Asus ROG Ally vs. Steam Deck: only one choice

Asus’ Steam Deck challenger, the ROG Ally, is out now. I had a chance to fully test it for our ROG Ally review and can now properly compare it to the Steam Deck. And it’s clear that Asus has a compelling device.

ROG Ally is faster and supports more games than Steam Deck, but it still has usability issues. It’s not the legendary gaming handheld many have been waiting for, but it does enough to beat the Steam Deck and costs about the same price.

It’s all about price

Price was a major point of contention for the ROG Ally, especially when compared to the aggressively priced Steam Deck. But it’s clear that Asus was ready to hit back at Valve’s handheld with equally aggressive pricing.

ROG Ally with Z1 Extreme costs $700. It’s currently exclusively available at Best Buy, and while I was worried it might sell out immediately, it’s still available at list price. A cheaper model with the Ryzen Z1 should arrive later in the year, priced at $600.

Steam Deck is as low as $400, but that’s only with 64GB of slow storage. To get the 512GB ROG Ally has with the Z1 Extreme, you’ll have to spend $650. It’s true that you can get a Steam Deck for less, but for anything competitive with the ROG Ally, the difference is only $50.

There will definitely be more talk of pricing once the Ryzen Z1 model becomes available, but for flagship designs, the Steam Deck and ROG Ally are equally matched. The Steam Deck is slightly cheaper, but as I’ll explain, the ROG Ally more than justifies the $50 price increase.

Some interesting specifications

Z1 processor for Asus ROG Ally.Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The ROG Ally looks good, that’s for sure, but it’s really the underlying hardware that makes Asus’s handheld so exciting. ROG Ally is powered by AMD’s Z1-series processors, which are custom APUs using Zen 4 CPU cores and RDNA 3 GPU cores. However, AMD has two of these Z1 processors available, and they are very different.

Ryzen Z1 comes with six Zen 4 cores and four RDNA 3 cores for a total of up to 2.8 TFLOPS of theoretical performance. The Ryzen Z1 Extreme, by contrast, comes with eight Zen 4 cores and a whopping 12 RDNA 3 cores. This allows for much higher performance – up to 8.6 TFLOPs, according to AMD.

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Asus will have models available with the Z1 Extreme and the basic Z1, but for now, all we have is the Z1 Extreme version.

Taking apart the iFixit Steam Deck shows that you can easily remove the sticks.

By comparison, Steam Deck has much weaker hardware. Whichever model you choose, you get four Zen 2 cores and eight RDNA 2 cores, delivering up to 1.6 TFLOPs of theoretical performance. The Steam Deck APU also reaches 15 watts, while the ROG Ally can go up to 30W in its Turbo mode.

There’s a big difference between the APUs, but the Steam Deck and ROG Ally also have some common specs. Both devices come with 16GB of LPDDR5 memory and both include a Micro SD card slot for storage expansion. Both also support USB-C for charging and come with a 3.5mm headphone jack.

A clear champion in performance.

Performance between Asus ROG Ally and Steam Deck.

There’s no question about it: ROG Ally is faster than Steam Deck. In an apples-to-apples comparison with the same resolution and APU power, ROG Ally is more than 50% faster than Steam Deck. It’s important to note that the ROG Ally is also expandable. The Steam Deck tops out at 15W, but the ROG Ally can go as high as 30W in Turbo mode with the charger plugged in.

It was clear from the start that the ROG Ally would be faster, but it would also come with a higher-resolution screen. At 1080p, the ROG Ally starts to falter. That said, it’s still an excellent performer, especially when you can run the most demanding games available today at medium settings while maintaining close to 30 frames per second (fps).

Performance for Asus ROG Ally.

There is room to improve its performance with different performance modes and increasing the size. This is true of both ROG Ally and the Steam Deck; ROG Ally can go higher. You can run your APU between 7W and 30W, while the Steam Deck only runs between 5W and 15W.

I wouldn’t recommend running the ROG Ally at a full 30W, but the option is nice to have if you’re near a charger and want a performance boost. However, turbo mode is not practical on the go. This will kill your battery fast.

Steam Deck and ROG Ally are pretty close in overall battery life. In default performance mode on ROG Ally and Steam Deck at full speed, you can get about two hours of demanding AAA gameplay. Turbo mode on the ROG Ally is much worse: in my tests, it registered the device in less than an hour.

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However, it’s important to note that the ROG Ally matches the Steam Deck while offering a higher screen resolution. Reduce the resolution and limit the number of frames per second; ROG Ally outlasts Steam Deck.

All in all, the ROG Ally feels like quality an update via Steam Deck, not a performance update. It’s faster and more efficient, but you’ll mostly run games with better visual quality at a higher resolution, while getting similar performance and battery life.

At launch, there were some issues with the ROG Ally regarding its performance at lower wattages. Asus seems to have fixed these issues between the time the reviews appeared and the ROG Ally went on sale, and it now performs better than the Steam Deck at lower power.

Windows 11 is not a done deal

Asus ROG Ally with Windows lock screen.Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

One of the most important differences between ROG Ally and Steam Deck is the operating system. The Steam Deck uses Valve’s custom SteamOS, while the ROG Ally will run Windows 11.

No matter where you look at it, there are pros and cons. For Steam Deck, SteamOS provides a simplified and easy-to-use interface for portable gaming. It certainly helps that it’s connected to the largest PC game distribution network, making it easy to buy new titles.

But there are countless problems. For starters, SteamOS is still very buggy. For my own Steam Deck, I have to leave Wi-Fi off when I’m away from the charger because the handheld occasionally gets confused and thinks it’s empty, even with a full charge. These kinds of idiosyncrasies are rampant on SteamOS.

For most people, the biggest difference is that SteamOS is based on Linux. This means you can’t play many games, including those with anti-cheat software and games on other markets (such as the Xbox app). Windows 11 fixes that problem for ROG Ally, allowing you to play games on other windows and titles that use anti-cheat software like destiny 2

Running on Steam Deck.

However, Windows 11 has some drawbacks. The first is that it is an operating system for desktop computers, not for portable gaming. Instead, Asus’ Armory Crate runs on top of Windows. It allows you to do things like launch games (connects to the EA app, Xbox app, Ubisoft Connect, GOG Galaxy, Epic Games Store, and Steam) and configure settings on your device. But it’s not all in one place.

You have to go to the desktop to install your games and anything that uses the launcher (like cyberpunk 2077) will also take you back to the desktop. Fortunately, ROG Ally supports two controller modes via the Armory Crate, so you can quickly switch between desktop mode and gaming mode. The app allows you to associate keyboard and mouse commands with buttons, and even assign shortcuts and actions like opening the task manager.

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Steam Deck has some usability issues, but they mostly come down to weird bugs. The ROG Ally inherently has these issues and feels more like a laptop than a handheld console. Steam Deck wins here for sure, but there are usability issues nonetheless.

fit and finish

Turbo mode on Asus ROG Ally.

One area where the Steam Deck is better than the ROG Ally is the feel. It’s big and bulky, but Valve makes good use of that space with quality controls and buttons, as well as trackpads that can come in handy in games that require a lot of precision.

The ROG Ally doesn’t have trackpads, but the real problem is that its buttons don’t feel all that great. The sticks are a bit cheap and the D-pad is terrible. It’s not as bad as the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con, but the ROG Ally definitely feels like a $30 controller.

However, the ROG Ally is more comfortable to hold. He is a little lighter, but much smaller. I’m much more comfortable pushing the ROG Ally towards the plane on the Steam Deck; It doesn’t feel so rebellious.

ROG Ally is the winner

Cyberpunk 2077 runs on Asus ROG Ally.

ROG Ally comes with its own problems. It does not fix all Steam Deck issues right away. But for $50 more, Asus offers acceptable battery life, better performance, more gaming support, and a much nicer display.

That could change when we get the Ryzen Z1 model, depending on both its performance and how it stacks up to its $600 price tag. At least as far as flagships go, the ROG Ally is better than the Steam Deck, assuming that don’t mind solving some problems.

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