The future of portable batteries

The future of portable batteries

There is a technological barrier that separates portable devices from the pure performance of silicon: battery life. The age-old problem of the balance between performance and duration does not give respite to the development of these devices. Larger batteries and increasingly optimized processors aim not to show weaknesses, but despite the obvious steps forward, we are still far from what we could consider the perfect experience. See Valve's Steam Deck: although developed according to this paradigm and having several arrows on its bow according to the first evaluations of the press, it is not able to exceed two hours of autonomy with the most demanding games.

The result is a series of considerations relating to the future of portable gaming in a world that is investing multi-sector resources in critical areas such as energy efficiency, research and development of batteries, and human-machine interaction.

What, in fact, is the future of portable batteries?

The portable experience

Steam Deck seems to have a big problem with batteries The history of portable consoles is very long and originates in the mid-1980s. Nintendo is the company that has best represented the wishes of the players with the GameBoy and DS series, undisputed queens in their relevant market, despite Sony having had its say with PSP and PS Vita. Over the years, attention has turned to smartphones that have cultivated on-the-road gaming until hardcore gamers hoped for the arrival of more specific and dedicated products, which were not late in the market, albeit at the beginning with experiments. embryonic.

It is clear that there is an unequivocal desire for portable consoles, but there are two ways of conceiving the type of content with which the user wants to use them. The first is to exploit the peculiarities of a more compact and transportable system to offer an experience that takes full advantage of these two aspects; think of a title characterized by fast games, but which entice you to play several times during the day. The second is to re-propose a video game already released on major consoles or on PCs, once the technology capable of reproducing it has been reached. Just think of the Nintendo games revisited on the next generation of portable consoles, or PSP and the reproduction of PS1 games.

This paradigm today may no longer be plausible. The performances achieved by Mini PC, such as the AYANEO and Steam Deck allow to close this chronological gap: the latest tripleA are within reach even on the move, as long as you deal with medium-low resolution and details. The ambition of the portable experience that wants to become "big" is what we will build on the following considerations in this article.

Password: Optimization

Performance or battery life? Today's first challenge is to ensure that there is no energy waste in the closed ecosystem of a portable console. It concerns every device with a battery and each manufacturer tries to deal with it with the means available to him. When building a portable console, it is necessary to take into consideration the screen, CPU and GPU, any additional gimmicks, cooling and the battery itself, as well as the software to make them work together in the best possible way. the widest slice of the market such as smartphones and computers, and in particular gaming mini PCs, originate from containing the experience of the older brothers within a small space, a park of energy resources.

The progress made in the realization of the chips are evident but there is still a great room for improvement, between new production processes on the horizon and the diffusion of hybrid architectures that combine high performance and high efficiency cores . AMD is working hard to optimize the energy needs of its APUs, the main engines of these systems including Steam Deck, eliminating the continuity solution between CPU and GPU. The integration of NAVI 2 solutions (the same architecture as PS5 and Xbox Series X) in SOC for smartphones such as the Exynos 2200 is an indication of what efforts have been made in the direction of energy efficiency.

The Aya Neo Apple, on the other hand, carries on the opposite philosophy with its products. The Apple Silicon architecture, based on ARM, brings the efficiency of the iPhone computing units to the entire iPad and Mac range, with a ratio between performance and energy consumption at the top of the category. The M1 processor and its derivatives could dominate the portable market if we limited ourselves to performance only. Iphone and Ipad demonstrate this in mobile gaming, but the same does not happen in Mac OS, where the relationship with home gaming continues to be difficult.

The hypothesis instead that Microsoft can also have its say in the handheld world with a generation of products based on ARM is very far away, because the collaboration with Qualcomm up to now has not achieved the desired results and it does not seem that it will be otherwise in the short run. This is because in addition to the perfect symbiosis of the components, the software must also be stitched on them. Steam Deck has an ad hoc version of SteamOS on its side, Apple relies on Mac OS and Windows gives its best as tradition with the x86 architecture.

How will processors evolve from the point of view of efficiency? Optimization does not only mean performance and autonomy, but also less heat to dissipate, with a consequent reduction in operating temperatures and less intervention of the active cooling system, improving ergonomics and consumption. Even a single Watt can make the difference in systems that measure thirty.

Beyond the performance and efficiency ratio, the technological advancement of batteries is no less important. The energy density continues to grow and the batteries are less subject to the memory effect. This is why the focus has shifted to fast charging in recent years.

It makes no sense to extend absolute usage times with larger, more expensive and heavier batteries, when 30 minutes are enough to regain half a day's autonomy. Once the typical intense use of the device is met by a margin, the power bank and fast charging can buffer most of the possible critical situations. The spread of universal charging via USB-C, which has reached its maximum power of 240w with the latest specifications, helps ensure that devices can recharge quickly with a single charger, further facilitating the experience.

Obviously, it is hoped that research into new technologies for batteries can make giant steps forward regardless of this aspect, given the infinite areas in which they would be needed. However, we know that between research and commercialization there is a gap that only a few solutions among all those studied are able to mend and alternative strategies can temporarily circumvent the problem.

Where did the portable experience go ? What should it aim for?

The GameBoy was a super champion in duration The theory teaches that the more you press the acceleration on the performances, the more you end up losing yourself in autonomy. Nintendo Switch boasts about 3-4 hours of use with the most demanding titles depending on the version, Steam Deck struggles to reach two hours with triple A, but both improve significantly with undemanding titles or with retrogaming. For a while it was speculated that the cloud could intervene to provide the resources to play demanding titles on devices totally devoted to autonomy, but this vision has not yet taken hold in the portable world due to the instability of the mobile network and it has. scaled down the scale of diffusion in the short term.

Experience tells us that Nintendo Switch, while traveling, has never created major problems in the constraints of time of use, even if we must admit more for the ease of accessing a charging base than for the console battery life. In the city the movements are limited and often the commuter has a maximum of 1 hour and a half between point and point, and even here there does not seem to be any problems in the face of an autonomy of a couple of hours. If you were to frequently stay away from a recharge, then resorting to a powerbank would solve the problem without disturbing the console's energetic design. It is true that a greater autonomy would reduce the number of recharges and, in addition to the practical aspect of the improved autonomy, it would contribute to the longevity of the console by consuming less cells and allowing to maintain a better performance for longer.


A portable battery We have reached a major turning point for portable gaming systems. In the last year, the offer crowned by the imminent arrival of Valve's Steam Deck has seen a marked technical improvement compared to the past. Autonomy remains a critical parameter, but in relation to performance, size and gaming experience it still remains reasonable, and for this kind of device it only seems destined to improve. This is because the technological gap that prevented the same library of games from being available simultaneously on desktops and portable consoles seems to have dissolved and resources are now all focused on continually improving the experience achieved.

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