Asus’ Steam Deck challenger, the ROG Ally, is available now. I’ve had a chance to test it fully for our ROG Ally review and now can properly compare it to the Steam Deck. And it’s clear Asus has a compelling device on its hands.
The ROG Ally is faster and supports more games than the Steam Deck, but it still has some issues with usability. It’s not the fabled handheld gaming PC many have been waiting for, but it does enough to push past the Steam Deck while costing around the same price.
It’s all a matter of price
Price was the main point in question for the ROG Ally, especially against the aggressively-priced Steam Deck. But it’s clear Asus was ready to fire back at Valve’s handheld with equally aggressive pricing.
The ROG Ally with the Z1 Extreme costs $700. It’s currently available from Best Buy exclusively, and although I was worried it would sell out immediately, it’s still in stock for list price. A cheaper model sporting the Ryzen Z1 is set to arrive later in the year, priced at $600.
The Steam Deck is as cheap as $400, but that’s only with 64GB of slow storage. To get 512GB, which is what the ROG Ally with the Z1 Extreme has, you’ll need to spend $650. It’s true you can get the Steam Deck for less, but for something competitive with the ROG Ally, the difference is only $50.
There will definitely be more to the conversation with pricing once the Ryzen Z1 model is available, but for the flagship designs, the Steam Deck and ROG Ally are equally matched. The Steam Deck is a hair cheaper, but as I’ll dig into, the ROG Ally more than justifies a $50 price hike.
Some curious specs
The ROG Ally looks pretty, that’s for sure, but it’s really the underlying hardware that makes Asus’ handheld exciting. The ROG Ally is powered by AMD’s Z1 Series processors, which are custom APUs leveraging Zen 4 CPU cores and RDNA 3 GPU cores. AMD has two of these Z1 processors available, though, and they’re very different.
The 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 massive 12 RDNA 3 cores. That enables much higher performance — up to 8.6 TFLOPs, according to AMD.
Asus will have models with the Z1 Extreme and base Z1 available, but for now, all we have is the Z1 Extreme version.
By comparison, the Steam Deck is packing much weaker hardware. Regardless of the model you choose, you’re getting four Zen 2 cores and eight RDNA 2 cores, which offer up to 1.6 TFLOPs of theoretical performance. The Steam Deck’s APU also tops out at 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 have some specs in common as well. Both devices come with 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, and they both include a Micro SD card slot for storage expansion. They also both support USB-C for charging and come with a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Micro SD card is a point of contention. Asus has confirmed that the ROG Ally can cause the Micro SD card to fail under certain thermal conditions. We’ve run one for months without issue, but it’s still an ongoing problem.
A clear performance champ
There’s no question — the ROG Ally is faster than the Steam Deck. In an apples-to-apples comparison with the same resolution and APU wattage, the ROG Ally is upwards of 50% faster than the Steam Deck. It’s important to note that the ROG Ally can scale higher, too. The Steam Deck tops out at 15W, but the ROG Ally can go up to 30W in its Turbo mode with the charger plugged in.
It was clear from the start that the ROG Ally would be faster, but it comes with a higher-resolution screen, as well. At 1080p, the ROG Ally starts to slip. It’s still a great performer, though, especially when it can run the most demanding games available today at Medium settings while maintaining close to 30 frames per second (fps).
Since release, Asus has released a number of updates for the ROG Ally, and they haven’t improved performance. In fact, performance has regressed. As you can see in our retesting of the device in July, it slips a bit in the comparison to the Steam Deck.
It’s still faster, for sure, but it’s disconcerting to see the ROG Ally slip in performance at the whim of a BIOS update. This update was, apparently, meant to improve performance as well. The previous one was even slower.
Thankfully, there’s some room to improve your performance with different performance modes and upscaling. That’s true for both the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck; the ROG Ally can just go higher. You can run its APU between 7W and 30W, while the Steam Deck only operates between 5W and 15W.
I wouldn’t recommend running the ROG Ally at a full 30W, but it’s nice to have the option if you’re close to a charger and want a boot in performance. Turbo mode isn’t practical on the go, though. It will kill your battery quickly.
The Steam Deck and ROG Ally are pretty close in overall battery life. At the default Performance mode on the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck at full tilt, you can get about two hours of a demanding AAA game. Turbo mode on the ROG Ally is much worse — in my testing, the device died in under an hour.
Overall, though, the ROG Ally feels like a quality upgrade over the Steam Deck, not a performance upgrade. It’s faster and more efficient, but you’ll mainly be running games with better visual quality at a higher resolution while getting similar performance and battery life.
Windows 11 isn’t a done deal
One of the most important differences between the ROG Ally and Steam Deck is the operating system. The Steam Deck uses Valve’s custom SteamOS, while the ROG Ally will leverage Windows 11.
There are pros and cons no matter which way you look. For the Steam Deck, SteamOS provides an easy-to-use, streamlined interface for handheld gaming. It certainly helps that it’s tied into the largest distribution network for PC games, as well, allowing you to easily shop for new titles.
It has myriad problems, though. For starters, SteamOS is still remarkably buggy. For my own Steam Deck, I have to leave Wi-Fi turned off when I’m away from the charger because the handheld will occasionally get confused and think it’s out of battery, even with a full charge. These types of idiosyncrasies are rampant in SteamOS.
For most people, the biggest difference is that SteamOS is built on Linux. That means you’re locked out of playing quite a few games, including those with anti-cheat software and games on other marketplaces (such as the Xbox app). Windows 11 solves that problem for the ROG Ally, allowing you to play games in other storefronts and titles that use anti-cheat software like Destiny 2.
There are some downsides to Windows 11, though. The first is that it’s a desktop operating system, not a handheld gaming one. Instead, Asus’ Armoury Crate runs on top of Windows. It allows you to do things like launch games — it hooks into the EA app, Xbox app, Ubisoft Connect, GOG Galaxy, Epic Games Store, and Steam — and configure settings on the device. But it’s not a one-stop shop.
You have to go to the desktop to install your games, and anything that uses a launcher (such as Cyberpunk 2077) will pull you back to the desktop, as well. Thankfully, the ROG Ally supports two controller modes through Armoury Crate, so you can quickly swap between desktop mode and gaming mode. The application allows you to bind keyboard and mouse commands to buttons, and even attach shortcuts and actions like opening the Task Manager.
The Steam Deck has usability problems, but those mainly come down to strange bugs. The ROG Ally has those issues inherently, and it feels more like a handheld laptop than a handheld console. The Steam Deck wins here, for sure, but there are usability problems regardless.
Fit and finish
One area where the Steam Deck shoots ahead of the ROG Ally is the feel. It’s big and bulky, but Valve makes good use of that space with quality thumbsticks and buttons, as well as trackpads that can be helpful 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 as good. The thumbsticks are a little cheap, and the D-pad feels terrible. It’s not as bad as a Joy-Con on a Nintendo Switch, but the ROG Ally definitely feels like a $30 knock-off controller.
However, the ROG Ally is more comfortable to hold. It’s slightly lighter but much smaller. I’m much more comfortable pulling out the ROG Ally on a plane over the Steam Deck; it doesn’t feel nearly as unruly.
The ROG Ally is a winner
The ROG Ally comes with its own problems. It doesn’t immediately solve all the issues of the Steam Deck. But for $50 more, Asus is offering acceptable battery life, better performance, more game support, and a much nicer screen.
That may change once we get the Ryzen Z1 model, depending on both its performance and how that stacks up to its $600 price. For the flagship models at least, the ROG Ally handily beats the Steam Deck assuming you don’t mind dealing with some quirks.
However, you shouldn’t ditch your Steam Deck for it. The Steam Deck, especially now that the ROG Ally has seen some rough updates, still continues to impress with its stability. The ROG Ally is the device to pick if you don’t already have a handheld gaming PC, but it’s not enough to justify upgrading if you already have a Steam Deck.