Handheld gaming PCs are booming. Over the last year and a half, we've seen compelling devices from Valve, Ayaneo, GPD and others, and now ASUS is entering the fray with the ROG Ally. It's sleek, it's quiet and it packs a gorgeous 1080p display. And with a new Ryzen Z1 Extreme chip from AMD, it may be the Steam Deck’s most powerful rival yet. It also runs Windows 11 instead of Steam OS, so it has even better game compatibility. However, the Ally is a touch more expensive and there’s a trade-off for all that extra performance, so is it really better than the device that reinvigorated the gaming handheld category back in early 2022?
At $700, the Ally appears to be way more expensive than the Steam Deck, which goes for as little as $400 (or even less during a sale). But because the Ally comes with a 512GB SSD, it’s not really fair to compare it to Valve’s $400 base model, which only has 64GB of onboard storage. I should also mention that a cheaper version of the Ally with a non-extreme version of the Z1 chip is due out sometime later this year, but that wasn’t available for review.
ASUS ROG Ally
- Strong performance
- Great 1080p display
- Punchy speakers
- Surprisingly quiet fans
- XG Mobile connector
- Sleek design
- Short battery life
- No touchpads
- No included case
- Windows 11 feels clunky
For now, a better comparison is a fully loaded Deck, which features the same amount of storage along with Valve’s upgraded anti-glare etched screen, which is what I used for all my comparisons. Still, even at its most expensive, the Steam Deck costs $650, which is $50 cheaper than the Ally. For people on a budget, Valve’s machine is the better option.
Another thing to consider is that unlike the Steam Deck, the Ally doesn’t come with a case – which will run you an extra $40 from ASUS. And after lugging this thing around for a few weeks, I can definitely say you’ll want some form of protection to prevent scratching the screen or putting too much pressure on the joysticks.
Design and display
Measuring 11 inches wide and weighing 1.34 pounds, the Ally has dimensions that appear quite similar to the Steam Deck. But those figures don’t fully encapsulate how much smaller the ROG really is, because at 0.83 inches, it’s half as thick as the Steam Deck. You also only get two rear paddles instead of four, and ASUS doesn't include little touchpads in front like Valve does, which may be a bit of a downer for anyone hoping to play traditional mouse-and-keyboard games.
That leaves you with a very familiar Xbox-style layout with two joysticks, a standard assortment of face buttons and shoulder triggers, as well as some extra shortcuts for quick settings and ASUS’ Armoury Crate app. There’s also a handy fingerprint sensor built into the power button, a volume rocker and a single USB-C port, which you can use on its own for data and charging, but also for hooking up ASUS’ XG Mobile dock. And just like the Steam Deck, the Ally has a microSD card slot for expandable storage, which is nice.
Overall, it’s a very functional setup. All the controls are easy to reach and I haven’t run into any issues with buttons getting stuck like I’ve heard about from other users. I also appreciate how the Ally’s smaller bezels make the device feel more compact, even if its 7-inch display is the same size as the Steam Deck’s. The one thing I miss though is bigger grips in the back, because while I know ASUS was going for a slimmer frame, holding the Ally just doesn’t feel quite as secure or comfortable.
As for its display, the Ally’s screen is one of its best features. Not only is it a 120Hz panel, its 1080p resolution is also sharper than the Steam Deck’s 800p. On top of that, the Ally is way more colorful and a touch brighter at around 475 nits versus closer to 400 nits on Valve’s handheld. When viewed side by side, there’s no competition — the Ally’s screen pops with rich hues and sharper details, which really helps when you’re trying to read small tooltips on a tiny screen.
Without getting into a protracted debate about how much resolution you really need on a portable PC, the Steam Deck’s lower-res and more washed-out-looking display has been one of my biggest complaints about the system since its launch so I’m really happy with the Ally’s panel, even if you can’t always take full advantage of its 120Hz refresh rate in more demanding games.
As for performance, the Ally has a significant leg up over the Steam Deck, as it sports AMD’s new Z1 Extreme APU and 16GB of RAM. Unfortunately, out of the gate, the Ally’s performance is pretty underwhelming. With both the Ally and the Steam Deck set to 15 watts, framerates were very similar. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 720p and high settings, the Ally averaged 43 fps while the Steam Deck hit 42 fps, so they were basically neck and neck. It was a nearly identical situation in Cyberpunk 2077, where both systems hit 44 fps at 720p on medium. Frankly, that’s not very impressive for fancy new silicon and really far off some of the claims ASUS made the Ally pre-launch.
But then I updated the system to install the new drivers and firmware ASUS released two weeks after launch (which took more than a couple of install and restart cycles) and that’s when the Ally started to distinguish itself. With the system fully updated, framerates jumped by 15 to 25 percent, and the Ally started to hit 54 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and 50 fps in Cyberpunk 2077 at the same settings.
That’s a noticeable improvement, but it gets even better. While the Steam Deck tops out at 15 watts, the Ally has a Turbo mode that boosts total power draw to 25 watts, or 30 watts if you’re plugged in. With the 25-watt Turbo mode activated, I was able to get 60 fps in Tomb Raider and 67 fps in Cyberpunk, which is impressive for a handheld PC. So even though the Ally doesn’t even come close to offering double the performance of the Steam Deck like ASUS initially boasted, for people who want big power in a portable device, the Ally is the easy pick.
Of course, with all that oomph comes diminished endurance. In general, I found that the Ally typically only lasts about an hour and a half to two hours depending on the title. Meanwhile, the Steam Deck often gives you two and a half to four hours, or even longer for less demanding fare. To put that into perspective, I played Diablo IV on both machines at medium settings, starting at 100 percent and I didn’t stop until they died. The Ally conked out at one hour and 31 minutes compared to 2:07 for the Steam Deck. And let’s not forget, Diablo IV doesn’t have native Linux support, so the Steam Deck runs it in an emulation layer which uses some extra power. In short, if you really care about getting the longest-lasting handheld PC, the Steam Deck is it.
As for audio, the Ally has some rather punchy front-firing stereo speakers, which sound a lot better than what you’d typically get on a similarly priced laptop. But to me the more impressive thing is what you don’t hear: fans blaring in the background. I’m not entirely sure what kind of voodoo ASUS did, but the Ally is surprisingly quiet. It barely registers above a whisper while running benchmarks, and when compared to the whiny whir that’s almost always coming out of my Steam Deck, the Ally is definitely the more family-friendly device. I can game on it while watching TV with my wife without her needing to turn up the volume (or worse, taking the console from me) and that’s a small but important way to maintain a happy home.
The last major difference between the Ally and the Steam Deck is their software. Instead of going with something like Valve’s Linux-based OS, ASUS went with Windows 11. The idea was to ensure that the system works with all the major online game stores like Steam, Battle.net, Epic and more, which it does. On top of that, ASUS tweaked its Armoury Crate app to serve as a game launcher, while also letting you adjust various settings or RGB lighting. One tap on the dedicated button lets you see all of your installed titles at a glance, while a push of ASUS’s other shortcut key brings up a menu for quick settings like operating modes, game profiles, and more.
The issue is that when you’re not using Armoury Crate, Windows 11 still feels clunky. Microsoft’s OS simply isn’t designed for smaller devices without keyboards that often have to rely on touch controls. ASUS has included a desktop mode toggle that lets you use the right joystick to move your mouse and the right shoulder buttons to click. But that feels more like a band-aid than a real solution, which would probably be a purpose-built gaming UI.
More importantly, even though the Ally can run basically every Windows game ever made, the experience isn’t always smooth. For example, when I tried to play Street Fighter 6, the game booted up in Windowed mode and cut off the bottom of the UI, so I couldn’t see the navigation menu. But even after I sorted that out, the game still ran poorly. At medium settings, I was getting just 20 fps which made the game run in slow-mo. I had to spend the next 10 minutes fiddling with graphics settings. Meanwhile, on the Steam Deck, I got a consistent 60 fps from the jump, which was a big surprise since I was not expecting a game that has only been out for a month to be this well-optimized on Linux.
There’s a flipside to this, though. While you can install games like Diablo IV that aren’t available on Steam and aren’t Deck Verified, it can be a real chore to get them up and running. You have to install the Battle.net launcher, manually change the Steam Deck’s compatibility mode and then add it as a non-Steam Game. Then you have to install Diablo IV itself, change its compatibility mode and manually add that to Steam’s library too. And that’s skipping a lot of the more complicated steps in between. Granted, there are a ton of how-to’s online to guide you through the process. But if this is your first time trying this on Linux, you’re looking at spending 10 to 15 minutes at least. There’s no just sitting down and hitting play. In contrast, getting D4 to run on the Ally is a breeze and even though the game runs relatively well on both systems, there are fewer hitches and stutters on ASUS’ machine.
Overall, Steam OS is generally easier to use — until you run into a game that isn’t Deck Verified or just doesn’t run on Linux, which is where the Ally has the advantage.
After testing both devices side-by-side, I’ve got a few takeaways. The first is that I’m even more impressed with the Steam Deck now than I was at launch. Over the past year and change, Valve has put a ton of work into polishing and optimizing it. I don’t think any gadget in recent memory has gotten as many updates as this thing. And now that there are over 10,000 Steam Deck-verified games, its library ain’t shabby. We’re at the point where you can play new AAA titles like Street Fighter 6 on day one, while other games like Cyberpunk 2077 are getting custom graphics settings specifically for the Deck so you don’t need to spend a ton of time tweaking performance. But most importantly, with a starting price of $400, the Steam Deck is the easy pick if you’re on a budget.
As for the ROG Ally, simply calling it a more powerful Steam Deck doesn’t feel quite right. Thanks to its AMD Z1 Extreme chip, it definitely has an edge in performance. But for all that speed, there’s a big trade-off in battery life. Even with both systems running at 15 watts, the Steam Deck lasted longer every time, which means the Ally isn’t always the best companion on longer trips. You also don’t get built-in touchpads or as many rear paddles. And while you can run basically any game ever made on it, Windows 11 just isn’t as well-optimized for handheld systems as Steam OS. Valve has a big advantage thanks to being in charge of both software and hardware design for its device. However, while I like and appreciate the Steam Deck, the ROG Ally’s gorgeous screen and super quiet fans would always have me looking over my shoulder like the distracted boyfriend meme.
So which one should you get? To answer that, you need to decide what kind of gamer you are. Thanks to Steam OS, the Steam Deck offers a simpler, more console-like experience, so long as your games have been verified to play nicely on Valve’s software. Meanwhile, if you like to tinker with settings and want higher framerates and a sharper display, the Ally might be the machine for you. It’s also the more portable of the two, and ASUS’ XG Mobile dock lets you plug it into a monitor and other accessories so you can use it as a desktop when you want. But with prices for those starting north of $1,000, it’ll cost you.
The biggest unknown is how well ASUS is going to support the Ally, because as we’ve seen with the Steam Deck, hardware can only take you so far without regular updates. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all handheld PC gaming console right now, so picking the right device depends on your preferences for OS, performance, battery life and more. But regardless of which one you pick, there’s a lot to like about the latest generation of handheld PCs, and I hope this is only the beginning of a long line of compelling devices.