One of the main perks of portable consoles is the ability to play them outside the house, a use we’ve seen emphasized in multiple marketing campaigns over the years. But as countries around the world have suffered through record-breaking heat waves in recent weeks, two major portable console makers are warning players that their products don’t function well in ambient temperatures in excess of 35° C (95° F).
Nintendo of Japan led off the warnings last week, tweeting that “if you use the Nintendo Switch in a hot place, the temperature of the main unit may become high,” according to a machine translation. “If the temperature of the main unit becomes too high, it may sleep automatically to protect the main unit.” The company also urged players to make sure the vents on the console and docking unit are not blocked by dust or debris, and to install that dock “in a location that does not retain heat.”
Valve joined in with a public heat warning yesterday, tweeting a reminder that the Steam Deck “may start to throttle performance to protect itself” in high ambient temperatures. The Steam Deck’s internal APU starts scaling back performance when the chip itself hits a temperature of 100° C (212° F), and will shut down if it tops 105° C (221° F), Valve said. After that, the system can limit battery charging rates, download speeds, and even SSD speeds to keep the GPU running as steadily as possible.
It’s getting hot in here…
These heat warnings aren’t completely new for either company. Nintendo and Valve have long published support documentation citing 35° C as an upper limit for the “safe operational range” of their consoles (fun fact: Valve also doesn’t recommend you use the Steam Deck at altitudes more than 3,500 meters above sea level). Still, it’s notable that both companies felt the need to publicly reinforce these recommendations now, as temperatures exceed 40° C in the UK for the first time and heat-driven wildfires force evacuations across France, Spain, and Portugal.
For the Switch, we noted in early coverage of our initial review that the tablet can get noticeably warm during extended play sessions on high-end games. That said, most Switch games are designed with a consistent hardware profile in mind, meaning they shouldn’t overtax the processor under normal thermal conditions.
For the Steam Deck, on the other hand, thermal performance can depend heavily on how far the specific graphics and performance settings for a particular game push the processor. While Valve includes a built-in frame rate limiter to reduce overall power draw (and processor heat), playing with the system settings and/or game settings can help reduce that power draw in extreme conditions.
And if outdoor temperatures continue to increase over the years? Not to worry; hackers are already experimenting with liquid cooling solutions that should ensure your Steam Deck keeps running even as airport runways melt in the sun.