- The Steam Deck is a powerful handheld gaming device that punches above its weight class with its performance and optimizations.
- The Steam Deck uses a custom-designed APU chip that combines CPU and GPU tasks, delivering 1.6 TFlops of performance.
- Comparing GPUs to the Steam Deck, the NVIDIA RTX 2060 and GTX 1050 Ti offer similar performance, while the Radeon RX 6700 XT and RX 6800 provide higher performance at a higher cost.
- The Steam Deck is designed for mobile gaming and is not a replacement for a high-end gaming PC, but it offers convenience and portability for gaming on the go.
The Steam Deck has been out for a little over a year and a half, and it’s clear to see that it’s still a powerhouse. Despite its slightly lower-than-average display resolution (1280×800), the Steam Deck feels like it’s punching above its weight class.
For most games, this resolution looks fine. High-fidelity games still look great, especially with the many optimizations included in the Steam Deck’s hardware. Like most handhelds, there are definitely games that lend themselves better, but even current releases like Baldur’s Gate 3 or Mortal Kombat 1 run at more than playable framerates.
Since the Steam Deck’s performance is tightly linked to its architecture, the price-to-performance ratio is hard to beat, and it doesn’t really have a PC equivalent that matches it dollar for dollar. Still, you can get close. And in today’s article, we’re going to explore what GPUs most closely match the Steam Deck in terms of both performance and price.
What Makes the Steam Deck’s Graphics Different?
The Steam Deck actually doesn’t have a CPU or GPU. Well, at least not in the same way desktop gaming PCs do. The Steam Deck uses a newly maturing chip, an APU. The hybrid system performs both CPU and GPU tasks. This is a custom-designed chip in collaboration with AMD and Valve, meaning it’s designed for mobile gaming and Valve’s SteamOS and compatibility layers.
It is still comprised of a Zen 2 CPU with four cores and eight threads. Combined with the eight compute units in the APU’s graphics component, clocking in between 1-1.6 GHz, the system delivers 1.6 TFlops of performance. While these are theoretical metrics that are hard to relate to how well a system actually games, they are abysmal compared to the PlayStation 5 at 10.28 TFlops or the Xbox Series X at 12.
But remember, the resolution of the Steam Deck’s screen also isn’t comparable to a new flatscreen. The Steam Deck also uses amazing upscaling technologies to take low resolutions and make them appear HD.
The custom design of the Steam Deck’s chip also factors into its true power. If you’re looking at raw numbers, you’ll be greatly underselling the potential available in the Steam Deck. Numbers alone, games like Elden Ring would barely run on the Steam Deck, but Valve and game developers are constantly optimizing, so these experiences are smooth and look amazing.
Steam Deck APU vs. Traditional GPU: Quick View
|Steam Deck APU
|Combined graphics and logical operations
|Graphical processing and calculations
|The only way to upgrade is with a new device
|In most PCs, this part is replaceable
|These chips are designed to be power-efficient
|Modern GPUs lean towards very high power requirements
|APUs typically require software built specifically to take advantage of their architecture
|GPUs are designed to work with most modern OSs
|APUs are very hard to buy individually, and so are specific to the type of device being bought
|Newer GPUs are extremely expensive; it is not uncommon for a GPU to be a large percentage of any PC purchase
GPUs vs. Steam Deck: By the Numbers
Looking at this list, the Steam Deck feels like it’s on the lower end, but, again, teraflops and raw numbers don’t tell the whole story here! Also, remember that most games are not designed to meet the highest-end requirements. Look at the power of the consoles that games are being made for to get an idea of the average requirement.
|Base/Boost Clock Speed
|Up to 16 GB LPDDR5
|NVIDIA RTX 2060
|6 GB GDDR6
|NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti
|4 GB GDDR5
|NVIDIA GTX 950
|2 GB GDDR5
|Radeon RX 6700 XT
|12 GB GDDR6
|Radeon RX 6800
|16 GB GDDR6
|Radeon RX Vega 56
|8 GB HBM2
Exploring GPU Alternatives
For all of the options provided here, it’s extremely hard to get a direct comparison to the Steam Deck. You need to keep in mind that the Steam Deck is rendering to a much smaller screen than a 1440p or 4K monitor.
This means the rendering requirements are quite different. I’ll be making reference to FPS as a pretty good indicator, but again, this number is also affected by the rendering and display requirements of the device being benchmarked. If you want to avoid the Steam Deck and prefer to keep or upgrade your PC instead, these are some of the best GPUs to fit the bill.
NVIDIA RTX 2060
The Steam Deck may not have as many teraflops as the 2060, but it still punches close to it in terms of display. It’s hard to get a direct comparison because architecture does a lot for the Steam Deck, for example, both the 2060 and the Steam Deck get around 40-45 FPS in games like Elden Ring.
The 2060 has an average higher clock and definitely handles higher resolution better, but in terms of performance for the intended device, it’s not unfair to put the Steam Deck toe to toe. The Steam Deck will also have much more available VRAM, so this also makes up for some of the difference.
NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti
- Memory: 4GB GDDR5
- Cock speed: 1290MHz
- Features HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort video outputs
- Graphics Coprocessor: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050
The 1050 Ti feels great compared to the Steam Deck. This card looks a lot closer numbers-wise to the Steam Deck, and actually performs similarly, too. This isn’t a 4K card, but for 1080p gaming, it still holds up great.
NVIDIA GTX 950
This entry is on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of all the cards here. While the clock speeds are more consistent between base and boosted, this card struggles more with modern games. It’s an amazing example of how numbers alone aren’t a great representation of a card’s power.
The GTX 950 struggles to keep up even at lower settings for most games. It’s extremely hard to recommend this card — even as a budget purchase. Its low clock speed and extremely limited VRAM make it struggle with the high memory requirements of games today. You could opt for it as a cheaper alternative to a Steam Deck, but you might not be as impressed with your gaming experience.
Radeon RX 6700 XT
This card outperforms the Steam Deck with ease, and its pricing is the most competitive with it. If you’re looking for high-end futureproof gaming, the 6700 XT is a great choice — but it comes at most of the cost of a base Steam Deck.
You’ll still need to account for the cost of the rest of the PC. So, even though the card itself is cheaper, you’re still going to spend less on a Steam Deck. It is a bit unfair to compare the Steam Deck to this card, as its higher clock, comparable VRAM, and shared architecture mean that the 6700 XT punches high, and punches hard.
Radeon RX 6800
Another heavy hitter and sister chip to the Steam Deck’s APU, the 6800, exceeds in most aspects. The 6800 also benchmarks higher than the 6700 XT, so the Steam Deck has a good match here, too.
This card also has a hefty price tag, but a dedicated GPU fills a different niche than the Steam Deck. As usual, the higher price tag is no surprise. This card is more for high-resolution gaming than gaming on a smaller, mobile device.
Plus, you’ll need to have a pretty hefty power supply, as this GPU can use up to 250 watts under load. Compare that to the Steam Deck, which will let you game and charge the device under just 45 watts of power.
Radeon RX Vega 56
Last up is another powerful card from AMD. This one is actually closer in performance to the Steam Deck, but it still performs extremely well. The clock speeds and available VRAM are almost spot on here, but the Deck wins on price again.
Comparable PCs and Alternatives
Okay, so you know what cards are good contenders to go against the Steam Deck. But does the rest of your PC match up? If you’re working with only a little bit of RAM, a slower mechanical hard drive, and a weak processor, it doesn’t matter as much which graphics card you have.
If your PC is up to snuff in regards to all of your other hardware, you can add a decent GPU and enjoy much better gaming performance than a Steam Deck. However, if you want to upgrade your entire desktop set-up to replicate or surpass a Steam Deck, you’ll have to look at a few alternatives.
Considering the graphical requirements to go head to head with the Steam Deck, we’ve researched a few of the best prebuilt desktops that give you a solid match for your money.
SkyTech Shadow 3.0 (NVIDIA RTX 2060)
This PC may be a bit pricier than a Steam Deck, but for the system specifications, it’s a pretty good deal. For most games, it will perform well, but for this price, you can get a lot more storage in a Steam Deck. You also will be missing some key components to start gaming, like peripherals or a screen. Yes, the RTX 2060 is a big step up from a Steam Deck, but you’ll pay that extra upfront cost to get it.
AQVIN Gaming PC Tower (NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti)
Another great choice, this computer is about the closest you can get in performance and price to the Steam Deck. But higher pricing means you’ll still need to weigh the pros and cons of spending more for the desktop gaming experience.
Think about it — yes, it does cost slightly more than a Steam Deck. But you have the ability to upgrade all of your components throughout the life of the PC. If a more demanding game comes along, you’ll be able to upgrade your GPU, CPU, or whatever you need.
CyberPower PC (Radeon RX 6700 XT)
On the higher end of price also comes the higher end of performance. This PC has it all and would be great for gaming with the intent to use ray tracing or a 4K monitor. You’ll definitely be hurting when it comes to your wallet, but that comes with the territory. With this PC, you’re really entering a league way beyond the lowly Steam Deck.
GPU or Steam Deck: Which One Is Better? Which one Should I Pick?
The Steam Deck is difficult to compare to GPUs for a variety of reasons, but it is important to remember that graphics aren’t what you should make your entire decision on. The Steam Deck is not the device you should use for hardcore gaming at home, and a GPU won’t do you any good in the airport.
You’ll be making some tradeoffs no matter what you choose, but the Steam Deck is not a replacement for your gaming PC. The Steam Deck was designed with modern mobile gaming in mind, not running 4K 120 FPS ray-traced eye melters.
Steam Decks are great for when you want to game in 2-3 hour bursts, and when a PC isn’t convenient. If you’re someone who wants something that you can use all day and for the latest and greatest games to run at the absolute max settings, then maybe a Steam Deck isn’t your best option.
The hype around the Steam Deck is palpable, even well after release. Unless you see yourself using it in places other than your desk, you could consider a more traditional system. But let’s face it, you’re going to pay more for a desktop PC. Plus, if you want to game on your commute or in places other than your home, then you really can’t replicate the Steam Deck experience.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Dasian/Shutterstock.com.