Steam deck GPU equivalent

Nov 07, 2023

Steam Deck has become the epitome of portable gaming, embodying the promise of taking your PC gaming library on the go. It's not just a mere gaming console; it's a full-fledged PC in a compact, handheld form. The Steam Deck isn't just about playing indie titles or retro games; it aims at delivering a substantial gaming experience, the kind that you'd expect from a desktop gaming rig. Now, that's a tall order and a promise that has the gaming community at the edge of their seats.

Now, onto the heart of the matter - the GPU power housed within this compact beast. The graphics processing unit (GPU) is the beating heart of any gaming device. It's responsible for incredible visuals, the lifelike characters, and the immersive worlds that gamers delve into. With the Steam Deck, Valve is venturing into a domain where the likes of NVIDIA and AMD have established a stronghold. The big question on everyone's mind is, how does the GPU of the Steam Deck measure against traditional PC GPUs?

This question is not just a topic of discussion among tech enthusiasts; it's a subject of intrigue. The reason is simple - this handheld device claims to offer a PC-level gaming experience in a much more compact form. But can it really deliver a graphical performance comparable to a traditional gaming PC? Or is it a case of overpromise and underdeliver? This isn't just a matter of technical curiosity; it's about setting realistic expectations and assessing whether this device can hold its own in a market dominated by high-performance GPUs that promise and deliver breathtaking visuals. 

Understanding the Steam Deck's GPU

The GPU of the Steam Deck is like a mystery wrapped in an enigma. At its core, the Steam Deck employs a custom APU (Accelerated Processing Unit), a fusion of CPU and GPU engineered in a close-knit collaboration between Valve and AMD. This is not a mere transplantation of desktop-grade GPU into a handheld; it's an elegant solution designed to strike a balance between performance and power efficiency. The APU melds the Zen 2 CPU architecture with RDNA 2 GPU, promising a delightful concoction of processing prowess and graphical gusto.

Now, let's talk numbers. The GPU of the Steam Deck boasts a throughput of around 1.6 teraflops (measure of the computational capacity of a GPU). To put it in perspective, more teraflops generally equate to better graphical performance, albeit it's not a linear correlation. The 1.6 TFLOPS throughput is a figure that sits modestly when juxtaposed against the behemoths of the PC GPU world, yet it's a noteworthy feat for a device of such compact stature​.

The intrigue doesn't stop at the teraflops. The Steam Deck's GPU houses 8 compute units (CUs) clocking at a range of 1.0 to 1.6 GHz. Compute units are crucial as they are the workhorses that chug through the graphical computations required to render your favorite games. It's like having a fleet of mini workstations working in unison within the GPU, each tackling a portion of the graphical load.

This custom APU isn't something we have a direct equivalent to in the traditional desktop market. The nature of an APU, where the CPU and GPU share resources, creates a unique synergy that isn't easily comparable to the discrete GPU setup in a typical PC. Yet, the juxtaposition is inevitable, and the comparison with traditional PC GPUs is a narrative that helps gauge the Steam Deck's graphical standing in a larger context​.

Comparing with PC GPUs

Delving into comparisons with PC GPUs opens up a kaleidoscope of perspectives. The Steam Deck, with its custom APU, treads on a path that's somewhat divergent from the traditional PC gaming rigs. 

The most common comparison drawn is between the Steam Deck's GPU and the Nvidia GTX 1050 or GTX 950. These GPUs have been around the block, known for providing a decent gaming performance without burning a hole in the pocket. The throughput of around 1.6 teraflops that the Steam Deck's GPU boasts is often seen in close quarters with these GPUs, providing a rough ballpark of the graphical performance one might expect​.

Another angle of comparison nudges the Steam Deck closer to the performance realm of the GTX 1060 or even the RTX 2060. Though not officially confirmed, this comparison stems from speculative analysis based on the Steam Deck's specs. It's a tantalizing thought - the idea that a handheld device could rival the performance of GPUs that have been the choice of many PC gamers​.

But the narrative doesn't end here. There's a contrasting viewpoint that draws a line of comparison to the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost from Nvidia. A GPU that's seen many a sunrise and sunset in the tech realm, yet its mention in comparison brings a nostalgic notion of performance metrics from yesteryears​.

The comparisons extend to the realm of AMD as well, placing the Steam Deck in a performance bracket between an AMD RX 550 and RX 460. It's an interesting showcase of the Steam Deck's GPU in a light that's both modest yet respectable given its form factor​​.

These comparisons are not about pinpointing an exact equivalent but about painting a picture of the performance spectrum where the Steam Deck might reside and about understanding the kind of gaming experience one can expect. Whether it's cruising through the retro game lanes or venturing into the demanding territories of modern AAA titles, these comparisons provide a frame of reference.

Comparative Analysis with Consoles

When it comes to the gaming realm, consoles have long been the go-to platforms for many gamers. They offer a blend of performance, ease of use, and a rich gaming library. In recent times, consoles like the Xbox Series X, Series S, and the PlayStation 5 have set new benchmarks in terms of graphics performance, bringing near PC-level graphics to the living room. The entry of the Steam Deck into this space sparks an intriguing narrative - how does this handheld gaming PC stack up against the modern consoles in terms of GPU prowess?

The Steam Deck houses 8 compute units (CUs) with a clock speed range of 1.0 to 1.6 GHz. Now, let’s juxtapose this against the Xbox Series X which boasts a whopping 52 CUs clocking at 1.825 GHz, the Series S with 20 CUs at 1.565 GHz, and the PlayStation 5 with 36 CUs at a variable frequency of 2.23 GHz. The numerical difference is quite stark, showcasing a significant gap in raw GPU power. Where the Steam Deck comes in at 1.6 TFLOPS, these modern consoles are playing in an entirely different league, with the Xbox Series X topping the chart with 12 TFLOPS of GPU power​​.

This disparity in GPU power translates to the ability to render higher fidelity graphics, more complex scenes, and maintain smoother frame rates even in the most graphically demanding games. Modern consoles are designed to deliver a high-end gaming experience on large screen TVs, often at resolutions up to 4K. On the flip side, the Steam Deck is engineered for portability, aiming to provide a respectable gaming experience on its 7-inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels.

Alternative GPU Comparisons

In the quest to unravel the Steam Deck's GPU equivalency, venturing beyond the mainstream comparisons unveils a broader spectrum of understanding. It’s not just about pitting the Steam Deck against the usual suspects in the PC GPU realm, but exploring alternative comparisons that provide a nuanced insight into its graphical prowess.

A notable mention in alternative comparisons is the association of Steam Deck's performance with more modern GPUs like the RTX 3050 and RX 6500 XT. These GPUs represent a newer generation of graphical hardware, offering a blend of performance and efficiency. While they are considerably more powerful, drawing a comparison sheds light on the evolving landscape of GPU technology and how the Steam Deck situates itself amidst these advancements​​.

Moreover, there's a comparison between the Steam Deck and a hypothetical scenario of cutting an RX 6700 XT into five. Though a whimsical analogy, it represents a creative attempt to relate the Steam Deck's GPU capabilities with contemporary GPU hardware. The essence of this comparison is not in its literal interpretation, but in understanding the scaling of GPU technology and how the Steam Deck encapsulates a slice of this modern graphical horsepower within its compact form​​.

These parallels extend to the console realm as well, as some sources draw them between the Steam Deck's performance at 720p and a PS4 or a GTX 1050ti at 1080p. It brings to light the performance adjustments relative to resolution, showcasing how the Steam Deck optimizes its GPU performance for its native resolution​.

Real-World Implications

The rubric of GPU comparisons and technical jargon, while insightful, often veers into the abstract. The real measure of a gaming device's mettle is in its performance amidst the chaos of battle and the narrative weave of storytelling that modern games offer. 

At the heart of the discussion is the Steam Deck's native resolution of 720p. This resolution is a strategic choice, a middle ground that balances graphical fidelity with performance, ensuring that games run smoothly while still looking good on the 7-inch display. The comparisons with GPUs and consoles of higher graphical output highlight a critical aspect - the Steam Deck aims for a level of performance that's tailored for its form factor and intended use.

When we talk about real-world gaming on the Steam Deck, we're talking about a device that can handle a wide range of game genres and titles. From indie darlings to some of the more demanding AAA titles, the Steam Deck's GPU is engineered to offer a respectable performance. Games that are optimized for lower resolutions or have scalable graphics settings are likely to find a comfortable home on the Steam Deck.

Moreover, the Steam Deck offers the flexibility of a PC gaming environment. Gamers have the liberty to tweak settings, optimizing the balance between performance and visual quality to suit their preferences. This level of customization is a significant part of the PC gaming ethos, and the Steam Deck embodies it, despite its compact form.

However, it's essential to manage expectations. The Steam Deck may not deliver the same level of graphical fidelity as a high-end gaming PC or the latest consoles when it comes to the most graphically intensive titles. Yet, it provides a level of accessibility and portability that is unparalleled, opening up a realm of gaming opportunities wherever you go.


Who stands to benefit the most from the Steam Deck? It's the gamer who desires a portable gateway to their extensive PC gaming library, the individual who appreciates the ability to game anywhere, anytime without being tethered to a desk. It's about bringing the joy of gaming to the palm of your hands, with a device that balances performance with portability.

The Steam Deck is a testament to the innovation that continues to thrive in the gaming ecosystem. It's a narrative of how gaming devices continue to evolve, bridging the realms of portability and performance. As we step into the future, the Steam Deck is poised to be a companion for gamers on the go, offering a slice of PC gaming irrespective of where the winds of adventure take them.