Steam Deck owners can hook up an external GPU to their laptop to supercharge its graphics capabilities, via a clumsy workaround, and now that feat has been achieved with AMD’s current flagship graphics card, giving the Deck the power to run games at 4K with high frame rates.
Now, first of all, we should clarify that this method – as demonstrated by ETA Prime on YouTube – involved connecting an ASRock RX 6900 XT OC graphics card directly to the Steam Deck using the M.2 slot .
We’ll get to the practicalities of this later – so much so that it really is inconvenient and involves running the OS from the SD card (and it has to be Windows, as SteamOS cannot be installed on an external drive).
Anyway, the ETA Prime judging panel configured the 6900 XT to work with the Steam Deck running Windows 11, then tested a bunch of games to see how smoothly they ran. The response is pretty smooth in some cases, although AMD’s flagship GPU is obviously bottlenecked by the Steam Deck CPU.
For example, The Witcher 3 sped up to over 100 frames per second (fps) at 4K resolution on ultra settings, and on that same 4K setting, GTA V hit over 60 fps (the widely recognized level for smooth performance ).
That said, more demanding cutting-edge titles like Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, and God of War couldn’t achieve that kind of performance at 4K with the Deck’s CPU getting in their way, hitting over 40fps (although Cyberpunk 2077 did rise above 60 fps at times, but the frame rate was quite variable and inconsistent overall).
Analysis: messy and impractical, but fun – and a (sort of) glimpse into the future?
While it’s an interesting – and let’s face it, fun – experience, as we mentioned before, it’s not something anyone would actually want to do with their Steam Deck because of the army of caveats involved.
These include having to ditch the SSD from the Steam Deck – thus having to run the OS as Windows 11 on the SD card – in order to plug the graphics card into the M.2 slot ( using an M.2 to PCIe adapter). Oh and let’s not forget that the GPU of course needs its own separate power supply (a 750W Corsair PSU was drafted in for this).
In short, this is a very messy setup, and as we said, it’s more about experimenting with what’s possible with the Steam Deck, rather than what’s realistic. It’s worth noting that UFD Tech has done this before using a lesser RX 6600 XT GPU on YouTube, as PC Gamer points out, and ETA Prime has tried Nvidia graphics cards, but had no joy in making them. operate in this rigged configuration. .
Who knows, maybe the Steam Deck 2 will work with a Thunderbolt port, and indeed people have already dreamed of a future dock for the next handheld that allows an external GPU and monitor to be plugged in plus peripherals on your desk, so you can use the Deck like your home PC (perhaps with a considerably beefier APU inside Valve’s laptop next time).
That kind of flexibility might be pretty cool for those willing to compromise and not have the fastest gaming PC, but something that could get the job done while saving a lot of money in the process (the only expense would be the graphics card, of course, and its case).