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An Enthusiast Added an External GPU to the Steam Deck

Steam Deck
(Image credit: ETA Prime/YouTube)

When Valve released its Linux-based Steam Deck portable game console with loads of ports and interfaces, we fully expected this product to see some interesting projects. We'll undoubtedly see other peripherals and gadgets tailored for Steam Deck users, but enthusiasts can do something completely unexpected. Journalists from the ETA Prime YouTube channel decided to add some graphics oomph to the Steam Deck and managed to connect a Radeon RX 6900 XT graphics card to the console.

Since Valve's Steam Deck does not have Thunderbolt 3/4 port, they had to use its M.2 slot featuring a PCIe x4 interface and a special adapter that allows plugging an add-on card into such a slot. Usage of the M.2 slot naturally reduces local storage capacity, which means that they had to use a microSD card to store their games, and such cards are considerably slower than M.2 SSDs. But for the sake of experiment and entertainment, things worked just fine. They also installed Windows 11 and the latest drivers, though likely future mods could be made to work with Linux.

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Steam Deck

(Image credit: ETA Prime/YouTube)
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Steam Deck

(Image credit: ETA Prime/YouTube)
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Steam Deck

(Image credit: ETA Prime/YouTube)
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Steam Deck

(Image credit: ETA Prime/YouTube)

Adding one of the best graphics cards for gaming to a system based on a quad-core, low-power APU doesn't really make a lot of sense in the normal world. AMD's Radeon RX 6900 XT — the ASRock RX 6900 XT Formula if we're being precise — will inevitably run into CPU bottlenecks. But these things must be done, for science!

Adding an external graphics card to the portable game console naturally makes it immobile. The Steam Deck essentially becomes an entry-level desktop with a quad-core custom APU, paired with an obscenely huge graphics card via external cables. Messy, but beautiful. It's too bad about the lack of faster storage, which will inevitably limit gaming options.

As expected, the Radeon RX 6900 XT was substantially faster than the built-in GPU. In this configuration, the Steam Deck could actually handle such titles as The Witcher 3GTA5Elden RingCyberpunk 2077, and God of War running at 1080p or even 4K. That's a significant upgrade compared to the integrated APU, which at present can't even run Cyberpunk 2077 at all.

We'll call the experiment a success, as it proves it's possible to improve the Steam Deck's performance using an external graphics card. Now we just need an M.2 adapter connected to a dock that offers additional PCIe lanes for storage and graphics. Or not, since people would be better off just buying a separate desktop PC. The Steam Deck's promise lies in its portability and fixed set of hardware, but we can't blame the people at ETA Prime for trying.

Anton Shilov
Anton Shilov

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • Alvar "Miles" Udell
    Steam Deck V2: USB4, external dock with GPU which can handle 1920x1080 plus ray tracing at 120/60 FPS.
    Reply
  • Dingus420
    6900xt 1080p max 49fps...
    Reply
  • helper800
    Dingus420 said:
    6900xt 1080p max 49fps...
    Thats the fault of the CPU in the steam deck rather than the 6900 xt.
    Reply
  • WrongRookie
    It would have been better if the enthusiast added gen 4 or gen 3 m.2 slot WHILE still allowing to charge the thing as the deck badly needs that instead of SD cards...
    Reply
  • kyzarvs
    If this could be developed into a docking station it would be a really interesting additional USP over the Switch. Enough GPU for big-screen HD gaming and on-the-go portability. I wonder if there's enough lanes accessible though to even think about GPU + storage, which is a shame.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    kyzarvs said:
    If this could be developed into a docking station it would be a really interesting additional USP over the Switch. Enough GPU for big-screen HD gaming and on-the-go portability. I wonder if there's enough lanes accessible though to even think about GPU + storage, which is a shame.
    Butwhy.gif
    That's the whole reason steam made the cloud saving thing work so well on the deck, you got your PC to play at home and take the deck anywhere else and game saves just update.
    The deck isn't going to be anybodies main PC replacement the way the switch is the only console for a bunch of people.
    Reply
  • excalibur1814
    OneXPlayer. Aya Neo.

    Adds a dock with gpu. Done.

    How is it that the Steam Deck gets so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'? Money. If you say anything against it, online, you'd jumped on and beaten to a pulp. Sure, it IS a lovely device and I will own one but, as above, it's hardly ground breaking. Additionally, the screen res is so damn low. It's 2022, not 2010.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    excalibur1814 said:
    OneXPlayer. Aya Neo.

    Adds a dock with gpu. Done.

    How is it that the Steam Deck gets so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'? Money. If you say anything against it, online, you'd jumped on and beaten to a pulp. Sure, it IS a lovely device and I will own one but, as above, it's hardly ground breaking. Additionally, the screen res is so damn low. It's 2022, not 2010.
    Yes it is all about the money, the money it costs to get one, the aya and onex are like three times as much money so naturally the deck gets a lot of press because it's the first time a normal person can actually afford one of these.
    Reply
  • KananX
    It’s a really funny experiment, people shouldn’t take it too seriously. I don’t think the battery is the problem though, it’s probably connected to a charger. As isn’t storage, once game is loaded into ram it doesn’t matter anyway. And microSD is still better than HDD, so.
    Reply
  • ezst036
    excalibur1814 said:
    How is it that the Steam Deck gets so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'?

    Being Linux based with its own custom OS and APIs makes Steam Deck quite "new" compared to any other you could name. Aya, etc etc.........

    Besides, Valve is a huge name in gaming as well. How is it that Windows 11 gets so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'? How is it that last few Intel-based Macs got so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'? How is it that Windows 12 when it arrives will get so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'? How is it that every new iphone gets so much press, despite being nothing really 'new'?

    Its hard to ignore elephants when they casually walk through the living room.
    Reply