This year is moving in the same direction as 2021, the year PC gaming left the desktop PC, with the continued exodus to game streaming platforms and gaming laptops more powerful than we know. have seen before. With the Steam Deck expanding our understanding of what portable gaming devices are capable of, the once-definite lines that kept PC gaming so firmly tethered to a desktop are now blurred. The main question that comes to my mind: “Should I buy a Steam Deck or a gaming laptop?”
The answer is quite simple for the hardcore and avid FPS gamers among us. There are portable gaming machines that blow the Steam Deck out of the water in terms of performance, so why waste money on something with such limitations? Well, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about crushing the highest frame rates. There are so many other facets to consider when it comes to portable gaming.
While your budget is going to be a major deciding factor, how about choosing the portable gaming device that suits your lifestyle? You’re going to have to think about what kind of games you like to play and for how long. How soon will you have to put it away and where do you plan to play these games? Doesn’t matter if you prefer to play with a controller or with the best gaming mouse and gaming keyboard?
I wondered if the Steam Deck is better than a gaming laptop on a more experiential level, looking beyond the obvious things like frame rates, to help you figure out which platform you have really need in your life.
Price per performance
The Steam Deck comes with a custom 4-core AMD Zen 2 processor, an RDNA 2 GPU with 8 compute units, along with 16GB of DDR5 RAM as standard. You’re looking for CPU clocks of 2.4-3.5GHz and GPU performance roughly equivalent to a GTX 1050.
It’s a tight little machine, and Valve has done a great job of packing a lot of power into such a small package. Pricing mostly varies depending on the storage tier you choose, starting at $399 for the 64GB, up to $529 for the 256GB, and $649 for the 512GB. So while spending more on a computer laptop can give you more powerful components, there is no performance difference between any of the Steam Deck models.
Of course, that gives us a pretty good incentive to buy a $399 model and upgrade the Deck’s storage from 64GB to 500GB as soon as you get it, as an absolute legend on Reddit did. However, Valve has warned against jamming anything else in the Deck’s M.2 slot, and not everyone is so handy with a screwdriver. For comparison purposes, I guess your only option is to get the $649, especially given the size of game installs today.
For this price you can getting a gaming laptop, but managing to find one with a current-gen GPU and CPU is a bit of a stretch. It can be done, however, if you know where to find the best deals on gaming laptops. Black Friday sales are the best time to get the most bang for your buck, though you might be able to find the Steam Deck on sale when bidding season resumes.
The main point here is that, for the price of the best Steam Deck, you can definitely get a laptop that pumps out more frames per second, although you may have to sacrifice storage or RAM.
What when where?
It’s never as simple as going for the thing with the most power under the hood. If that were the case, we would all be driving sports cars. Unfortunately, the reality is that sports cars have tiny trunks and aren’t so good at installing child car seats. Thinking about how you are going to use your technology will be one of the most important things you can do at this point; there will be both situations and games best suited to each platform.
First, consider the kind of games you like to play. Deck controls are a little hard to get used to and tend to work best with RPGs, platformers, farming sims, and driving games, but you can get settlement sims and the like that work quite well, after a little faffing. Once the Deck Dock looks up, you’ll be able to plug in a mouse and keyboard, and of course there’s still Bluetooth for connecting wireless peripherals, but the device is primarily designed for controller-based gaming.
The small screen will also be an obstacle for some people. Games with big text lend themselves to the Deck, but if you’re playing games with lots of menus, a laptop’s 15-inch screen is going to put the Deck’s 8-inch screen to shame.
Laptops can do all of that and more, but if you prefer playing games with a controller and aren’t so concerned about FPS scores, the Deck is a no-brainer. Why carry around all that extra weight and separate peripherals when you can essentially pack everything into one device?
Which brings me neatly to my next point. Think about where you will be using your device and how far you will need to carry it. Hospital waiting rooms and bars are no place for a laptop, but take a Steam Deck to a pub and you’ll soon see the benefits of a handheld. Mountaineers who crave remote gaming sessions will be at their peak with the Deck. A laptop isn’t going to cut it when you’re scrambling over rocks, but the Deck (which comes with its own sturdy case) won’t break your back or take up as much space in your backpack.
Finally, how long will you be without electricity? The Steam Deck is the obvious choice if you won’t have access to power for a while. A laptop will give you a good hour of offline gaming today, but not much more than that. With the Deck, on the other hand, you’re looking at a good few hours of play in remote locations.
The Steam Deck is an extremely versatile device. It’s Linux-based by default, but you can install Windows if you feel like it. It can be used in desktop mode for working or as a media streaming device, and you can hook up a monitor using a USB Type-C to HDMI adapter without needing to buy a docking station.
The thing is, a laptop could do all of these things before the Deck appeared. Not only can you work and play on a laptop, you can do it simultaneously, switching seamlessly between your game, email, and spreadsheets. It’s a bit trickier with the Deck.
Working on a laptop will also seem a lot less stressful for most, since it’s likely to be running an operating system that you’re used to using on a daily basis.
And while laptops can be much more upgradable, with the ability to swap out RAM and plug in additional NVMe SSDs most of the time, there aren’t as many possibilities when it comes to laptop modding as there are. there are some for the Steam Deck. .
It’s not as quick a decision as I had originally anticipated, choosing between a Steam Deck or a laptop. There are limitations for both, with the main drawbacks of the Deck being its ability to play certain types of games. As long as you have most of your favorites checked out and you don’t mind playing around with the control schemes a bit, there’s little reason not to jump on the Steam Deck bandwagon.
Although if you’re into all that ray tracing business, the Deck won’t be your champion as it runs on AMD hardware.
If you’re going to do more than just play, a laptop is an obvious choice; it might not fit in your pocket, but taking zoom calls on a Deck will be less stressful. Sure, the Laptop and Steam Deck have a lot to offer, but if FPS is secondary, your decision will be entirely down to your lifestyle.
Who knew I would have an existential crisis from a handheld gaming device?