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Steam Deck Specifications – Comparing Valve’s Deck to PC Gaming Hardware


Steam Deck Performance

Valve’s has released the Steam Deck specifications, and they have spawned a storm of excitement. Essentially, the Steam Deck is a handheld gaming PC built around SteamOS. The Steam Deck is poised to be a fairly unique product, looking like a hybrid of a handheld console like the Switch and a conventional desktop PC. Indeed, Valve’s Deck is being marketed as a “Gaming PC” with the intention of providing all the features that framing entails, for everyone from tech enthusiasts to gamers.

It’ll have a native SteamOS interface with (mostly) complete support for your pre-existing Steam library (limited to games that have either been ported to Linux or which can be run with Proton and Steam Play), and it’ll also have the ability to replace SteamOS with another option, such as Windows, in order to run just about any other title you can think of.

The Steam Deck specifications and features allow you to run anything and everything on it—and its the combination of that openness; controls including a touchscreen, capacitive pads, and back-grip buttons; the ability to ‘dock’ it to play on a TV or monitor; and a priority placed on ergonomics that (altogether) makes the device more interesting than something like a Nintendo Switch or a GPD Win3. There are just so many features all at once!

As for the hardware itself, Valve has released a very comprehensive spec sheet on the Steam Deck website. We’ll know exactly how this hardware will perform in games once the first units make it into the hands of reviewers, but until then we can take a close look at the provided specs and discuss how they stack up against current desktop hardware!

 

Steam Deck Specifications

First off, let’s list some of the specs released by Valve on the tech section of the official site for the gadget:

Processor

 

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

 

RAM 16 GB LPDDR5 on-board RAM (5500 MT/s quad 32-bit channels)
Storage

 

64 GB eMMC (PCIe Gen 2 x1)

256 GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4)

512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4)

 

All models use socketed 2230 m.2 modules (not intended for end-user replacement)

All models include high-speed microSD card slot

Display Resolution 1280 x 800px (16:10 aspect ratio)
Refresh Rate 60Hz

 

Steam Deck vs. Desktop Hardware – Comparing the Core Specs

CPU

Even a quick glance at the Steam Deck specifications sheet shows that the heart of the Steam Deck is an AMD APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) containing a 4 core/8 thread CPU and an RDNA 2 architecture GPU with eight computing units. “APU” is just the fancy name that AMD uses for their chips that have integrated graphics processors. They usually set these chips apart by adding a ‘G’ to the end of their names.

In the desktop hardware market, the closest comparison CPU-wise would be the Ryzen 3 3000 lineup, which is also based on the Zen 2 architecture and also has 4 cores with 8 threads per chip. But those desktop components are clocked faster, with a base of 3.6 GHz and a boost of 3.9 GHz for the lowest-tier Ryzen 3 3100. So, in terms of sheer processor power, you could consider the Steam Deck to be almost at the level of the ‘Poor’ to ‘Entry’ tiers of our main build chart.

GPU (Integrated Graphics)

As for the GPU, there are two ways you could productively think about it. First, before talking about desktop parts, you could think about the fact that this 1.6 TFLOPS GPU should be in the ballpark of last gen’s home consoles when comparing raw values (Xbox One S at 1.4 TFLOPS, and the PS4 at 1.8 TFLOPS).

Second, comparing the Steam Deck’s GPU currently available graphics cards, the Steam Deck falls just a bit behind the GTX 1050—again, when comparing only TFLOPS numbers. But TFLOPS numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they may do little to truly pinpoint the hardware’s ability (unless you’re planning on running scientific calculations on the Steam Deck to use it for machine learning rather than gaming, I guess).

One reason that the Steam Deck’s iGPU may be disadvantaged when compared to a discrete GPU like the GTX 1050, for example, is the fact that it has no VRAM. Since it’s on the same chip as the CPU, it shares the same system RAM, unlike standalone video cards coming with their own supply of memory.

On the other hand, the RDNA 2 architecture makes the comparison even harder by giving potential advantages to the Steam Deck—as it should allow the GPU to perform better at lower power usage and clock speeds than older architectures in last-gen consoles and desktop components.

Overall, it’s very difficult to place, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that the Steam Deck GPU will perform something like the Vega 11 iGPU in the ‘Minimum’ tier of our main build chart, or slightly better.

RAM (Short-term System Memory)

Speaking of memory, the 16GB of LDDR5 memory is very interesting. It’s lightning-fast and quad-channel—which is of particular importance in an APU System like the Steam Deck for the reason stated above (that an integrated graphics processor has to ‘share’ system memory for VRAM functionality).

But it adds yet another variable when trying to understand how the performance of the Steam Deck compares to desktop hardware. It’s both higher-capacity and higher-speed than the RAM in the LI build tiers we’ve mentioned as points of comparison in the sections above, though, so it should be an unambiguous point in the Deck’s favor.

Steam Deck Specifications as Benchmarks?

So, what should we do? Just wait till the Deck releases, and see for ourselves how everything runs and how benchmarks perform? Well, yes…

But since the recent Steam Deck hands-on that was attended by multiple journalists and reviewers, we have some idea of how the early prototype performs in a variety of games, including Doom Eternal, Control, and The Witcher 3. All these games ran at medium settings at respectable framerates of at least 30 FPS at the Steam Deck’s native 60Hz 1280 x 800 resolution.

This surprisingly good performance can be partially attributed to this low resolution. Which many reviewers claimed to be fine in the handheld form factor. But for more info on how the Steam Deck might be expected to perform in gaming workloads, consider taking a look at our previous article, all about estimating the settings at which the Steam Deck may handle Steam’s current top 10 games.

 

Conclusion

Painting an accurate performance picture of any unusual (and unreleased) piece of hardware is a wobbly science at best. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t come close. From what we’ve seen, it can be speculated that the Steam Deck specifications will fall somewhere within the ‘Poor’ to ‘Entry’ range on the Logical Increments tier list. In other words, it’ll be a low-end gaming PC that will perform well at medium/low settings on the Deck’s native 720p-esque resolution but will struggle with higher settings and/or higher resolutions in some games. But relative to its size and price, that’s still a pretty incredible ranking.

Of course, this is just a guess based on what reviewers have experienced and stuff like TFLOPS numbers. So, there is still potential for the Steam Deck specifications to surprise us. Is there any game or software that you are excited to run with the Steam Deck? Is there any aspect of the specs we didn’t discuss that you find interesting? Leave your comments below!

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