Handheld gaming consoles have come a long way since the Game Boy and Nintendo DS days. With the rise of mobile gaming on smartphones, developers have been inspired to create powerful handheld systems that can play AAA games on the go. Two of the most exciting new handhelds are the Valve Steam Deck and GPD Win 3. But how do these mini gaming PCs compare, and which one is right for you?
A Brief History of Handheld Gaming
Before diving into the Steam Deck vs GPD Win 3 debate, it helps to understand the evolution of handheld gaming. While rudimentary handheld electronic games existed in the 1970s, the first true handheld console with interchangeable cartridges was the Nintendo Game & Watch in 1980. The chunky black-and-white LCD games were a hit and paved the way for Nintendo‘s Game Boy in 1989.
The original Game Boy popularized handheld gaming with Tetris and Pokémon, but it had some limitations. The green-tinted screen lacked color and backlighting. Rival consoles like the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear tried to compete on graphics, but they ate up battery life.
In 2004, Nintendo‘s DS reinvented handheld gaming with two screens, including a lower touchscreen. Sony‘s PlayStation Portable (PSP) entered the fray the following year with superior graphics and multimedia capabilities. While the DS crushed the PSP in sales, both pushed handheld gaming forward.
The Nintendo 3DS in 2011 introduced glasses-free 3D displays but was quickly overshadowed by smartphone gaming. Sony‘s PlayStation Vita in 2012 delivered stunning PS3-quality graphics in a slick package but never caught on with developers. Since then, handheld gaming has largely shifted to mobile.
Introducing the Steam Deck
The Steam Deck seeks to reinvigorate dedicated handheld gaming systems. Developed by Valve Software, the company behind Steam, it runs a custom Linux-based OS called SteamOS. Unlike the Nintendo Switch, which can only play Switch games, the Steam Deck can play your entire Steam library of PC games, giving you unmatched freedom and portability.
Valve announced the Steam Deck in July 2021 after prototyping new handheld PC hardware for years. The company previously developed Steam Machines and controllers to bring PC gaming to the living room. However, as PC gaming shifted toward high-resolution graphics, couch gaming became less practical.
A handheld Steam device presented an opportunity to make PC gaming portable. After four months of anticipation, the Steam Deck finally shipped to buyers in February 2022.
Steam Deck Specs
Under the hood, the Steam Deck is a miniature PC powerhouse:
- CPU: Custom Zen 2 4-core/8-thread AMD APU, 2.4-3.5GHz
- GPU: Custom RDNA 2 GPU w/ 8 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (1.6 TFLOPS)
- RAM: 16GB LPDDR5
- Storage: 64GB/256GB/512GB eMMC (all models have microSD slots)
- Display: 7-inch 1280×800 touchscreen, 60Hz LCD
- Battery: 40Whr, 2 – 8 hours
- Size: 11.7 x 4.6 x 1.9 inches
- Weight: 1.47 pounds
With an AMD Zen 2 + RDNA 2 chipset, the Steam Deck matches the GPU power of the PS4 and Xbox One. The touchscreen display and compact size make it perfect for handheld gaming. It‘s no gaming PC, but the Steam Deck packs a surprising punch.
Steam Deck Features
Beyond just playing Steam games, the Steam Deck has some bonus features:
- Touchpads – The Steam Deck has two clickable touchpads in place of analog sticks, reminiscent of the Steam Controller. They offer greater precision than sticks in some games.
- Gyro controls – You can aim or steer some Steam Deck games by tilting the device. Ideal for racing, shooting, and other motion-controlled games.
- Docking mode – Plugging the Steam Deck into an external monitor or TV enables up to 8K output resolution when docked. You can enjoy big-screen PC gaming without a bulky tower.
- Cloud saves – Any Steam games you play on Deck sync with the cloud, enabling seamless play between PC and handheld.
- SteamOS – The Linux-based SteamOS enables compatibility with your Steam library. It has a streamlined interface designed for handheld gaming or docked play.
Overall, the Steam Deck offers an exciting handheld experience unmatched by any other handheld gaming device currently available.
Introducing the GPD Win 3
While the Steam Deck grabs headlines, the GPD Win 3 is a remarkably powerful handheld gaming PC in its own right. Built by Chinese company GamePad Digital (GPD), the third-generation Win 3 cements GPD‘s reputation for creating pint-sized portable PCs.
GPD Win History
GPD has been making niche handheld Windows gaming PCs since the original GPD Win launched in 2016. The clamshell Win featured a tiny keyboard and built-in gamepad controls. It let you play PC games on a pocket-sized 5.5-inch screen.
The GPD Win 2 in 2018 amped up performance and slimmed down the chassis. While innovative, both models suffered from cramped keyboards, loud fans, and high price tags.
Win 3 Improvements
The 2021 GPD Win 3 represents a massive leap over its predecessors:
- Refined design – A slide-up screen reveals a more useable backlit keyboard. Better weight distribution and grips improve ergonomics.
- Powerful 11th-gen Intel processor – CPU options range from a Core i5-1135G7 to a Core i7-1195G7, delivering excellent 1080p gaming performance.
- premium build – The magnesium alloy chassis with Gorilla Glass display oozes quality. At just 1.1 inches thick and 1.23 pounds, it feels great to hold.
While GPD caters to a niche audience, the Win 3 perfects the company‘s vision for an ultra-portable Windows gaming PC.
GPD Win 3 Specs
Here are the core hardware specs:
- CPU: 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1165G7 or Core i7-1195G7
- GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
- RAM: 16GB LPDDR4x
- Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB M.2 2280 PCIe SSD
- Display: 5.5-inch 1280×720 IPS touchscreen, Gorilla Glass
- Battery: 57Whr, 5-12 hours
- Size: 8 x 3.5 x 1.1 inches
- Weight: 1.23 pounds
The 11th Gen Intel processors beat the Steam Deck‘s AMD APU in single-core performance. Intel‘s Iris Xe integrated graphics evenly match the Steam Deck‘s GPU. The PCIe SSD storage blazes past eMMC.
However, the GPD Win 3‘s smaller 1280×720 screen lacks the vibrant colors and contrast of the Steam Deck display. The controls are not as tailored to gaming either. Still, the raw performance packed into such a sleek chassis is incredible.
The GPD Win 3 also doubles as a fully-fledged Windows PC. You can install any game launcher or Windows software, use browsers and apps, and leverage the touchscreen. It offers greater versatility for productivity and content creation compared to the gaming-centric SteamOS.
Now let‘s directly compare some key metrics between the Steam Deck and GPD Win 3:
|Spec||Steam Deck||GPD Win 3|
|Release Date||February 2022||Jan 2021|
|Dimensions||11.7 x 4.6 x 1.9 inches||8 x 3.5 x 1.1 inches|
|Weight||1.47 lbs||1.23 lbs|
|CPU||AMD 4-core/8-thread Zen 2 @ 2.4-3.5GHz||11th Gen Intel i5/i7 @ 1.9-5.0 GHz|
|GPU||Custom RDNA 2 w/ 8 CUs @ 1.0-1.6GHz||Intel Iris Xe @ 0.3-1.35GHz|
|RAM||16GB LPDDR5||16GB LPDDR4x|
|Storage||64GB/256GB/512GB eMMC||256GB/512GB/1TB PCIe SSD|
|Display||7" 1280×800 LCD 60Hz||5.5" 1280×720 IPS 60Hz|
|Controls||Joysticks, buttons, touchpads||Gamepad, keyboard|
|Battery Life||2-8 hours||5-12 hours|
Looking at the spec comparison, a few things stand out:
- The Steam Deck has a bigger, higher-resolution screen better suited for gaming. The GPD Win 3 display is too small for comfortable gaming.
- Steam Deck storage starts lower but can be expanded via MicroSD. The GPD Win 3 has super-fast PCIe SSDs.
- Steam Deck controls are ergonomically better for gaming. The Win 3 has a superior keyboard but clunky gamepad.
- The Steam Deck edges out the Win 3 in sheer GPU power, but not by much. They offer similar baseline performance.
- Both offer decent battery life powered by efficient mobile processors. However, gaming will drain batteries quicker.
- SteamOS limits the Steam Deck‘s versatility but optimizes it for gaming. Windows 10/11 offers far more flexibility.
- The Steam Deck is more affordable while the Win 3 costs a premium for ultra-compact PC power.
Overall, while close in some areas, the Steam Deck pulls ahead where it matters most for a dedicated handheld gaming experience. But the GPD Win 3 has undeniable advantages as a Windows handheld PC.
Playing PC Games
A key deciding factor between the Steam Deck and GPD Win 3 is their ability to play your favorite PC games. Their hardware similarities and differences produce some trade-offs.
Thanks to Proton compatibility, the Steam Deck can play most Steam games designed for Windows out of the box. Its controls and interface are tailored specifically for gaming. However, some anti-cheat software blocks Proton games. You may need to tinker a bit to play your library.
The GPD Win 3 will play any PC game compatible with Intel integrated graphics, from indies to AAA titles. Big 3D games will require lower resolutions and graphics settings. Less tinkering is required thanks to native Windows and Intel driver support.
Ultimately, both portable PCs can handle modern games at 30 FPS if you temper expectations. The Steam Deck is built for gaming from the ground up. But the Win 3 offers almost any PC game on the go, not just what‘s available on Steam.
Who Should Buy the Steam Deck?
Thanks to its reasonable price, console-like interface, and focus on gaming, the Steam Deck is ideal for:
- Budget-conscious gamers who want PC gaming portability
- Existing Steam library owners who want mobile access to their collection
- Players excited to try the Steam Deck‘s unique controls and features
- Those interested in trying out their Steam backlog or indie games on the go
- Gamers tired of Nintendo Switch port limitations ready for AAA PC gaming
- Tech enthusiasts attracted to the idea of a handheld PC with few compromises
As long as you set expectations for 720p/30fps gaming and don‘t mind tweaking some settings, the Steam Deck delivers an exciting handheld experience. PC gamers should strongly consider the Steam Deck as their next portable.
Who Should Buy the GPD Win 3?
Given its premium price but full Windows capabilities, the GPD Win 3 is ideal for:
- Enthusiasts who want a compact but powerful Windows PC
- People who value portability and mobility above all else
- Gamers with larger libraries across multiple launchers, not just Steam
- Those looking for a handheld device capable of productivity and content creation
- Professionals needing a lightweight traveling computer
- Techies willing to pay a premium for a cutting-edge, ultra-compact PC
For those seeking the most flexible handheld PC with few compromises, the GPD Win 3 is a top choice. Players less concerned about AAA gaming will appreciate the versatility.
The Bottom Line
While the Steam Deck and GPD Win 3 have similarities on paper, their focuses differ. The Steam Deck prioritizes portable PC gaming. The Win 3 emphasizes portable computing power.
The Steam Deck wins out for sheer gaming prowess at an affordable price. But the GPD Win 3 takes the crown for compact Windows PC performance. Both devices push the handheld PC category forward in exciting ways.
For most gamers, the Steam Deck is the best bet for mobile play. But power users wanting maximum portability may find the Win 3‘s premium build and full Windows capabilities worthwhile. There‘s room in the emerging handheld PC space for both of these groundbreaking devices.
Whichever you choose, PC gaming on the go has never looked so good. The Steam Deck and GPD Win 3 mark a new chapter in handheld technology that pays respect to the past while also innovating for the future.