Valve’s Steam Deck – Nintendo Switch Killer? Not Really
July 16, 2021 Andrew Cheng

Valve just announced its very own “handheld gaming PC,” the Steam Deck. It looks strikingly similar to the Nintendo Switch, and one of its main appeals is the ability to play your PC games on Steam anywhere; it’s a reasonably powerful machine too.

Given its similarity to the Nintendo Switch, can the Steam Deck take it on? Well, not exactly. After all, both of these systems cater to different crowds, and I would even argue that the Switch is still the more attractive gaming system of the two for a number of reasons.

That’s not to say the Steam Deck doesn’t have its advantages, of course. For starters, it’s a far more powerful handheld. Powered by an AMD APU with a Zen 2 quad-core CPU and a GPU with eight RDNA 2 CUs – capable of outputting 1.6 teraflops – it is able to run even AAA games quite well on the 7-inch 1280 x 800 touch-enabled LCD screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio.

To put this into context, the PlayStation 4 offers 1.8 teraflops of performance, while the Xbox One S can do 1.4 teraflops. Granted, the RNDA 2 architecture of the Steam Deck is a more modern design, so it’s not entirely accurate to say it is slower than the PS4, but it does gives us an idea on the performance level of the handheld.

Based on these comparisons, there’s no denying that the Steam Deck is much more powerful than the Switch; but graphics power is not everything. What sets Nintendo’s console apart from the Steam Deck is one major thing: exclusivity.

This is the strength of the Nintendo Switch. Even though it’s not the most powerful console, it more than makes up for this with a number of exclusive games. Just to name a few, there’s Monster Hunter Rise, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and of course, the ever popular The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Aside from that, I reckon the Switch would be a more comfortable system to play with for long periods of time. First of all, it’s a lighter machine: the new OLED Switch with a similarly sized 7-inch screen weighs about 420g. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, tips the scales at 669g.

Sure, a 249g difference may not sound like much, but you’ll definitely feel the extra weight in longer gaming sessions. On top of that, the ergonomics of the Steam Deck doesn’t look particularly great either, given that the controls are located quite high up on the system to accommodate the trackpads on either sides of the screen.

Speaking of comfort in longer gaming sessions, the Switch has better battery life too. Nintendo’s quoted battery life for the current Switch – as well as the new OLED Switch – is between 4.5 to 9 hours. As for the Steam Deck, it’s said to only last between 2 to 8 hours on a single charge, depending on the game.

Then again, the Steam Deck does have much more powerful hardware under the hood, which understandably draws more power. Chances are, it will be possible to extend the battery life of the Steam Deck by reducing a game’s graphics settings.

To the Steam Deck’s credit, it is also a much more flexible handheld system. For one, it can be connected to an external screen without the need for a dock, though a dock it is available as a separate purchase. Anyway, as long as you have the right cable to connect the system to a TV or monitor, you’re good to go.

It’s also worth noting that the Steam Deck is essentially a PC in a portable form factor. Although it runs on SteamOS, a custom Linux operating system, it is possible to install Windows on the handheld. Granted, it remains to be seen just how well Windows would run on a handheld system, but it will run.

Pricing wise, the Steam Deck is a much more expensive system compared to the Switch. The Switch Lite, for example, retails at only $200 (about RM840); even the upcoming OLED Switch isn’t overly expensive with a $350 (approximately RM1,475) price tag.

In contrast, the Steam Deck starts at $399 (around RM1,680) for the base 64GB model with eMMC storage. As for the more practical 256GB and 512GB variants with much faster NVMe SSD storage, they go for $529 (approximately RM2,225) and $649 (about RM2,730) respectively.

Without a doubt the Steam Deck is a costly handheld, but it’s important to look at it as a reasonably powerful gaming PC in a portable form factor. After all, it can even run demanding AAA games such as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Control.

The Steam Deck is set to start shipping sometime in December 2021. Unfortunately, those of us here in Malaysia cannot place a reservation for the handheld gaming PC. If you’re located somewhere else, you can check if you can reserve the Steam Deck over here.