Computing

Asus ROG Ally vs. Steam Deck: A Comprehensive Comparison

Introduction

Asus’ latest gaming device, the ROG Ally, has arrived and I’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly test it for our ROG Ally review. Today, I’ll compare it to its main competitor, the Steam Deck, and discuss why Asus has delivered an impressive device.

It’s All About the Price

A Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Nintendo Switch OLED sit on a table.
Price has been a major point of contention when it comes to the ROG Ally, especially when compared to the aggressively-priced Steam Deck. However, Asus has risen to the challenge and responded with competitive pricing.

The ROG Ally with the Z1 Extreme is priced at $700 and is currently available exclusively at Best Buy. Surprisingly, it’s still in stock and selling at the list price. Additionally, Asus plans to release a cheaper model later this year, priced at $600, which will feature the Ryzen Z1.

On the other hand, the Steam Deck starts at $400, but that’s for a version with only 64GB of slower storage. To match the ROG Ally’s 512GB storage capacity, you’ll need to spend $650. While the Steam Deck offers a lower entry price, the price difference between it and the ROG Ally is only $50.

Though there may be more to discuss regarding pricing when the Ryzen Z1 model becomes available, for now, the flagship designs of the Steam Deck and ROG Ally are evenly matched. The Steam Deck may be slightly cheaper, but as I’ll explain, the ROG Ally justifies its $50 price increase.

Some Interesting Specifications

Z1 processor for the Asus ROG Ally.
The ROG Ally not only looks striking, but it also boasts impressive hardware under the hood. Powered by AMD’s Z1 Series processors, which are custom APUs leveraging Zen 4 CPU cores and RDNA 3 GPU cores, the ROG Ally has two distinct models.

The Ryzen Z1 variant features six Zen 4 cores and four RDNA 3 cores, offering up to 2.8 TFLOPS of theoretical performance. In contrast, the Ryzen Z1 Extreme comes with eight Zen 4 cores and a massive 12 RDNA 3 cores, delivering much higher performance of up to 8.6 TFLOPS, according to AMD.

While Asus plans to offer models with both the Z1 and Z1 Extreme processors, currently only the Z1 Extreme version is available.

On the other hand, the Steam Deck is equipped with relatively weaker hardware. Regardless of the model chosen, it features four Zen 2 cores and eight RDNA 2 cores, providing up to 1.6 TFLOPS of theoretical performance. Furthermore, the Steam Deck’s APU tops out at 15 watts, while the ROG Ally can reach up to 30W in its Turbo mode.

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Although the APUs in the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck differ significantly, there are some common specifications between the two devices. Both feature 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, a Micro SD card slot for storage expansion, USB-C charging support, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

However, it’s worth noting that Asus has acknowledged a potential issue with the ROG Ally, as it can cause Micro SD cards to fail under certain thermal conditions. Despite this, many users, including myself, have been using it for months without any problems.

A Clear Winner in Performance

Performance comparison between the Asus ROG Ally and Steam Deck.
Without a doubt, the ROG Ally outperforms the Steam Deck. In a side-by-side comparison with the same resolution and APU wattage, the ROG Ally surpasses the Steam Deck by more than 50% in terms of speed. It’s important to highlight that the ROG Ally can achieve even higher performance as well. While the Steam Deck maxes out at 15W, the ROG Ally can reach up to 30W in its Turbo mode when connected to the charger.

Initially, it was clear that the ROG Ally would offer better performance, but it also features a higher-resolution screen. However, when pushed to 1080p resolution, the ROG Ally’s performance does suffer slightly. Nevertheless, it still delivers impressive results, especially when running demanding games at medium settings while maintaining a smooth frame rate of nearly 30 frames per second (fps).

It’s worth noting that Asus has released several updates for the ROG Ally since its release, but these updates haven’t improved performance. In fact, performance has regressed. As shown in our July retesting, the ROG Ally slips a bit when compared to the Steam Deck.

While it remains faster, it’s disconcerting to witness the ROG Ally’s performance deteriorate due to a BIOS update. Ironically, this update was intended to enhance performance. Moreover, the previous update was even slower.

Fortunately, both the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck offer different performance modes and upscaling options to improve performance. The ROG Ally provides a wider range of options, with its APU adjustable between 7W and 30W, while the Steam Deck operates between 5W and 15W.

However, I wouldn’t recommend running the ROG Ally at the maximum 30W as it drains the battery quickly. Turbo mode is more suitable when connected to a charger and not intended for on-the-go use.

In terms of battery life, the Steam Deck and ROG Ally are relatively close. When running a demanding AAA game at the default Performance mode on the ROG Ally and with the Steam Deck running at full capacity, you can expect approximately two hours of gameplay. However, Turbo mode significantly reduces battery life for the ROG Ally, lasting less than an hour in my testing.

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Overall, the ROG Ally feels like a quality upgrade over the Steam Deck, offering not only better performance but also improved efficiency. Most importantly, it enables you to enjoy games with better visual quality at higher resolutions while providing similar performance and battery life.

Windows 11: An Unsettled Debate

Asus ROG Ally with the Windows lock screen.
One of the key differences between the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck lies in their operating systems. While the Steam Deck utilizes Valve’s custom SteamOS, the ROG Ally runs on Windows 11.

Each operating system has its own advantages and drawbacks. SteamOS offers a user-friendly interface specifically designed for handheld gaming. Additionally, it is seamlessly integrated with the largest PC game distribution network, allowing for easy game purchases.

However, SteamOS does come with its fair share of issues. For instance, it still suffers from notable bugs. In my personal experience, I’ve had to disable Wi-Fi when not connected to the charger to prevent confusion regarding the battery status, even when fully charged. Such peculiarities are prevalent in SteamOS.

The most significant distinction for most users is that SteamOS is based on Linux. Consequently, this means that you may encounter compatibility issues with certain games, particularly those equipped with anti-cheat software, as well as games available on other platforms like the Xbox app. With Windows 11, the ROG Ally overcomes these limitations, allowing you to access games from various storefronts and play titles that employ anti-cheat software, such as Destiny 2.

On the downside, Windows 11 is primarily designed as a desktop operating system, not specifically for handheld gaming. To address this, Asus incorporates its Armoury Crate software on top of Windows. This application enables you to launch games, accessing platforms such as the EA app, Xbox app, Ubisoft Connect, GOG Galaxy, Epic Games Store, and Steam. However, it’s not an all-in-one solution.

To install games, you still need to navigate to the desktop, and launching games that require a specific launcher, like Cyberpunk 2077, will redirect you back to the desktop. Thankfully, the ROG Ally supports two controller modes through Armoury Crate, allowing for a quick switch between desktop mode and gaming mode. The application also offers the ability to configure keyboard and mouse commands, as well as bind shortcuts and actions, such as opening the Task Manager.

In terms of usability, the Steam Deck has its own set of problems, primarily related to occasional bugs. However, the ROG Ally inherently presents certain issues and feels more like a handheld laptop than a dedicated gaming console. In this regard, the Steam Deck holds the advantage. However, both devices face usability challenges to some extent.

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Fit and Finish

Turbo mode on the Asus ROG Ally.
One area where the Steam Deck outshines the ROG Ally is in its feel. Valve has effectively utilized its device’s size by incorporating quality thumbsticks, buttons, and trackpads that provide precise control in games requiring accuracy.

Although the ROG Ally lacks trackpads, the real issue lies in its buttons, which don’t deliver the same satisfying feel. The thumbsticks feel relatively inexpensive, and the D-pad is far from satisfactory. While it’s not as terrible as the Joy-Con controllers on the Nintendo Switch, the ROG Ally unfortunately feels like an inferior $30 knock-off controller.

However, the ROG Ally does excel in terms of comfort. It is slightly lighter and significantly smaller in size. When traveling, I find it much more convenient to carry the ROG Ally than the Steam Deck, as it feels less cumbersome.

The Winner: ROG Ally

Cyberpunk 2077 running on the Asus ROG Ally.
Considering its price increase of $50, the ROG Ally comes with its own set of issues and may not completely resolve all the concerns associated with the Steam Deck. However, Asus has managed to offer acceptable battery life, superior performance, wider game compatibility, and a more impressive screen.

This verdict may change once the Ryzen Z1 model is released, depending on its performance and how it compares to its $600 price tag. Nevertheless, for the current flagship models, the ROG Ally effortlessly surpasses the Steam Deck, provided you’re willing to tolerate a few quirks.

However, if you already own a Steam Deck, I wouldn’t recommend replacing it with the ROG Ally. The Steam Deck, especially with its more stable performance compared to recent updates on the ROG Ally, continues to impress. The ROG Ally is the ideal choice if you don’t already possess a handheld gaming PC, but it’s not compelling enough to warrant an upgrade from an existing Steam Deck.

Editors’ Recommendations
  • With Lenovo’s Legion Go, do we finally have a Steam Deck competitor?
  • Asus just raised the bar with its latest gaming keyboard.
  • These 6 hidden features on Steam are what keep me coming back every day.
  • Don’t worry; Armored Core VI is fully supported on the Steam Deck.
  • I took the plunge and replaced my PC with the Asus ROG Ally. Here’s what surprised me.

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