Using the Steam Deck as a desktop gaming system

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,141   +154
Staff member
Bottom line: While we can’t imagine there are many people that would purchase a Steam Deck with the express intent of using it as a desktop gaming system, it’s certainly possible to do so if need be and with some tempered expectations.

Valve’s Steam Deck is already winning over gamers with its unique blend of power, portability and pricing. It’s the go-anywhere PC gaming system that many have been waiting on, and from $399, it’s the same price as the digital edition of the PS5 and only $50 more than a Nintendo Switch with OLED screen.

It’s versatile, too. Using the Steam Deck Docking Station due out later this year or an existing powered USB-C hub, you can connect the handheld to an external display and use standalone peripherals. That begs the question: how does it actually perform as a desktop today?

Rock Paper Shotgun’s James Archer recently set out to find out, pairing the Steam Deck with a 1080p monitor as well as a standalone keyboard and mouse.

In Horizon Zero Dawn, Archer was able to average 40 frames per second using the Steam Deck’s integrated display with original quality settings. On the 1080p monitor, the average dropped to just 26 frames per second. In God of War, the Steam Deck averaged 35 fps on the integrated screen but just 20 fps when running on the external monitor.

Elsewhere, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus went from a solid 60 fps down to around 35-45 fps at 1080p. Death’s Door also averaged 60 fps on-system but dipped to 35-40 fps on the 1080p display. And if you’re willing to lower the graphics quality a bit, titles like Elden Ring and even Crysis Remastered are perfectly playable on a 1080p display.

Image credit Rock Paper Shotgun

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Lounds

Posts: 1,122   +1,025
88GB/s isn't really enough memory bandwidth for 1080p gaming, I think if the GPU had better memory bandwidth you would see it perform better.
 

Sausagemeat

Posts: 1,597   +1,422
Whilst it’s good that you can do this, if doesn’t seem like something you should do. Low settings sub 60 fps 1080p gaming isn’t pleasant.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,210   +4,248
Honestly I think there's more to just bumping up resolution to 1080p the device seems to be greatly limited by thermal constrains: We know a very similar APU found in laptops right now, the 6900hs, can actually push 1080p and even some low/medium mix of settings *much* better

So in theory, while the steam deck chip should be able to put up those numbers, it appears to be held back greatly by the battery saving measures and thermal constrains. It is definitively an order of magnitude smaller than a laptop after all.

Lastly as much as many people won't like to hear this, if it was running Windows it would also put better numbers. Yes there's *some* games that perform better on Linux but most and henceforth the overall majority just run better on Windows without an abstraction layer in between.

Honestly if you want to try the steam deck as a desktop replacement you might be better off installing linux on a 5600g based system with very fast ddr4 ram or waiting for 6900hs mini pcs to show off on the market which shouldn't take more than a couple more months or so and just run your gaming off of that instead, steam deck should be just a portable device that can probably enable a decent computer experience when docked but should be undocked to game.
 

psycros

Posts: 4,155   +5,798
"Lastly as much as many people won't like to hear this, if it was running Windows it would also put better numbers. Yes there's *some* games that perform better on Linux but most and henceforth the overall majority just run better on Windows without an abstraction layer in between."

I always assumed the Steam Deck would run Linux-native games w/o WINE or anything like that. If their actually using a Windows layer that seems dumb.
 

kinetix

Posts: 29   +26
88GB/s isn't really enough memory bandwidth for 1080p gaming, I think if the GPU had better memory bandwidth you would see it perform better.
Depends on the graphics engine.
engines that use deferred rendering consume more bandwidth than those that use forward rendering. The former uses a "fat" buffer, where they must write and read a lot of data, sometimes a lot of floating point values.

On the other hand, the graphic features that consume the most memory bandwidth are textures (their quality), texture filtering and some types of shadows.
 

Torrentius

Posts: 24   +69
iGPU surely doesn't have enough power to use Deck as a comfy desktop gaming system (for recent games, that is), but CPU is surely more than enough to use it as a light-work/multimedia/education environment. With most mobile phones (semi-affordable ones, as it exists in cutting edge models) and Nintendo Switch neglecting this area, it is an absolute win for the Deck.
 

Heclone

Posts: 9   +19
TechSpot Elite
Honestly I think there's more to just bumping up resolution to 1080p the device seems to be greatly limited by thermal constrains: We know a very similar APU found in laptops right now, the 6900hs, can actually push 1080p and even some low/medium mix of settings *much* better

So in theory, while the steam deck chip should be able to put up those numbers, it appears to be held back greatly by the battery saving measures and thermal constrains. It is definitively an order of magnitude smaller than a laptop after all.

Lastly as much as many people won't like to hear this, if it was running Windows it would also put better numbers. Yes there's *some* games that perform better on Linux but most and henceforth the overall majority just run better on Windows without an abstraction layer in between.

Honestly if you want to try the steam deck as a desktop replacement you might be better off installing linux on a 5600g based system with very fast ddr4 ram or waiting for 6900hs mini pcs to show off on the market which shouldn't take more than a couple more months or so and just run your gaming off of that instead, steam deck should be just a portable device that can probably enable a decent computer experience when docked but should be undocked to game.

Hi !
To be fair, on the CPU side the 6900HS has 8c/16t in Zen 3+ flavor vs 4c/8t in Zen 2 for the Steam Deck. Regarding the GPU side, the 6900HS has 12 RDNA2 CUs vs 8 for the steam deck.
And the 6900HS is 6nm vs 7nm, has a power constraint of 35W vs 15W, and is embed in much bigger and power hungry devices.

2x more cores, better cores, better node, 50% more CUs, more than 2x the power budget, and clearly not the same price class as well.

It's not very similar.

 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 2,074   +1,654
I think the Steam deck should be called the "Steam Brick". Its about the same size and weight and unless you only want to play older games that Valve themselves have optimised, its pretty useless too.
 

Bamda

Posts: 347   +172
A true comparison to other devices is run both at the same total system watt and see how they perform.
 

Feng Lengshun

Posts: 13   +5
I always assumed the Steam Deck would run Linux-native games w/o WINE or anything like that. If their actually using a Windows layer that seems dumb.
Eh. While some native Linux games run better, there are also others that doesn't. The problem is optimization and compatibility, as usual. From what I read from Feral Interactive's interviews, it's very complicated to port games to Linux if that isn't planned right from the start, even with the more mainstream game engines.

Even Valve has problems with this, as sometimes their Linux native version for Dota 2 and CSGO performs worse than the Windows version using Proton.

As it is, though, Proton just simplifies a lot of things and most of the time, they're good enough. On average I saw 95% of Windows' performance, sometimes eking out a win by a very slight margin (though apparently Elden Ring runs a lot better on Proton vs Windows?).

Mind you, Wine still hasn't finished its PE conversion yet, so it's still going to get better with Wine and Proton 8.0. Performance really isn't an issue with Wine anymore, just compatibility towards proprietary stuff (Anti-cheat and Codecs).
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,210   +4,248
Hi !
To be fair, on the CPU side the 6900HS has 8c/16t in Zen 3+ flavor vs 4c/8t in Zen 2 for the Steam Deck. Regarding the GPU side, the 6900HS has 12 RDNA2 CUs vs 8 for the steam deck.
And the 6900HS is 6nm vs 7nm, has a power constraint of 35W vs 15W, and is embed in much bigger and power hungry devices.

2x more cores, better cores, better node, 50% more CUs, more than 2x the power budget, and clearly not the same price class as well.

It's not very similar.
Lost this notification in the shuffle.

I am seeing it now though and while I don't think the CPU cores are neither used nor strong enough to represent much of a difference, the extra compute units on the video are and it appears that's where the performance comes from so I stand corrected.

Haven't seen 1 to 1 in depth testing of the steam deck yet since but preliminary, it looks like the Steam Deck should just about match the desktop 5600g at full throttle while on Windows.

With this we can see the actual gains: the RDNA 2 cores and DDR5 do help quite a bit since this is with power limits enforced: 15 watts tdp on the steam deck can just about match 65 watts tdp of the 5600g just because of the additional compute performance and the additional memory bandwidth from ddr5.

So this is promising indeed but not revolutionary levels of performance just what you can expect out of integrated graphics: more serviceable than intel or entry level crap like the 1030s of the world but won't set the world on fire: RDNA 2 APUs might outmatch the 1650 supers of the world later this year or next one, but will still be no match for the 3050 and will be right on the heels of a 4050 which I predict to be out early 2024 or so, perhaps some months earlier but unlikely.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,210   +4,248
Eh. While some native Linux games run better, there are also others that doesn't. The problem is optimization and compatibility, as usual. From what I read from Feral Interactive's interviews, it's very complicated to port games to Linux if that isn't planned right from the start, even with the more mainstream game engines.

Even Valve has problems with this, as sometimes their Linux native version for Dota 2 and CSGO performs worse than the Windows version using Proton.

As it is, though, Proton just simplifies a lot of things and most of the time, they're good enough. On average I saw 95% of Windows' performance, sometimes eking out a win by a very slight margin (though apparently Elden Ring runs a lot better on Proton vs Windows?).

Mind you, Wine still hasn't finished its PE conversion yet, so it's still going to get better with Wine and Proton 8.0. Performance really isn't an issue with Wine anymore, just compatibility towards proprietary stuff (Anti-cheat and Codecs).
The other consideration is that the aggressive power limits on the steam deck seem to really take advantage of the minimal (by comparison) overhead on Linux vs Windows 10: some of the linux gamers testing windows as well have already observed a good 20% increase in linux on non-native games (2077) which is impressive but not unexpected: This would probably drop to margin of error (5% or so) if power constrains weren't an issue or with a dedicated GPU but when you only have 15 watts to go around the overhead on Windows 10 is very clear: when it matters it can cost as much as 10-15% of a performance penalty.

Is just that it very, very rarely matters with modern hardware: only tablet-like devices or the steam deck with super low power characteristics means that the overhead comes into play.
 
Hello GPDWin2 replacement. I dock mine all the time at home. I'll probably just clone over Windows 10 and dual boot SteamOS. It's still a 8 core CPU with 16GB of shared DDR5 ram. It will do most of the things I want out of a laptop.