. It’s not always applicable, like when you take your Steam Deck out into the world with you. But let’s say you’re just sitting at home and you want to play some PC or console games while lying on the couch. In that case, try streaming your games from another platform instead of playing them natively on the Deck.

This is easy with Steam games. Make sure your gaming PC and your Steam Deck are on the same network, then click the drop-down button next to a game’s Install or Play button on your Deck. There, you should see your gaming PC. Select it, then press Stream, and voilà — you’re gaming on your Steam Deck while using significantly less processing power.

This can be more challenging if you want to stream non-Steam games, or even console games. For non-Steam PC games, you can use a program called Moonlight to access your desktop PC’s game streaming capabilities through GeForce Experience, as long as you have an Nvidia graphics card. You can even use your Steam Deck to access PlayStation console Remote Play, using an app called Chiaki. In both cases, you’ll need to enter the Deck’s desktop mode to set these up, and likely check out a guide for the exact functions you’re looking for, but it can be worth it.

Get a powerful charger

Lastly, whether you’re traveling with your Steam Deck or you simply want it to be playable in every room of your house, you’re going to want to invest in some powerful chargers. Even power bricks and portable batteries that have no issue charging other, weaker handhelds — for example, a Nintendo Switch — while you’re gaming won’t necessarily have strong enough output to do the same for the Deck. Luckily, your Steam Deck will helpfully let you know when you’ve plugged in a charger that can’t keep up with its power usage.

Whether you’re buying an external charger pack or simply a wall outlet charger brick, you’ll want to make sure that it’s Steam Deck capable. This 65-watt Baseus charger brick is often recommended by users on the Steam Deck subreddit, while any power bank that can output at least 45W from a single port should work. Check recommendations on Reddit and other online forums you may frequent, and read product reviews wherever you decide to make your purchase. Chances are, if you’re considering a specific charger for your Deck, someone else has already tested whether it’s powerful enough, and left a note about their experience somewhere online.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon