Valve's Steam Deck can be paired with an RX 6900 XT for a huge performance boost

nanoguy

Posts: 1,232   +24
Staff member
In context: Valve's Steam Deck wasn't designed to be a PC gaming beast, but that hasn't stopped people from testing how far it can go with some augmentations to its capabilities. For example, you can attach an RX 6900 XT for a sizable boost to overall performance. It will be interesting to see if Valve will decide to add official eGPU support to Steam Deck's eventual successor.

The Steam Deck is a desktop computer at heart and a handheld console in practice. Earlier this month, its BIOS was updated with fTPM support to allow users to install Windows 11. Microsoft's new operating system has some strict system requirements that have less to do with CPU or GPU power and more to do with hardware security features the company now wants to fully utilize on consumer hardware and enterprise machines.

The performance of the Steam Deck is adequate for its relatively low-resolution screen. However, YouTuber ETA Prime has decided to take things up several notches and jury-rig a fat desktop GPU to Valve's handheld console. The device doesn't have a Thunderbolt port for connecting an external GPU, so to do this, he used an adapter connected to the M.2 slot.

The disadvantage is that the OS and games have to run from the slower microSD storage. Furthermore, the Steam Deck won't boot if you attach an Nvidia GPU to it but will happily work with AMD Radeon cards such as the RX 6900 XT, which ETA Prime used in the experiment.

As you'd expect, the Steam Deck's low-power APU struggles to feed a monster GPU like the RX 6900 XT, especially through the limited PCIe lanes of the M.2 slot. Still, the contraption scored almost 27,000 points in the 3DMark Fire Strike test and over 15,000 in the TimeSpy benchmark.

For reference, that's between 5 to 10 times faster than with the Steam Deck's iGPU. Gaming tests revealed a similar story, with the RX 6900 XT enabling the handheld console to achieve well over 60 frames per second at 4K in titles like The Witcher 3 and GTA 5 using the maximum graphics settings. The same wasn't possible in recent titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Elden Ring, in which the setup struggled to output a constant 60 framers per second even at 1080p, mainly because of the relatively weak CPU.

Of course, most users can achieve better results by using a cloud gaming service like Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming, provided you can get it to work correctly on the Steam Deck. In the meantime, Valve and AMD are still working on proper driver support for Windows 11 and making enough Steam Deck units to satisfy the higher-than-expected demand from gamers.

Permalink to story.

 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 4,521   +2,493
The whole Steam Deck is an experiment. Almost everyone is telling plug and players to stay away. Il never understand how to get excited about a "PC" that is below literally every minimum system requirement.

The Deck will need all the luck it can get.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,216   +4,268
ETA Prime has some really nice content on all kinds of small pcs, sbcs and such. As for this video it shows a couple things

1) 4 cores it's probably not enough anymore as you can see that under power constrains they limit performance quite a bit.

2) An unexpected consequence ETA Prime did not mention is that by using an external GPU you no longer need to wait for Valve to provide sound drivers for Windows 10 as well, all modern GPUs have built in soundcard.

This is kinda neat but I wish there was a way to make it a more permanent set up like, if you're ok with modding cutting off a small slit on the plastic back cover and getting a cable holder would work nicely so you can just leave the cable attacked and tuck it away for when not "docked" but I don't think this particular m.2 dock has a cable that can be deattached on both ends, but maybe future products could have that.
 

Squid Surprise

Posts: 5,335   +4,980
This is kinda neat but I wish there was a way to make it a more permanent set up like, if you're ok with modding cutting off a small slit on the plastic back cover and getting a cable holder would work nicely so you can just leave the cable attacked and tuck it away for when not "docked" but I don't think this particular m.2 dock has a cable that can be deattached on both ends, but maybe future products could have that.
If they actually wanted to enable a eGPU, it would be vastly easier to simply add a thunderbolt port...
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 2,180   +2,660
TechSpot Elite
I very much want to see a comparo between using a TB3/4 port vs an m.2 slot in the same machine as I'm under the impression that in addition to TB's small data overhead, there is also a translation layer which takes a toll on latency which kills framerates in some games.

In theory an m.2 slot should be better than TB but the difference may be negligible in some games and very big in others.
 

Kirby1

Posts: 168   +271
The Steam Deck is basically a laptop, and this would be possible on any laptop with an m.2 slot.
 

Sausagemeat

Posts: 1,597   +1,422
Let’s be honest, the steam deck is an awful handheld gaming unit. You can tell reviewers want to say this but are terrified of the backlash. That’s why they say things like “it’s unfinished” lol.

But in fairness it’s probably quite a fun toy for enthusiasts to play around with in their spare time.
 

Watzupken

Posts: 634   +518
It is kind of dumb when the Steam Deck was created in the first place for mobile gaming. That is why it is so underpowered just stay within a certain size and power envelope. Adding a RX 6900 XT means dropping the mobility, and going way out of the power limit. In short the experiment basically negated all the benefits for the Steam Deck.
 

fadingfool

Posts: 269   +330
It is kind of dumb when the Steam Deck was created in the first place for mobile gaming. That is why it is so underpowered just stay within a certain size and power envelope. Adding a RX 6900 XT means dropping the mobility, and going way out of the power limit. In short the experiment basically negated all the benefits for the Steam Deck.
There you go being all sensible and everything - have you never wanted to do a "what if" just for the fun of it?
 

Usukosej

Posts: 183   +82
Fun project but makes no sense to pair a high-end GPU with such a low-end CPU. It's a 4-core low clocked Zen 2 chip. A huge bottleneck actually.

It's more like an emulation machine or indie gaming machine. AAA games mostly run very bad on it. 30 fps is the goal in most AAA games, yet it won't run at locked 30 fps like consoles typically do and the panel does not even have adaptive sync which is a huge bummer, because fps will vary ALOT on hardware like this in most games.
 
It clearly competes with the Switch and Laptops, and is a better choice than either of those in many cases. It certainly doesn't have the GPU for AAA titles on a 1080p or higher external monitor, but that's not the point. It has plenty of CPU power it's a slightly declocked 3300x.
 
ETA Prime has some really nice content on all kinds of small pcs, sbcs and such. As for this video it shows a couple things

1) 4 cores it's probably not enough anymore as you can see that under power constrains they limit performance quite a bit.

2) An unexpected consequence ETA Prime did not mention is that by using an external GPU you no longer need to wait for Valve to provide sound drivers for Windows 10 as well, all modern GPUs have built in soundcard.

This is kinda neat but I wish there was a way to make it a more permanent set up like, if you're ok with modding cutting off a small slit on the plastic back cover and getting a cable holder would work nicely so you can just leave the cable attacked and tuck it away for when not "docked" but I don't think this particular m.2 dock has a cable that can be deattached on both ends, but maybe future products could have that.

My 3300x easily handles any AAA title at 60+ or FPS game at 125 or 250. And normally at about 30-50% load while sipping 15-30W. "4 cores isn't enough" is a stupid statement made by stupid people who paid 200-500% more for 2-5% better 0.1% lows.
 

Phaetos

Posts: 99   +76
Just want to mention that Brett from UFD Tech on Youtube started doing this project before anyone else did and had some interesting conclusions. Only AMD GPU's seemed to work, he couldn't get an nvidia card to work at all.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,216   +4,268
My 3300x easily handles any AAA title at 60+ or FPS game at 125 or 250. And normally at about 30-50% load while sipping 15-30W. "4 cores isn't enough" is a stupid statement made by stupid people who paid 200-500% more for 2-5% better 0.1% lows.
I don't believe people with anecdotal stories to tell me about "AAA" games probably from 6 or 7 years ago so, go away.
 
Let’s be honest, the steam deck is an awful handheld gaming unit. You can tell reviewers want to say this but are terrified of the backlash. That’s why they say things like “it’s unfinished” lol.

But in fairness it’s probably quite a fun toy for enthusiasts to play around with in their spare time.

Because it is unfinished? Support is still being made for the game library, among other things. Linux has never had this level of effort put into making it gaming capable, so forgive me if I cut them some slack here.

As for your first paragraph, seems a lot of people (read: everyone who's used the thing) would disagree with you there. But sure, believe everyone is unhappy because BF2042 isn't on it or something with ray tracing. That's not what it was made for.
 
It clearly competes with the Switch and Laptops, and is a better choice than either of those in many cases. It certainly doesn't have the GPU for AAA titles on a 1080p or higher external monitor, but that's not the point. It has plenty of CPU power it's a slightly declocked 3300x.

No, see, it's a flop because it's not a handheld PS5 level gaming device with flawless porting of all Windows games ever from Day 1 of release into a totally open source OS.

Just like the Switch was a total black hole for Ninty because it wasn't even full HD capable at 60 FPS or something. Never known anyone to buy that brick, no siree.