How loud is the Steam Deck?

The Stream Deck is as loud as any gaming laptop. Okay, maybe different than old Asus or MSI gaming laptops can be loud, with aggressive angles and retina-dazzling RGB backlit displays, but the Deck is still certainly not an acoustic slug.

If you’ve ever encountered a gaming laptop running a demanding game in full chat, you’ll recognize the turbine sound coming from the top of the Stream Deck. And “chat” is actually a pretty good term when it comes to the volume of noise coming from a device because our testing shows it appears in the same decibel bracket as a quiet office or normal conversation.

In other words, the same overall noise level as a couple of people chatting.

When we talk about how loud the Steam Deck is, it probably helps explain what we really mean. We’re not describing the sound volume of the two admittedly impressive speakers on the front of the Deck; it’s the noise the unit’s cooling system makes when it cools the AMD Aerith APU.

Powerful custom silicon has a maximum TDP of just 15W, which means it doesn’t need a huge amount of cooling to keep it cool. It also runs comfortably at fairly high temperatures most of the time, thanks to this AMD Zen 2/RDNA 2 combo.

But it needs a little cooling, and the narrow bezels of the deck case mean the single cooling fan has to be small, and the small fans have to spin fast to provide an opportunity to cool the chip.)

The fact that it still hits an average of 56dB in our tests is pretty decent, and it doesn’t actually sound that bad when it comes to the overall volume. For what it’s worth, I measured the volume with a simple app on my phone in the quietest, most noise-dampening room in my house because I’m all about the scientific method, obvs.

I took the measurements from the same distance above the screen and not in the direct path of the top exhaust because then you would just hear the sound of hot air hitting the microphone.

An average of 56dB comes from one of the most demanding games I’ve played on the Deck: Forza Horizon 5. It’s a game where even the 30fps cap doesn’t do much for battery life.

I also tested The Witcher 3 because Geralt’s bath requires it. With the Deck’s standard 60fps limit – it works with V-Sync regardless of game settings – we measured an average of 53dB. But Valve updated the fan curve during my pre-test of the device, and with the 30fps limit switch turned on, not only did I see a 116% increase in battery life, but the volume dropped to an average of 43dB.

Apparently, this is either the volume of light rain or the singing of birds: tweet, tweet.

But loudness is not the most important thing in noise; pitch is also a key component, and when we’re talking about whining, Steam Deck definitely has it. The high tone fan tone means it gets pretty intrusive whether you’re downloading the game via SteamUI, actually playing the game, or just sitting next to someone.

Yes, the Deck failed what I call a meaningful test. Sitting on the couch competing with Captain Lee’s loud aphorisms from my TV, I could almost walk away from the games on the device. But there’s no way I’m going to get into OlliOlli World in bed next to my partner. By the way, this is not a euphemism.

The combination of pitch and screech means that the deck fan is too pronounced to be happily ignored. Even when I played alone, I found that I needed to turn up the volume of the speakers because they compete with exhaust port chat too.

Fortunately, this is a mobile device designed for use outside the home. In transport, the already high levels of ambient noise mean Deck won’t make you an outcast in a quiet train car or drown out the general hum of commercial passenger flights. So at least he passes our public embarrassment test.

But that has always been the case with mobile PC games. We always recommend choosing the best gaming headset to pair with your new gaming laptop, and I’m going to assume the same is true for the Steam Deck. Grab a pair of low latency Bluetooth headphones to enjoy your gaming audio comfortably; you will thank me.

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