Asus ROG Ally (Ryzen Z1)
“ROG Ally with Z1 is weaker than even Steam Deck, so it doesn’t have a clear audience.”
Lightweight and comfortable to use
Beautiful screen with 1080p resolution
Poor battery life
Worse performance than Steam Deck
Windows 11 is a problem to use
When I reviewed Asus’s ROG Ally earlier this year, I was impressed with its performance. The handheld made its debut with the AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme chip, which topped the Steam Deck and established the Asus handheld as the new king of performance.
We now have the base model Z1. It’s a stripped-down version of the chip we saw earlier this year, and it’s cheaper than the Z1 Extreme model ($600 instead of $700). there’s less power, but the device still comes with the same 512GB of storage, the same shared 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, and the same beautiful 1080p, 120Hz screen. Only the processor is different.
And what is the difference. The ROG Ally Z1 isn’t a disaster, but it’s a device with no clear purpose. It’s a clear step below the Z1 Extreme and loses head-to-head with the Steam Deck. It’s a device that exists because it can, and I find it hard to believe that it caters to any particular audience.
Let’s talk about the Ryzen Z1
You might assume that the Ryzen Z1 Extreme is an improved version of the Ryzen Z1, but the line is actually moving in the opposite direction. The Z1 Extreme sets the standard and the Ryzen Z1 is a big step back.
For starters, the Ryzen Z1 only comes with six Zen 4 CPU cores compared to the eight available on the Z1 Extreme. However, the more important limitation is in the GPU cores. The Ryzen Z1 has four RDNA 3 GPU cores, which is only a third of what the Ryzen Z1 Extreme offers.
It’s a huge step back, and it shows in the ROG Ally Z1’s performance. There has also been a slight reduction in cache, from 8MB L2 on the Z1 Extreme to 6MB L2 on the Z1. Not a big deal, but I needed to allocate more of the shared 16GB of LPDDR5 memory to get games like Return dine.
The Ryzen Z1 is powerful enough for gaming, but it’s a significant step back from what the Z1 Extreme offers. Compared to the Steam Deck, it’s even a cut above. Valve’s handheld has twice as many graphics compute units (CUs). They use an older architecture, but a higher number of cores means Steam Deck delivers higher performance as shown by my testing.
By the numbers
The Steam Deck comparison is the best place to start as it sets the stage for the performance you can expect from the ROG Ally Z1. As you can see from my testing, the new Asus handheld is behind the Steam Deck in every game I looked at. There are minor differences such as Horizon Zero Dawnbut in games like dying light 2, the performance difference is the difference between playable and unplayable.
Fair enough for the new ROG All Z1, that’s right technical cheaper than Steam Deck. It comes with 512GB of storage, and for the same amount you’ll have to spend $650 on the Steam Deck. However, you can pick up a Steam Deck for just $400 with 64GB of storage and expand it with a micro SD card – at least you don’t have to worry about locking the Micro SD card as exists on ROG Ally.
You can see the comparison with the Z1 Extreme model above. In the default 15-watt Performance mode, the ROG Ally Z1 is about 37% slower than the Z1 Extreme in 3DMark Time Spy and a net 30% slower in Fire Strike.
But that’s not the worst part. With Turbo mode and both devices plugged in, offering 30 watts of power, the Z1 Extreme trumps the base Z1 model. The ROG Ally Z1 ends up 51% slower in Time Spy and 42% slower in Fire Strike.
That’s a huge gap between Performance and Turbo modes, and that’s something I’ve seen in my tests. Above you can see the performance breakdown in different modes of the ROG Ally Z1. There are some games like Strange Brigade, where extra power helps. But in most cases, the difference is only a few shots, all while draining the battery much faster.
That’s not the scaling we see with the Ryzen Z1 Extreme ROG Ally. In Performance mode, you can see that the Ryzen Z1 is about 20% behind the Ryzen Z1 Extreme. Jump into Turbo mode, though, and the Ryzen Z1 is 35% slower.
During my testing, it’s clear that the Ryzen Z1 ROG Ally version just can’t take advantage of the extra performance. It hits a hard wall, probably due to the low core count, and you don’t have the options to improve performance like you do with the ROG Ally with the Z1 Extreme.
A subjective experience
The numbers are important for comparison, but the reality of devices like the ROG Ally and The Ayaneo 2S is that you’ll have to play around with settings and upscaling to get playable performance. How does this experience stack up against ROG Ally with Ryzen Z1? Is not it great.
Let’s start with the main issue: battery life. I didn’t notice any big differences in battery life between the ROG Ally Z1 and the Z1 Extreme. That means you can squeeze about four hours of life into low-lift indie games, two hours into a big AAA game with a 30 frames-per-second (fps) cap, and about an hour if you shoot to Turbo mode and let the frames run wild.
The problem with battery life was especially noticeable when gaming Sea of stars. This 2D indie RPG can easily run for hours on a device like the Steam Deck, but the ROG Ally with the Z1 was half-dead after 90 minutes of play. Some of this may be due to Windows 11 running in the background on the ROG Ally, but it’s mainly the screen.
Like the Z1 Extreme, this version of the ROG Ally comes with a bright 1080p screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It’s just as beautiful as before and highlights the gorgeous pixel art Sea of stars. It’s just a massive battery drain, even in a non-challenging game Sea of stars.
It’s true that Asus provides options to save battery life: lower the refresh rate or run the display at a lower resolution. This defeats the purpose of having ROG Ally for games like sea of stars, although. If I need to lower the resolution and refresh rate to get acceptable battery life, I’ll play the game on my Steam Deck. At least there I get access to things like the Steam overlay and the ability to put the device to sleep.
But what about something more challenging? I played several hours of both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Lies P. in Red Dead Redemption 2, I was finally able to get a stable 30fps with the Low setting, but had to butcher the image with the built-in Radeon Super Resolution (RSR) to get there. It was playable, but the constant flickering from the upscaling was distracting.
Similarly in lies P, I was only able to achieve 60fps with Ultra Performance FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) game mode and Turbo mode on. Within 30 minutes I had already drained half of the battery, with the screen brightness reduced.
I tried too star field, but due to the messy 720p image quality combined with around 15fps I couldn’t play for long.
It’s hard to justify ROG Ally with Ryzen Z1. With the Z1 Extreme, you have to deal with Windows 11 bypassing and low battery life compared to the Steam Deck, but in terms of performance, you’re getting a much more capable device. With the entry-level Ryzen Z1, the ROG Ally becomes slightly slower than the Steam Deck, with all the same quirks that hold the ROG Ally back.
Hard to recommend
I can hardly recommend the ROG Ally Z1 to anyone. It doesn’t fit into any role not already filled by the Steam Deck or the ROG Ally with the Z1 Extreme. If anything, the $600 list price seems to be a way to trick you into the more expensive $700 model. It’s more than worth the extra cost.
There are trade-offs with the Steam Deck and the ROG Ally Z1 Extreme. Steam Deck isn’t as powerful, but it’s much more stable, easier to use, and comes at a lower price. It was enough for my personal use stick to Steam Deck. The ROG Ally Z1 Extreme is more expensive and more cumbersome, but it can also play any game that runs on Windows, and with a higher peak performance level. It even comes with some bonuses like the ability to connect an Asus ROG XG Mobile for tabletop gaming.
Unfortunately, nothing is tipping in favor of the ROG Ally Z1. It makes the same concessions as the Z1 Extreme without any of the benefits.