This year is going in the same direction as 2021, the year PC games left desktops, with the migration to game streaming platforms continuing, and gaming laptops more powerful than we’ve seen before. As Steam Deck expands our understanding of what portable gaming consoles can provide, the specific lines that used to keep PC games so tightly tied to the desk are now blurred. The main question on my mind: “Should I buy a Steam Deck or a gaming laptop?”
The answer is cut and very dry for the thirsty fireworks gamers among us. There are portable game machines out there that blow Steam Deck out of water when it comes to performance, so why waste money on something with such limitations? Well, it is important to remember that it is not about smashing the highest frame rates. There are many aspects to consider when it comes to mobile gaming.
While your budget will be a major deciding factor, how about choosing the portable gaming device that fits your lifestyle? You’ll want to think about what kind of games you enjoy playing and for how long. How fast will you need to pack it away, and where do you plan on playing said games? It will be important whether you prefer to play with a console, or with the best gaming mouse and the best gaming keyboard?
I’ve been thinking about whether Steam Deck is better than a gaming laptop on a more experimental level, looking beyond obvious things like Framerates, to help you figure out which platform you really need in your life.
Price vs. performance
Steam Deck comes with a dedicated quad-core AMD Zen 2 CPU, an RDNA 2 GPU with 8 compute units, along with 16GB of DDR5 RAM as standard. You’re looking at 2.4–3.5GHz CPU clocks, and the GPU’s performance is roughly equivalent to that of a GTX 1050.
It’s a tight little machine, and Valve has done a great job packing a lot of power into such a small package. Pricing varies primarily depending on the level of storage you choose, starting at $399 for the 64GB version, going up to $529 for the 256GB version, and $649 for the 512GB version. So while spending more on a laptop can give you more powerful components, there is no difference in performance between each of the Steam Deck models.
Of course, this gives us a pretty big incentive to buy the $399 model, and upgrade our deck storage from 64GB to 500GB once we get it, as some utter legend on Reddit has done. Valve cautions against jamming anything else into the M.2 deck slot, but not everyone has it on hand with a screwdriver. For the sake of comparison, I’m going to assume your only option is $649, especially considering the game’s install sizes today.
For this price, you maybe Get a gaming laptop, but being able to find one with a current-generation GPU and CPU is a bit of a stretch. It can be done, though, if you know where to find the best deals on gaming laptops. Black Friday sales are the best time to make the most of your money, although you may be able to find Steam Deck on sale by the time bargain season starts again.
The point here is that for the Steam Deck’s top price, you can definitely get a laptop that pumps out more frames per second, although you may have to make sacrifices when it comes to storage or RAM.
What, when and where?
It’s never quite as simple as picking the thing with the most power under the hood. If so, we’d all be driving sports cars. Unfortunately, the fact is that sports cars have small trunks and are not great for installing children’s car seats. Thinking about how you will use your technology will be one of the most important things you can do at this point; There will be more appropriate situations and games for each platform.
First think about what kind of games you like to play. Deck’s controls are a little awkward to get used to, and tend to work best with RPGs, platformers, farming simulators, and driving games, but you can get sims and the like that work just fine, after a bit of fiddling. Once the Deck Dock raises its head, you’ll be able to connect a mouse and keyboard, and of course there’s always Bluetooth to connect peripherals wirelessly, but the device is primarily designed for console-based gaming.
The small screen will be a drawback for some people as well. Games with large text fit into a deck, but if you play games with a lot of menus, a 15-inch laptop screen would make an 8-inch Deck feel awkward.
Laptops can do all of this and more, but if you prefer playing games with a console and aren’t too busy with FPS scores, the deck is a no-brainer. Why carry all that extra weight and separate peripherals when you can basically put everything in one?
Which brings me precisely to my next point. Think about where you’ll be running your device, and how far you’ll need to carry it. Hospital waiting rooms and bars aren’t the place for a laptop, but take a Steam Deck to a bar and you’ll soon see the benefit of a handheld computer. Mountaineers who fancy having some remote gaming sessions will be at their peak with Deck. Your laptop won’t cut it when you’re scrambling on rocks, but the deck (which comes with its own sturdy case) won’t crack your back, or take up too much space in your backpack.
Finally, how long will you be without electricity? Steam Deck is the obvious choice if you haven’t had access to power for some time. The laptop gives you a good hour of untethered gaming today, but not much more than that. With Deck on the other hand, you’re looking at a good few hours of gameplay in faraway places.
Steam Deck is a very versatile device. It is based on Linux by default, but you can install Windows if you wish. It can be used in desktop mode to work on, or as a media streaming device, and you can connect a monitor with the USB Type-C to HDMI Adapter without having to purchase a dock.
The thing is, your laptop can already do all of these things before the deck even comes out. Not only can you work and play on a laptop, you can do it simultaneously, seamlessly switching between the game, emails and spreadsheets. This is a little more difficult with the deck.
Working on a laptop will seem less tiring to most people as well, as it will most likely be running an operating system that you use on a daily basis.
And while laptops can be a lot more upgradeable, with the ability to replace RAM and extra NVMe SSDs cramming into them a lot of the time, there aren’t as many possibilities when it comes to laptop modification as there are in Steam. Deck. .
It’s not a quick decision as I initially expected, choosing between Steam Deck or Laptop. There are limitations to both, with Deck’s main drawbacks being how well it plays with certain types of games. As long as most of your favorites are checked out, and you don’t mind messing with the control charts a little, there’s no reason not to jump on the Steam Deck bandwagon.
Although if you are into all the ray tracing work then the deck will not be your hero as it runs on AMD hardware.
If you are going to do more than just play, a laptop is an obvious choice; It may not fit in your pocket but it will be less stressful when receiving zoom calls on the deck. Of course, both the laptop and Steam Deck have a lot to do, but if FPS is secondary, your decision will depend entirely on your lifestyle.
Who knew I would face an existential crisis because of a portable gaming device?