It’s no surprise that PC gaming is getting more and more expensive. Games themselves have raised the standard price while inflation or a recession made sure that components stayed expensive. That’s why more minimalistic alternatives like the Steam Deck are getting more and more popular; but can a Steam Deck replace a gaming PC?
That depends on what kind of gaming PC you have in mind. If it’s a low-end gaming PC running on an HD (720p) screen (Steam Deck has a resolution of 1280×800), then it’s a good replacement that favors portability much better. However, a mid-range gaming PC is the more popular standard and sadly, a Steam Deck is still no match for such a gaming powerhouse.
But there are more factors in play here than simply replacing a low-end PC for gaming, you might want to consider the following factors we’ll enumerate below.
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Steam Deck Specs
Looking at the Steam Deck specs, they’re modest, really.
- AMD APU
- CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
- GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
- APU power: 4-15W
- 16 GB LPDDR5 on-board RAM
- Storage based on price, starting at 64 GB eMMC
- 1280 x 800px (16:10 aspect ratio)
- 7-inch IPS touchscreen, 60Hz
The thing is, compared to more expensive lower-end gaming laptops (those equipped with an RTX 3050 or 3050 Ti), the Steam Deck still pales in comparison. It only sports an integrated GPU from AMD.
While that APU is good enough for gaming, it can only run some of the most graphically-demanding games (like Red Dead Redemption 2) at the lowest settings in 720p. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a five-year-old game at this point and at most, it runs at 46 FPS average on a Steam Deck at the lowest settings. It dips to the 30s under 1080p external display mode.
Expect less graphically demanding games to run better, of course, though not maxed out.
So while it also comes with an external screen mode capability that can output 1080p resolution, performance will suffer even more due to the increased demand in processing and graphical power.
If you’re coming from a gaming laptop or a gaming PC, you might find the Steam Deck a bit underwhelming and it’s not just due to the smaller screen. The lowered graphical fidelity, the low refresh rate, and even the limited storage will hamper your experience if you’re used to the privilege of a gaming PC.
In Direct Comparison to PC Hardware
In terms of performance compared to available gaming PCs these days, the Steam Deck is most comparable to a gaming laptop equipped with a GTX 1650. That GPU was released back in 2019.
Based on benchmarks like these, the GTX 1650 pulls ahead though the performance difference can be close at times depending on the scene.
Looking at the price, the Steam Deck with 512GB of storage retails for around $650 perhaps more depending on availability.
For $600 (before shipping, more or less), you could also get yourself a laptop with a GTX 1650 albeit with lower RAM (8GB).
For around $650, maybe more, you can also get a laptop with an RTX 3050 and unlock the beauty of ray tracing on supported video games.
Those laptops were on sale, however, and only have 8GB RAM, you’ll have to add a bit more if you want 16GB. Still, the aforementioned low-end gaming laptop prices make the Steam Deck a bit of a hard sell depending on what you value.
Because gaming laptops are still portable, and even something like an RTX 1650 can run light games without the power supply plugged in for a couple of hours.
Not to mention the laptop’s processors are more powerful, leading to a more stable framerate and a bigger performance advantage.
Now, compared to a $600 desktop PC, you can bet that the performance gap will grow even wider and the advantage is as clear as day, especially if you don’t care about portability.
The Steam Deck Has It’s Glaring Limitations
It’s a good thing that the Steam Deck wasn’t marketed as a replacement for a full-fledged gaming PC though it competes well enough, disregarding the price.
You might find those low-end gaming laptops as better deals; if you don’t mind uninstalling games frequently or playing only one video game at a time, you could opt for a 256GB Steam Deck to save a bit though you might regret it afterward depending on the games you want to play.
Again, apart from the small display and the low refresh rate, another limitation for the Steam Deck would be the games library. There’s no shortage of titles ported for the Steam Deck, but even so, not all games available on Steam and outside of Steam, are available on the Steam Deck.
If you had a specific game in mind for why you want to purchase a Steam Deck, you better make sure first that that game is actually available on this platform.
Sadly, a Steam Deck is nowhere near enough to replace a decent or even a low-end gaming PC. At best, it’s a good portably alternative for when you can’t stop playing your Steam library while on the move.
Still, for the power it consumes and the specifications, it’s an impressive device on its own, and it’s certainly more technologically advanced than the Nintendo Switch, one of the most popular handheld consoles these days; though it’s also more expensive.