I’ll let you in on a little secret: I never really get along with gaming laptops. In the many years that I’ve been a tech journalist, I’ve had the chance to try out some amazing gaming laptops – but while I’ve been impressed with their performance, I’ve never felt the need to own a.
Instead, I always came back to my faithful desktop computer. It’s more comfortable to use, and while the mobile components are more powerful than ever, even the most powerful gaming laptop can’t match my desktop in terms of raw performance.
The fact that I can upgrade my PC to keep it up to date or replace problematic components also means that it will last a lot longer than a laptop. Of course after a while my PC ends up like the Ship of Theseus – if every component is eventually upgraded, is it even the same PC? But it’s certainly cheaper than buying a brand new gaming laptop every five years or so.
Of course, my dislike of gaming laptops meant I missed the portability and convenience they offer. I like my big, bulky and inconvenient desktop PC, but I’m not going to take it everywhere with me.
Meanwhile, gaming laptops didn’t really feel like I was missing too much. Yeah, they were more portable than my PC (which isn’t really difficult), but they were still bulky and heavy enough that I didn’t really want to carry them around with me. Their poor battery life also meant that if I wanted to play seriously I had to be plugged in, which limited that much-vaunted portability.
So, there I was perfectly satisfied with the life of my desktop computer. When I felt like playing my PC games downstairs on my living room TV, buying a gaming laptop was never a consideration for me – I just builds a small and compact desktop PC. OK, maybe I have a bit of a desktop addiction…
Enter the bridge
While no gaming laptop has managed to convince me, the new steam bridge the handheld gives me everything I thought laptops couldn’t. It’s compact enough that I can comfortably carry it around with me, and I can use it on a bus or train, which I would never do with a gaming laptop.
As with gaming laptops, this gives me access to plenty of PC games, and while playing games other than Steam is trickier, there are workarounds. The Steam Deck also made me go back to games I thought I would never play again. I would never have run Hotline Miami on a gaming laptop, but I tried it on the Steam Deck and couldn’t put it down.
There are also new games – like Tunic – that seem like the perfect fit for the Steam Deck. This Zelda-inspired RPG runs brilliantly on the Steam Deck, and I couldn’t imagine playing it on a laptop or desktop.
The Steam Deck’s compact design means I’ve played far more on it than any gaming laptop – but there’s another big difference that made me more willing to pick up and play on the Steam Deck: no Windows 10 or 11.
The Steam Deck runs on the Linux-based Steam OS 3.0, and I’m increasingly convinced that it’s a masterstroke. This means that starting the Steam Deck takes seconds, and Valve (the company behind the Steam Deck) was able to implement features that are not included with Windows 10 or 11, such as the ability to turn off the Steam Deck, which pauses your game. When you turn it back on, your game is running and you’re right where you left off, making it perfect for a quick game when the mood takes you.
Playing a game on a Windows gaming laptop, by comparison, feels like a chore. After starting Windows or waiting for it to wake up, you then need to open the game launcher for the game and then launch the game. At this point, you probably missed your shutdown.
Of course, there are still things you could say gaming laptops have the edge on. They’re more flexible, for starters – so you can use one to work on when you’re not playing. The Steam Deck does have a desktop mode though, allowing you to run certain apps, and if you plug in a USB-C hub you can use a keyboard, mouse and monitor. Although it is not as useful as a laptop, you can use it as a PC for many tasks. You can also install Windows 10 on the Steam Deckif you want.
There are also power considerations. Pretty much every gaming laptop is going to outperform the Steam Deck – but I didn’t really care. There’s enough power in the Steam Deck to run games like God of the war and Ring of Elden with a decent level of performance, and while I think the Steam Deck is more suited to arcade-inspired indie games, that means if you want to play a AAA title when you’re away from your main machine, you can.
I found it particularly enjoyable to quickly toss Elden Ring for some rune farming and couch leveling. As the father of a toddler, this fits nicely into my life. Again, I never wanted to do the same with a gaming laptop. Thanks to Valve’s hard work, Elden Ring also performs better in some ways than my expensive gaming PC..
The last thing the Steam Deck has going for it is price. At $399 / £349 for the base model, $529 / £459 for the 256GB version, and $649 / £569 for the 512GB model, the Steam Deck is significantly cheaper than most gaming laptops. While it’s not easy to get one right now – there’s a months-long waiting list – I’d recommend getting a Steam Deck on a gaming laptop pretty much every times, especially when stocks increase and they become easier to buy.
There have also been hints that not only is the Steam Deck the first in a line of designs from Valve, but that third-party manufacturers could be doing their own tricks on it. This could see a new category of portable PC gaming devices based on the Steam Deck, and if that happens, gaming laptops could be in a lot of trouble.