Valve’s surprising new Steam Deck has been officially announced, promising to let players take their whole Steam library of games on the go. But how does the handheld compare to other major consoles on the market, like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X / S, and the PlayStation 5?
First off, let’s look at the Steam Deck’s specs. It’s powered by an AMD APU with a quad-core / eight-thread Zen 2 CPU and an AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 8 compute units, alongside 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM.
There are three models available: one with 64GB of eMMC storage for $399, one with a 256GB NVMe SSD for $529, and a top-of-the-line model with 512GB of high-speed NVMe SSD storage for $649. While the base eMMC storage configuration could potentially mean slower game installs and load times, Valve promises that “there is no in-game difference in frame rates or graphics quality” among the three models.
The most obvious comparison for the Steam Deck is, of course, Nintendo’s Switch — particularly the upcoming OLED model — which offers a similar handheld configuration, screen size, and design. Both devices feature 720p touchscreen displays, too.
Of the two, the Switch is almost certainly the less powerful device: it features Nvidia’s Tegra X1 chipset, an Arm-based processor that’s over four years old, compared to the Steam Deck’s AMD Zen 2 CPU and next-gen RDNA 2 GPU, architectures that also appear in the PS5 and Xbox Series X. The Steam Deck has also been shown off handling games that the Switch simply can’t, like Control (which is only available as a cloud-streamed option on Nintendo’s handheld.) And other showcased games, like Jedi: Fallen Order or No Man’s Sky, have never been available in a portable form factor before.
But given that the two handhelds are closest together in form factor and price, it’s still worth looking at them side by side — especially considering that even with the gap in performance, they’re far closer to each other than the dramatically more powerful Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
Unlike the Switch, the Steam Deck swaps removable controllers for some additional input methods: there’s a pair of Steam Controller-style trackpads on either side of the display, in addition to the thumbsticks, and four extra buttons on the back of the device that serve as paddle-esque additional inputs. It also offers Bluetooth audio for connecting a pair of wireless headphones, something the Switch rather frustratingly lacks.
The Switch does win out in battery life, though, with 4.5 to 9 hours quoted for the Switch OLED, versus 2 to 8 hours on the Steam Deck, with Valve telling IGN that you can realistically expect 4 hours of Portal 2 at 720p and 60 frames per second. The Switch is also much lighter than Valve’s portable, weighing in at 0.93 pounds to the Steam Deck’s 1.47-pound weight.
Choosing between the $349 OLED Switch and the $399 Steam Deck will largely come down to preference, though: do you prefer Nintendo’s level of polish and lineup of exclusive games, or Valve’s rougher around the edges — but more powerful — option, with its extensive PC gaming library? (The Steam Deck also has other advantages: since it’s a full-fledged PC, you can technically install Windows and leverage it as a portable Xbox Game Pass machine, install the Epic Game Store, and use it for streaming services like Stadia or Luna.)
Compared to the lineup of next-gen consoles, like the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, the Steam Deck fares considerably worse: its processor is simply no match for the beefier chips in the latest consoles from Sony or Microsoft, and its GPU is markedly less powerful than even the Xbox Series S, with less than half the graphics cores of Microsoft’s weakest next-gen console. Despite the fact that the Steam Deck uses the same RDNA 2 GPU architecture, it’s just not in the same weight class.
As seen in the chart below, the PS5 and next-gen Xbox consoles win out in almost every metric on which you care to compare them: more cores, faster CPU clock rates, dramatically more compute units, faster GPU clock rates, and more teraflops of raw GPU power.
And while that may feel like an unfair comparison, it’s worth considering that the Steam Deck — which ranges in price from $399 to $649 — is priced more in the same ballpark as those more premium consoles than the Switch ($199 to $349).
A more apt comparison, at least when it comes to predicting the Steam Deck’s approximate power, may be that of the last console generation: at 1.6 teraflops, it slots in neatly between the Xbox One S (1.4 teraflops) and the PS4 (1.8 teraflops) in terms of raw graphical prowess. The Steam Deck does use a more modern RDNA 2 architecture, though, so it’s hard to directly compare the two on specs alone.