The Steam Deck makes use of AMD's latest and greatest architecture, but how well does that translate into actual gaming performance?
Find out the answer to that and more in our Steam Deck preview below.
Is the Steam Deck a video game console?
No. The Steam Deck is not a video game console. It's a portable PC that you can plug into a monitor or TV and install apps, as well as software, just like how you would on a regular PC. However, unlike most desktops that use Windows as their operating system, the Steam Deck will run on an updated version of SteamOS, which is Valve's Linux-based operating system.
According to Valve, even though the Steam Dick will run a Linux-based operating system, owners can still play Windows games with no official Linux support via Proton, which is Valve's compatibility tech.
Valve is also giving users the freedom to just uninstall the pre-installed SteamOS and install Windows.
What are the specifications of the Steam Deck?
The Steam Deck APU, which is the term that AMD uses for its CPU/GPU combo microprocessors, combines its Zen 2 CPU architecture and RDNA 2 GPU architecture in one processor.
In essence, it's a processor that has similar performance to the AMD Ryzen 3-000 series desktop processors and the Raden RX 6000-series graphics cards.
While it's easy to get carried away discussing the potential performance of the Steam Deck, we do have to exercise caution. There are no chips available today that mirror the same APU performance inside the Steam Deck. Even the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5, which use the same architecture and technology, don't match up with the Steam Deck in terms of numbers.
Across the multiple variants (there are three of them), the Steam Deck has similar hardware except for the internal storage.
For the processor, it has a four-core/eight-thread Zen 2 CPU, which would be the rough equivalent to the Ryzen 3 3100 CPU. Not to mention, Steam Deck restricts the power of its processor to run at only 2.4Ghz up to 3.5GHz, probably to extend battery life and minimize thermal demand.
As for its graphics card, the Steam Deck GPU will run at 1 to 1.6GHz and deliver up to 1.6 TFlops of FP32 performance, with up to 512 cores in total.
Here's a complete rundown of the Steam Deck specifications:
|Processor||AMD Zen 2|
|CPU clock speed||2.4GHz up to 3.5GHz|
|Graphics card||AMD RDNA 2|
|GPU Compute Units||8|
|GPU clock speed||1GHz up to 1.6GHz|
|RAM||16GB LPDDR5 @ 5,500MT/s|
|Storage||64GB eMMC / 256GB NVMe SSD / 512GB NVMe SSD|
|Display||7-inch LCD touchscreen|
|Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, 3.5mm jack, dual mics, USB Type-C/Bluetooth|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB Type-C with DisplayPort 1.4 support|
|Size||11.7 x 4.6 x 1.8-inch (298 x 117 x 49mm)|
|Weight||Approximately 1.47 lbs (669 grams)|
|Price||$399 (64GB) / $529 (256GB) / $649 (512GB)|
Why is everybody talking about the LPDDR5 RAM?
Steam Deck will utilize a newer and faster memory standard that outpaces the DDR4 memory used in most gaming PCs today. Although DDR5 is better compared to its mobile version, the LPDDR5 memory found in the Steam Deck still represents a tremendous upgrade compared to DDR4 memory.
With 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, Valve made sure to equip the Steam Deck with a nice blend of capacity and speed. The only problem is that it might not be enough.
If it were not divided between the CPU and GPU, then we wouldn't be talking about this. Instead, the result is that the Steam Deck will very likely have trouble providing the necessary bandwidth for the CPU and GPU, especially since LPDDR5 cannot offer the same amount of bandwidth compared to GDDR6, which you will find in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, as well as other desktops and laptops that are running discrete graphics cards.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does the Steam Deck compare to the Nintendo Switch?
Even though we clarified at the onset of this article that the Steam Deck is not just a gaming console, the comparisons are inevitable. Both the Nintendo Switch and the Steam Deck are portable with similar dimensions. However, in terms of hardware and versatility, the Steam Deck wins by a long shot.
The only area where the Switch wins is that it has access to Switch-exclusive games.
In terms of dimensions, the standard version of the Nintendo Switch measures 9.4 x 4 x .55 inches and weighs just under 1 pound. This means that the Steam Deck should be at least a couple of inches wider, with more length and thickness, as well as heft to it.
Could battery problems pose an issue for the Steam Deck?
Valve developer Pierre-Loup Griffais has stated that the Steam Deck has around 2-8 hours of battery life. He confirmed that players can "play Portal 2 for four hours" on the Steam Deck with possibly more if you limit the performance to only 30 frames per second, which is a considerable hit from 60 frames per second.
The good news here is that 8 hours is a long time and is a reasonable expectation if you're going to play these low-spec PC games. The bad news is that more demanding games are going to drain the Steam Deck of its battery faster than 2011's Portal 2.
It's safe to say that you wouldn't want to be spending time away from an electrical outlet if you're playing anything more graphic intensive than Portal 2 while on the go.
Does the Steam Deck come with a Dock?
Yes. The Steam Deck does come with a Dock that allows you to connect it to your monitor or TV. However, the USB-C dock is sold separately. It comes with an Ethernet adapter, three USB inputs, as well as a DisplayPort, and an HDMI output.
Valve has yet to reveal how much the Steam Deck dock will cost and when it will be available for purchase.
Can you use the Steam Deck for more than Steam Games?
The Steam Deck is a portable PC and you don't have to stick with the factory software installed on it. This means that you can play games outside of Steam, just like the Epic Store and even the Xbox Game Pass.
When does the Steam Deck come out?
Valve plans to release the Steam Deck in December 2021, but don't expect to get your hands on the portable console until at least half a year, if not more, later.
According to its official page, as of July 18, 2021, all new preorders will not start shipping until Q2 2022. This means that it will be a while until you get your hands on the Steam Deck. But, if it's any consolation, you don't exactly have to pay the full amount to secure a preorder. It only costs $5 to secure purchase invitations once the Steam Deck starts rolling out in the future, at which point you can complete the transaction with the $5 you initially dropped going towards the total cost.
Another point of contention is that the Steam Deck isn't available worldwide right now. At the moment, only those from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union can pre-order on a Steam Deck.
In an attempt to curb bots and scalpers, Steam has required every account that places a preorder to have purchased something on Steam first before June 2021.
Can the Steam Deck run games at 60 fps?
Valve Hardware Engineer Yazan Aldehayyat and Valve developer Pierre-Loup Griffais has confirmed that the Steam Deck can run the entire Steam library at 30 frames per second on its 1280 x 800 LCD screen. More importantly, he clarified on Twitter that 30 fps is more of a floor than a target. This suggests that 30 fps is the minimum expected performance for the games on the Steam Deck.
Will the Steam Deck get its own games cartridge?
Valve hinted at the possibility of Steam Deck being able to play preloaded games on SD cards as opposed to having to download and run games off of Steam. If this happens, the Steam Deck will become just like the Nintendo Switch OLED and gamers will have even fewer reasons to buy Nintendo's handheld console.
Unfortunately, at the moment, Valve seems satisfied with how well the Steam Deck is performing. This feature might not come to Valve's handheld console until at least a year or two from now.
Is the Steam Deck Worth Buying?
That all depends on what kind of performance you are asking for. The Steam Deck is roughly the equivalent of a more affordable $500 gaming PC that we recommended months ago, with better performance.
In a day and age where graphics card prices might not stabilize until well into 2022, the Steam Deck does hold some value.
Just don't expect the Steam Deck to be able to run AAA titles at worthwhile settings and resolutions, especially if you plan on spending any significant amount of time away from a charger.
So long as you can keep your expectations reasonable, the Steam Deck shouldn't disappoint.