What is Steam Proton and how does it run Windows games on Steam Deck?

Valve has ventured into console gaming with the Steam Deck, a handheld device with hardware comparable to the PS5 and Xbox Series S&X. It’s a solid device that should run most AAA titles reliably. . The Deck stands out for its ability to run a wide range of games out of the box. It comes with the entire catalog of Steam games, so users don’t have to wait for popular titles to release for the console.

Steam Deck runs on SteamOS, an Arch-based Linux distribution with built-in Proton support. You can run almost any Windows game on the Deck using Proton.

What is Steam Proton?

Steam Proton is the compatibility layer that allows SteamOS to run Windows games on the Deck. It allows users to install and run Windows games that don’t offer native Linux builds. Proton is developed in cooperation between developers at Valve and CodeWeavers.

Proton basically gives us a collection of high performance graphics libraries and a modded version of Wine. There is little to no performance cost when running Windows games on Linux using Proton. You can play many popular titles at respectable frame rates using Proton.

As of this writing, Steam Deck can run most AAA titles at 30fps in native resolution. But it can go up to 60fps for games that feature native Linux builds, and that’s a big improvement considering the Deck is a portable device.


However, while the Deck can play many popular titles using Proton, it does not yet support all AAA games, especially multiplayer games like PUBG, Rainbow Six Siege, and Destiny 2.

How Proton Runs Windows Games on Linux

As mentioned earlier, Proton provides a compatibility layer for Windows graphics APIs. To fully understand this, you need to be familiar with DirectX and Vulkan, two graphics libraries that offer application programming interfaces (APIs) for games.

When you run games on your system, these APIs handle the underlying graphics tasks. Think of them as the communication channel between your games and the graphics cards.

Now, DirectX is developed and used by Microsoft to implement its graphics components. Since Windows controls global desktop sharing, game developers mainly focus on DirectX during development. However, Vulkan is also very powerful in his abilities. It just does some things differently.

This is where Proton comes in. He uses Wine and DXVK (DirectX Over Vulkan) to translate DirectX programs to Vulkan. Games designed for Windows communicate with graphics cards through DirectX, and it allocates the necessary resources to run them.

Under the hood, DirectX makes Direct3D calls to render graphics. Proton steps in here and converts these calls into equivalent Vulkan calls. This is how Proton runs Windows games on Linux and Linux-based systems like the Deck.

How to Use Steam Proton on Linux

Although you can’t play all Windows games on Linux with Proton yet, it still supports many popular titles. The ProtonDB website has a list of verified titles that run natively on Linux and Steam Deck. You can play many other titles with a little tweaking.

To test Steam Proton on your Linux distribution, open Steam and go to Settings > Steam Game. Check the box on Enable Steam Play for Supported Titles. You can also choose Enable Steam Play for all other titles from Advanced menu.

Make sure to change the version of Proton to the latest from the Compatibility tool scrolling menu. Save the settings by clicking OKAY in the settings menu and restart Steam.

Play Windows Games Anywhere with Steam Deck

Proton paved the way for running Windows games on Steam Deck and Linux. Now you can enjoy modern Windows titles on any Linux compatible machine, including the Deck. Just head over to ProtonDB and check if your favorite game works on the Deck or on Steam Play.

Steam also allows users to play games without an active internet connection. So don’t worry when your connection drops and just use Steam offline mode.

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