With the release of the Steam Deck, many gamers are questioning how it compares to a laptop.
Both devices have been made for portable gaming, but what offers the best overall experience?
This article will compare the Steam Deck vs. laptop and determine which device is right for you!
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What’s A Steam Deck? (Overview + Pros & Cons For Gaming)
The Steam Deck is a handheld gaming computer developed by Valve and released on the 25th of February 2022.
Like the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck will allow users to play video games on the go while functioning as a mobile computer via the SteamOS and Linux backbone.
So, yes, you will be able to play Fortnite and Call of Duty Warzone.
With that said, the Steam Deck is in its infancy, so ‘unverified’ games can lead to crashes and not-so-great performance.
Additionally, you’ll also be able to install the Windows OS, but again, we wouldn’t regard it as fully optimized.
The Steam Deck is innovative and can compete with an entry-level laptop.
Valve has created the Steam Deck to function as a fully portable gaming PC, where users will be able to connect all their peripherals.
Plug in your keyboard, mouse, headset, and monitor, and you have a full-on workstation.
Once a web browser is installed, you'll also gain access to popular apps like YouTube and Netflix, so the entertainment never ends.
Can a Steam Deck replace a gaming laptop entirely? Perhaps, however, this will vary to individual demands and expectations.
We can say that the Steam Deck is definitely no “PSP (Portable Sony Playstation)” from the early 2000s.
Portable gaming has come a long way, and with updates continually rolling out, the user experience can only get better.
What We Like
Things We Don’t
Gaming Laptops (Overview + Pros & Cons For Gaming)
Gaming laptops are specialized portable computers that are designed to play video games at very high standards.
Unlike a regular PC or laptop, gaming laptops include a dedicated graphics card, multi-core processor, high-speed RAM, and custom cooling.
Gaming laptops are catered toward performance enthusiasts who want to tackle the most difficult processing tasks wherever they are.
Gaming laptops have been around since 2010, so users can also expect a fully optimized system compared to the Steam Deck.
The Windows OS will work flawlessly, and installing most applications should be a breeze.
This means that gaming platforms such as Steam, Origin, and Epic will all work as intended. The actual gaming experience can potentially push frame rates up to a competitive level.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, then a gaming laptop definitely has much more to offer in terms of raw power.
You may need to tweak your settings, software, and components a little at the start, but once everything is running, the possibilities are endless.
Whether you’re interested in video games, video editing, rendering, or multi-tasking, a high-end gaming laptop can do it all!
What We Like
Things We Don’t
Steam Deck Vs Gaming Laptop Comparison - Which Is Better?
Weight & Portability
One of the biggest selling points of the Steam Deck is its portability and lightweight design.
The device is 11.7 x 4.6 x 1.8-inches (298 x 117 x 49 mm) in dimension and weighs approximately 1.47 lbs (669g).
The Steam Deck might be bigger than the Nintendo Switch, but that is likely attributed to the boost in performance and additional hardware upgrades.
Despite this, when comparing the Steam Deck's weight/portability to a laptop, the Steam Deck always wins.
Laptops require a resting surface, while the Steam Deck is a lightweight handheld experience.
Although gaming laptops are portable computers, you won't see them being advertised as handheld devices.
When looking at popular brands such as Acer, Razer, and ASUS, we see that an entry-level gaming laptop will have dimensions around 15 x 10 x 1-inches and a weight of 5 lbs.
On top of that, these stats do tend to increase more as we transition into 17-inch gaming laptops, so bear that in mind when weight/size is a deciding factor.
Games & Availability
The Steam Deck has access to over 50,000 games on the Steam platform; however, only a few of these are confirmed to work as intended.
When selecting a game, users will see the following:
As stated above, since the Steam Deck runs on Linux, you will be able to play other games from Epic and Origin. However, this will require some tinkering with an additional launcher.
The Steam Deck also has the ability to install emulators, so for those looking to relive their childhood PlayStation 2 or GameCube favorites, the Steam deck has you covered.
There's a world of possibilities, but we may need to wait a few months for more games to get verified and other platforms/consoles optimized.
The endless backlog of games is there; it's just dependent on the system to eventually fine-tune the controls and performance.
Steam was developed for PC gaming, so users will have access to everything on the platform.
Like the Steam Deck, you'll be greeted by over 50,000 games, but the entirety of the storefront will be playable immediately.
Every game on Steam will have the ability to change the graphics and performance to match your system specifications.
In other words, as long as you have the required technical specs, things should run pretty smoothly for the most part.
You can also think of a gaming laptop as the fully optimized sibling of the Steam Deck. Epic, Origin, and Blizzard will all work right away when installed from your web browser.
You can run emulators too, and connect a PlayStation or Xbox controller to further enhance the console experience.
The gaming laptop is, therefore, miles ahead in terms of 'playable' games, but we will likely see the two balance out as the years go by.
Display Size and Resolution
The Steam Deck has a 7-inch LCD touchscreen with a native resolution of 1280 x 800. The refresh rate is capped at 60Hz, and the supporting panel is IPS.
Games should look relatively crisp and clear on the device; however, there is some missing contrast within the darker shades.
Although Valve has stated that the Steam Deck can connect to an external monitor, at the moment of this article, the output limit is no higher than the 1280 x 800 native resolution.
Therefore, if you want to connect the Steam Deck to a 4K monitor, you’ll only be able to reproduce 1280 x 800 at most.
The display size is perfect for portable handheld gaming, but you shouldn’t think of using it competitively. Games look good, but we wouldn't say it's an immersive experience.
Gaming laptops come in an assortment of sizes, ranging from 11 to 17-inches.
You’ll also have the choice between IPS, VA, and TN panels, so you can find the right balance between great color accuracy and a fast refresh rate.
Compared to the Steam Deck, users will get a true high-definition experience, with display options such as 1080p, 1440p, or 4K, accompanied by response times of 1ms.
Gaming laptops, therefore, provide the best visual experience, in addition to being ready for competitive play at up to 360Hz.
Performance & Battery Life
The Steam Deck features a custom AMD Zen 2 CPU with a max clock speed of 3.5GHz, and an AMD RDNA 2 GPU that can reach upwards of 1.6 TFlops.
To put this into perspective, a PS5 has 10 TFlops, while an Xbox Series X has 12 TFlops.
That's not to say the Steam Deck lacks power; it just has a smaller screen that requires an eighth of the pixels.
So, it's actually on par with the new generation of consoles. Internally, you'll also find 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and storage options of up to 512GB.
The Steam Deck can also play games such as Horizon Zero Dawn at ‘ultra’ settings at 30 FPS consistently.
We wouldn’t say it can push the frames as an RTX 3060 could, but it definitely outshines the Nintendo Switch in terms of raw performance.
Looking at battery life, results vary depending on the type of game you’re playing.
Resource intensive games can see the device drain under 2 hours, while basic games can see power extend to 6-8 hours.
Coinciding to laptop sizes and resolutions, gaming laptops have many component options.
With choices like an RTX 3080Ti GPU and a Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, a gaming laptop will overwhelm the Steam Deck in almost every aspect.
Competitive games can reach 400+ FPS, while a corresponding 240 Hz refresh rate will retain a buttery smooth display.
If you’re after the best gaming experience, then once again, the gaming laptop triumphs.
However, take into consideration that a gaming laptop with these specs might be four times the price of a Steam Deck.
Finally, battery life can range around 2-3 hours while gaming and 5-8 hours when browsing the internet.
Common Steam Deck Versus Gaming Laptop Questions
How much storage does a Steam Deck have?
The Steam Deck comes in three onboard storage options: 64, 256, and 512 GB.
In order to further upgrade the storage capacity, you can do so via the microSD card slot situated at the bottom edge of the device.
How much is a Steam Deck versus a gaming laptop?
Depending on the storage variant you choose, the Steam Deck should retail for $400-$650.
Gaming laptops can start at $500, while high-end models can reach as high as $4,000.
Can the Steam Deck support an external GPU?
No, the Steam Deck does not support an external GPU.
Valve has specifically stated that users should not expect further graphical upgrades or enhancements in terms of internal components.
In summary, a gaming laptop will easily outmatch a Steam Deck in terms of raw performance and display quality.
However, if you’re looking for portability and a fully handheld experience, the Steam Deck does provide a very enjoyable gaming experience.
Andrew White is the founder of TechGearoid, a leading technology review & information website that is designed to help consumers make better decisions when it comes to their IT purchases. As a specialist tech writer (nerd) with over 10 years of experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern technology & the newest market innovations. When he isn’t providing value for his readers, he’s usually drinking coffee or at the beach. Andrew lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and family.