Steam Deck GPU equivalent: What video card does it compare to?

If you’re interested in buying a Steam Deck, you probably want to know how much power it has. The problem is that it’s not easy to compare the Steam Deck to other hardware. Valve’s portable console is based around an AMD APU, combining central and graphics processing into a single unit. That makes comparisons to traditional desktop graphics cards challenging at best. Still, we can estimate a Steam Deck GPU equivalent to give you a sense of what PC video cards offer a comparable amount of performance.

What is a Steam Deck GPU equivalent video card?

What is a Steam Deck GPU equivalent video card?

The Steam Deck GPU is based on hardware that is difficult to compare to typical PC video cards. However, the GPU’s maximum throughput of around 1.6 teraflops makes it loosely equivalent in power to an Nvidia GTX 1050 or GTX 950.

Unfortunately, that sort of comparison doesn’t tell the full story. That’s because Valve based the Steam Deck around a modern AMD APU, or accelerated processing unit. These are chips that contain both CPU and GPU, meaning the Steam Deck’s GPU is part of a larger chip instead of being a discrete graphics processing unit. To better understand performance, we need to understand what makes the Steam Deck APU different from the usual sort of desktop PC hardware.

Understanding Steam Deck specifications and performance

Here’s a quick look at the base specifications shared by all Steam Deck models:

  • CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
  • GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
  • RAM: 16GB LPDDR5 (5500 MT/s quad 32-bit channels)

Though its GPU specs may look underwhelming on paper, the Steam Deck’s overall performance will be greatly enhanced by its speedy memory. The hardware includes 16GB of four-channel LPDDR5 RAM, the latest flavor of Low Power Double Data Rate memory. Not only is this memory optimized for mobile hardware, its four channels provide a huge amount of bandwidth to the APU.

Of course, that makes comparisons even more challenging, since desktop video cards typically run on a distinct pool of GDDR memory. The Steam Deck doesn’t work that way. Instead, its GPU pulls memory from the shared pool as needed.

To make matters even more complicated, the Steam Deck GPU is based on much more power-efficient architecture than other comparable video cards in its performance class. Even though specifications may seem lower than expected, its performance relative to power consumed will actually quite high. This is why cards like the GeForce GTX 1660 can give better performance than the GTX 1060 despite roughly similar clock speed and overall power draw.

There are several reasons why it’s difficult to name a specific Steam Deck GPU equivalent. Its APU doesn’t work the same way as a desktop video card. Suffice to say it’s loosely equivalent to an Nvidia GTX 1050. More toward the point is this: If your PC has a graphics card from 2018 or later, you likely already have access to more graphical power than the Steam Deck can provide.