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Steam Deck vs Nintendo Switch: The Ultimate Showdown

The handheld gaming space has long been dominated by Nintendo, first with the groundbreaking Game Boy and more recently with the incredibly popular Nintendo Switch. But a new challenger has entered the arena: Valve‘s Steam Deck. As a die-hard PC gamer and technology enthusiast, I was thrilled to finally get my hands on a Steam Deck and see how it stacks up against Nintendo‘s hybrid heavyweight.

Both of these devices aim to provide high-quality gaming experiences on the go, but they take notably different approaches. The Switch leverages Nintendo‘s iconic first-party franchises, innovative Joy-Con controllers, and family-friendly features. The Steam Deck taps into Valve‘s massive game distribution platform and brings the power of PC gaming to a portable form factor.

So which one comes out on top? The answer isn‘t cut and dry, as both excel in different areas. In this in-depth comparison, I‘ll be pitting the Steam Deck against the Nintendo Switch in a head-to-head battle. We‘ll examine everything from technical specifications and game libraries to portability and pricing. By the end, you‘ll have a clear idea of which handheld gaming device is the best fit for your needs.

Specifications and Performance

Let‘s start by taking a look under the hood. The Steam Deck is equipped with a custom AMD APU that pairs a 4-core, 8-thread Zen 2 CPU with 8 RDNA 2 compute units. This potent chipset is backed by 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and up to 512GB of NVMe SSD storage. The Nintendo Switch, even in its OLED iteration, makes use of the older NVIDIA Tegra X1 SoC with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM.

Specification Steam Deck Nintendo Switch (OLED Model)
CPU AMD Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz NVIDIA Tegra X1, 4x ARM Cortex-A57 @1.02GHz
GPU 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz NVIDIA GM20B, 256 CUDA cores
Storage 64GB eMMC, 256GB NVMe SSD, 512GB NVMe SSD 64GB eMMC
Display 7" 1280×800 LCD @ 60Hz 7" 1280×720 OLED @ 60Hz
Battery Life 2-8 hours 4.5-9 hours
Dimensions 11.7" x 4.6" x 1.9" 9.5" x 4" x 0.55"
Weight Approx. 1.47 lbs Approx. 0.93 lbs

On paper, the Steam Deck thoroughly outclasses the Switch. Its CPU and GPU offer several times the raw compute power, and its 16GB of RAM is quadruple what the Switch offers. This translates to tangibly better gaming performance, especially in more demanding titles.

For example, take Doom Eternal. On the Switch, the game runs at a dynamic 720p resolution and targets 30 FPS. In busier moments, the frame rate can dip into the 20s. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, can run Doom Eternal at a steady 60 FPS. It manages this feat at a higher 800p resolution and with many graphical details cranked up.

The Steam Deck‘s superiority isn‘t just limited to AAA titles. Even smaller indie games tend to run better on Valve‘s hardware. Hades, for instance, hits a consistent 60 FPS on the Steam Deck with all visual settings maxed out. The Switch port targets 60 FPS as well but frequently drops frames, and it runs at a lower resolution with pared-back visuals.

In terms of storage, the Steam Deck offers multiple tiers. The base model comes with 64GB of eMMC storage, which is on par with the Switch‘s internal capacity. However, you can also opt for much roomier (and faster) NVMe SSD options at 256GB and 512GB. With the ballooning size of modern game installs, this extra space is incredibly welcome.

The one area where the Switch pulls ahead is in battery life. Nintendo‘s handheld can typically last 4.5 to 9 hours on a charge, depending on the model and the game being played. The Steam Deck is rated for 2 to 8 hours of play time. In my real-world testing, I‘ve found that demanding games drain the Deck‘s battery much faster than they would on the Switch.

Operating System and User Experience

Another significant distinction between the Steam Deck and Switch is the software powering each device. The Switch runs on a lightweight, purpose-built operating system that puts gaming front and center. Its user interface is clean and intuitive, clearly drawing on Nintendo‘s decades of experience in making consoles approachable for all ages.

The Steam Deck, in contrast, runs on a modified version of Arch Linux known as SteamOS 3.0. This decision allows Valve to have complete control over the software stack and user experience. However, it does introduce some quirks that may trip up users who are accustomed to gaming on Windows PCs.

Under the hood, the Steam Deck utilizes a compatibility layer called Proton to enable Windows games to run on Linux. Proton is based on the popular Wine software and includes numerous patches and enhancements specifically tailored for game compatibility. In most titles, the transition is seamless – you‘d never know you weren‘t running on Windows. But some games with complex DRM or anti-cheat systems can present problems.

To its credit, Valve has been rapidly expanding its catalog of verified Steam Deck games. These titles have been tested to ensure smooth experiences on the handheld. At the time of writing, over 2,000 games have been marked as verified or playable. That‘s a far cry from the 7,000+ games available on the Switch, but it covers many of the most popular Steam releases.

Where the Steam Deck shines is in its openness and flexibility. You have access to a full desktop Linux environment, meaning you can easily install non-Steam games, emulators, and other software. Valve also offers a Windows driver package, letting you install Microsoft‘s OS if you prefer. The possibilities for tinkering and customization are endless.

The Switch, for its part, offers a curated and locked-down ecosystem. While this means less freedom for power users, it also ensures a highly stable and consistent experience. Parents will appreciate the robust parental control options on the Switch, a feature that the Steam Deck currently lacks.

Library and Services

Of course, a gaming device is only as good as the games you can play on it. The Switch has amassed a formidable library over its five-year lifespan, with over 5,500 titles available as of March 2023. This includes a who‘s who of beloved Nintendo franchises like Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, and Super Smash Bros., as well as a vibrant indie scene and strong third-party support.

While the Switch‘s library is undeniably deep and varied, the Steam Deck can theoretically tap into the tens of thousands of games available on Steam. This is the largest collection of PC games in the world, spanning AAA blockbusters, indie darlings, and everything in between. Virtually any genre or playstyle you could dream of is represented.

The catch is compatibility. As mentioned, not every Steam game works flawlessly on the Deck out of the box. And even titles that are verified may exhibit small hiccups or frame rate drops compared to playing on a high-end gaming PC. But for many gamers, the ability to play their existing Steam library on the go will be a huge draw.

Both devices also offer online services and multiplayer features. Nintendo Switch Online is a paid subscription that grants access to online gaming, cloud saves, and a growing library of classic NES and SNES games. It costs $20 per year for an individual membership or $35 per year for a family plan.

Most online gaming on the Steam Deck is free, as it has been on PC for years. However, some games may require their own separate subscriptions or season passes. The Deck can also leverage Valve‘s Steam Remote Play feature, which allows you to stream games from your PC to the handheld over your home network.

Pricing and Availability

The Steam Deck starts at $399 for the 64GB model, climbing to $529 for 256GB and $649 for 512GB. There‘s no getting around the fact that it‘s an expensive device, especially at the higher storage tiers. The Switch, by comparison, is priced at $299 for the standard model, $199 for the handheld-only Switch Lite, and $349 for the premium OLED variant.

In terms of sheer value, the Switch is the clear winner. You can often find the system bundled with games or accessories, driving the price down further. The Switch also has a more established accessory ecosystem, with a wide range of cases, screen protectors, controllers, and more available from both Nintendo and third parties.

The Steam Deck‘s higher price can be partially justified by its superior specs and performance. It‘s also worth noting that your Steam games carry over, so you‘re not starting your library from scratch. But there‘s no denying that the upfront cost is a significant investment.

There‘s also the question of availability. The Switch is readily in stock at most major retailers, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, has been subject to lengthy preorder queues since its launch. Wait times have improved in recent months, but you may still find yourself waiting a few weeks for your order to be fulfilled.


Ultimately, the choice between the Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch comes down to your gaming priorities and preferences. If you‘re drawn to Nintendo‘s first-party franchises, local multiplayer experiences, and kid-friendly features, the Switch is a great option. Its pick-up-and-play nature and seamless TV docking make it incredibly versatile.

However, if you‘re a dedicated PC gamer with a deep Steam library, the Deck is a dream come true. It lets you take your favorite games on the go with better-than-console performance and endless customization options. The openness of the system is also a huge draw for tinkerers and emulation enthusiasts.

In terms of raw power and performance, the Steam Deck comes out ahead. But the Switch‘s carefully curated library, intuitive interface, and family-friendly ecosystem hold their own appeal. It‘s a testament to both devices that, even after extensive testing, I can‘t declare a definitive winner. Both have earned a place in my gaming rotation.

If you‘re fortunate enough to be able to afford both, I highly recommend picking up a Switch for Nintendo exclusives and local multiplayer, and reserving the Steam Deck for your PC library and on-the-go gaming sessions. But if you have to choose just one, consider your gaming habits, budget, and the types of games that most appeal to you. Whichever you choose, you‘re in for a treat.