Asus ROG Ally vs Steam Deck: Can powerful new tech deliver a game-changing handheld?


It is here – and as manufacturer Asus promised – earlier than expected. The Asus ROG Ally comes just over a year since Steam Deck added a new dimension to PC gaming: portability. No longer the domain of the bedroom or office, it’s now possible to play your library of games anywhere and not just your legacy titles either, but the latest triple-A epics… to a degree. The Steam Deck struggles with the latest, most demanding games, but the Asus ROG Ally not only offers the hardware specifications we’d love to see added to Deck – but adds up to 71 percent in gaming performance. So what’s the catch?

At the heart of the Ally sits the latest AMD mobile APU – called the Z1 Extreme. This appears to be a tweaked rendition of its flagship ‘Phoenix’ silicon, specifically the Ryzen 7 7840U. CPU core count doubles against Steam Deck and frequencies increase dramatically while using the latest Zen4 designs. Meanwhile, the GPU has 50 percent more computing units, an architecture upgrade via RDNA 3 and – again – a lot more frequency. 16GB of LPDDR5 over a 128-bit memory interface completes the core spec. At this point, it’s not entirely clear how the Z1 Extreme differs from the 7840U, as those spec points are very similar, right down to the new 4nm processor node – another advantage against the Deck’s 7nm design.

In the spec table below, you’ll note that I’ve also included the specs of a similar new handheld – the AyaNeo Air Plus. I’ve added this to the mix because it’s based on the 6nm Ryzen 7 6800U, AMD’s latest generation flagship: think of it as an iterative step from the Deck’s custom AMD Van Gogh APU. It’s built from the same fundamental building blocks as the Deck, but benefits from a much larger CPU and GPU. We’ll see how AMD’s new flagship compares to the old one later in the review, but you’ll notice that the basic setup is quite similar to the Z1 Extreme.

The Asus ROG Ally hardware review, now available for your viewing pleasure.
Asus ROG Ally AyaNeo Air Plus Steam deck
Main processor AMD Z1 Extreme AMD Ryzen 7 6800U Custom AMD ‘Van Gogh’
CPU Zen4, eight cores, 16 threads, Max 5.0GHz Zen3+, eight cores, 16 threads, Max 4.7GHz Zen2, four cores, eight threads, Max 3.6GHz
GPU RDNA 3, 12 Compute Units, Max 2.6GHz RDNA 2, 12 Compute Units, Max 2.2GHz RDNA 2, 8 Compute Units, Max 1.6GHz
Peak GPU Compute 8.60 TF 3.38TF 1.64TF
Remembrance 16GB LPDDR5 6400MT/s 16GB LPDDR5 6400MT/s 16GB LPDDR5 5500MT/s
Screen 1920×1080 – 120Hz IPS with VRR 1920×1080 – 60Hz IPS 1200×800 – 60Hz IPS
Battery 40 hours 46.2WHr 40 hours
Standard OS Windows 11 Windows 11 SteamOS
I/O One USB-C, MicroSD, Headphone Jack, PCIe Extender Port Three USB-C, MicroSD, Headphone Jack One USB-C, MicroSD, Headphone Jack

Opening the box, there isn’t much to the Ally’s packaging. The handheld itself is directly under the cover without protection (which is a touch worrying) while directly under that is paperwork, a 65W power supply and a power cable. Asus also provided a separate charger that also acts as a USB hub and has an HDMI 2.0 output, but that will be a separate purchase for users – it’s a bit strange to have the video and USB outputs on one plug having, but there it is . I would recommend a more conventional USB-C hub instead.

The handheld design itself is remarkably good. The Ally is easy to hold with textured grips, Xbox-esque face buttons, stick and d-pad along with clicky shoulder buttons and familiar triggers. On the back are a pair of ‘paddle’ style buttons, while RGB accents are also in effect around the sticks.

IO consists of power and volume buttons, a single USB-C, micro-SD slot and 3.5mm stereo jack for headset. There is also a PCIe interface for connecting Asus’ line of mobile GPUs up to the RTX 4090, at which point the Ally’s iGPU is disabled in favor of the external processor. This frees up the CPU to make full use of memory bandwidth and power budget, no longer having to compete with resources on the onboard Radeon 780M. The IO does the job, but I would have welcomed an extra USB-C or two (the AyaNeo 2 has three!).

There are two other elements of the hardware design that I like to flag for praise. First of all, the screen is excellent – bright, with excellent color reproduction. It’s a 1080p panel that operates at 120Hz and supports FreeSync. It looks like the adaptive sync range is from 48Hz to 120Hz, with VRR completely disabled if you switch the panel to 60Hz… so don’t do that. Although targeting 40fps takes you outside the VRR window, switching to normal v-sync will still work for smooth gaming, as 40fps shares perfectly with the 120Hz output.

Another point of interest is that screen tearing with v-sync off is present in the usual horizontal way. Portables like Steam Deck and the AyaNeo devices (and almost certainly Nintendo Switch) actually use redesigned mobile portrait displays, so screen-tearing moves from left to right in a way that looks even worse than usual – which may explain why Steam Deck and Switch all games operate with v-sync enabled.

The second exemplary point to highlight is the cooling arrangement. You’ll hear a lot about the Ally’s cooler design – twin fans, zero-gravity thermal system, fluid dynamic bearings, 0.1mm ultra-thin fins, but the reality is that this is the quietest PC gaming handheld I’ve ever owned. have ever tested. It’s more Switch than Steam Deck at both 15W performance and 25W turbo mode. The fans only kick in hard in the 30W non-turbo mode, but even then it’s still relatively quiet overall.

From an overall hardware design, the Ally does almost everything the enthusiast would have wanted from Steam Deck – the loud cooler and sub-par screen are comprehensively addressed with excellent solutions. However, it’s still a Windows handheld – and SteamOS on deck has shown that a custom front-end can be game-changing. In addition, Windows has yet to release itself with a good efficient design. Battery life can be challenging on Deck – but it’s a lot harder on a Windows machine and the Asus ROG Ally doesn’t quite crack that, as we’ll discover on the next page.

Asus ROG Ally vs Steam Deck Review

  • Introduction, hardware, specifications (This page)
  • Software, power modes, battery life
  • Game benchmarks: Control, Forza Horizon 5, God of War
  • Game benchmarks: Cyberpunk 2077, A Plague Tale: Requiem, Returnal, Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition
  • Great specs and performance, poor battery life and bugs: Digital Foundry’s verdict

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