Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Valve says you shouldn’t fix the Steam Deck’s noisy fan like this

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The Steam Deck shipped two months ago today and it’s gotten a lot better since then, but this week might just be the best yet — as we finally tackle the biggest problem with the $400 portable PC. Yes, I’m talking about the fan.

When the Deck launched, it came with an extremely noisy fan to cool its AMD Zen 2 and RDNA 2 silicon, and owners like me have had to deal with the volume and constant whine from day one. it ran constanteven when I was not doing anything with the system, and was always accelerating, even in relatively lightweight games like Survivors of vampires.

The fan of my Steam Deck, from Delta Electronics.
Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Worse, it nags† Or at least some Steam Decks have that problem – the Reddit community found that Valve actually ships the Deck with one of two different fans, one from Delta and another from Huaying† I have the Delta, and so do most of the others who complain about the whine from what I’ve seen. Valve won’t comment on the fan selection, and iFixit won’t say if you’ll be able to trade for a better one when replacement parts become available.

But this week Valve did take a big step to improve it with a beta software update – and I can confirm that it is a brand new experience. The fan no longer comes on when the system is just sitting there – it’s now dead silent when it’s idle, until or unless you warm up the chip by downloading some content or opening at least large folders of games.

It also doesn’t ramp up that fast anymore, with mine generally waiting for the system to exceed 65 degrees Celsius before ramping up the fan speed to a new level – although I did notice it got quite warm before reaching max fan speed, and even what stuttering saw in Elden Ring when I got around 87 degrees Celsius on the GPU.

One problem: none of Valve’s tweaks fixed the whine. My Delta fan may not spin as fast, but it still has that little jet engine scream.

You know what solved it? Electrical tape.

u/OligarchyAmbulance discovered on Reddit that just press the back of the Steam Deck shell, near the Valve logo, was enough to muffle the whine. So they opened their Steam Deck and stacked four small strips of electrical tape in the same spot in the shell — right behind the fan. Here are a few before and after videos they made.

The Steam Deck already has its own electrical tape; the new pieces would go just below the circle on the left
Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

I did the same: first press the back to see if it might work, then open the Steam Deck and add the tape. The whine had all but faded away. Don’t get me wrong, the fan is still loud on full blast! But now it is mainly the rustle of the air, not a scream.

Should you try this at home? Not necessarily, because we don’t know why it works, or whether there could be adverse side effects, such as heat or wear. “We don’t recommend changing the airflow path because we don’t know how that would affect the thermals,” Valve’s Lawrence Yang told me.

u/OligarchyAmbulance and I don’t see any significant differences in temperature yet, but between Valve’s warning and the fact that opening the Deck is a wee bit more difficult than some make out, I’m not sure I would recommend it to everyone .

But it seems pretty clear that this fan issue is hardware, not just software — and if Valve doesn’t have a plan or recommendation to mute the sound, I suspect more than a few gamers will take matters into their own hands.

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