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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

ROG Ally vs Steam Deck: Here's How They Compare

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It’s starting to look like the Asus ROG Ally and Valve’s Steam Deck will be battling it out in the handheld PC gaming space for the foreseeable future. The comparisons were inevitable and seemingly not surprising since most new gaming handhelds were either the “Switch-killer” or are now inevitably looking to dethrone King Steam Deck. This begs the question, will the Steam Deck be in any trouble? It’s hard to say for now, but it’s still worth taking the time to compare these impressive devices nevertheless. ROG Ally is also now available from Best Buy (if you're interested).

Generally, as a handheld device, the ROG Ally is not as initially intuitive as the likes of the Steam Deck. There’s still plenty to love, and the Ally has a clear ambition to be a jack-of-all-trades handheld device, while in comparison the Steam Deck specializes in being a portable Steam machine, with the added bonus of other launchers if you’re willing to tinker. But, overall, Steam and other launchers work just fine on the Ally, while also feeling a tiny bit clunky at the best of times. Here's how the PC handhelds compare across the board overall.

Specs: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Performance and Battery Life: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

When it comes to performance while gaming, we tested the Ally on a few different games with various launchers. 1080p on the Ally’s 7-inch screen looks amazing and the detail is wonderful, especially for a handheld device. You’re going to be limited to that excitement for around 1-2 hours at most, but, this also isn’t unexpected as the Ally runs a similar size battery to the Steam Deck.

Indie titles tend to run well on both devices, with the likes of Vampire Survivors, Dead Cells and Hades all running at an easy 60fps on Steam Deck and ROG Ally without issue. Both devices ran up similar battery depletion when using these settings as well, averaging about 4-5 hours on most play sessions.

The ROG Ally is the first handheld gaming PC to use AMD’s new Z1 Extreme mobile processor, which is notably more powerful than the Steam Deck’s custom APU, as well as the thus-far mobile king, the AMD Ryzen 7 6800U. The Z1 Extreme is an 8-core Zen 4 processor with RDNA 3-powered graphics, and can be cranked up to a maximum of 30W when plugged in. This compares to the Steam Deck’s 4-core custom Zen 2 APU, which caps out at 15W plugged in or on battery.

During our tests, it was clear to see that the Z1 Extreme is the superior chip. At 720p on the 15W power setting, the ROG Ally scored 38fps in Total War: Three Kingdoms, 57fps in Borderlands 3, and 64fps in Hitman 3, compared to 25, 42, and 44 on the Steam Deck. All tests run at the highest available graphics preset.

At the higher-power 30W setting, the ROG Ally again takes the lead, though the gains are diminished by moving up to the more demanding 1080p resolution. You can, of course, run things at 30W still at 720p, in which case you’ll see an even larger increase over the Steam Deck. For a more in-depth look at the performance stats, see our full ROG Ally review here.

Design: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Both the Steam Deck and ROG Ally are armed with some similar design philosophies that are present across a central screen with a standard ABXY side form control. Looks-wise, the ROG Ally plays it a little bolder with its white design and light-up RGB thumbsticks. On the other hand, the Steam Deck is a little more old-school, with a classic black and grey scheme across the whole device.

The ROG Ally is a sleek device that’s easy and light to hold. It’s got a far slimmer profile compared to the Steam Deck, but it also lacks that certain sense of weightiness and stability offered by Valve’s handheld device. This makes sense considering it’s 60g lighter and forgoes the larger grips on the back of the device in favour of the slighter design.

Asus ROG Ally – Photos

By comparison, the Steam Deck is a hulking device that really likes to make its presence known. It’s got a certain level of heft to it that can take some getting used to, but still feels comfy to use during extended game sessions. Those with smaller hands may prefer the angled sides and sleeker profile of the Ally, while others will prefer the overall profile of the Deck, especially with its comfortable grips at the back.

But it's also hard to ignore something that is lacking from the Ally: the Steam Deck’s pressure-sensitive touchpads. This won’t be the biggest deal to a lot of gamers, but it’s still a notable omission that can potentially restrict you when choosing what genre to play on the go. The touchpads make controlling mouse-based games much easier on the Deck, especially when combined with the wealth of community control profiles available, so lacking them here is definitely a tick in the Steam Deck’s column.

Game Pass is one of the major differences between the ROG Ally and Steam Deck.

Xbox Game Pass: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Game Pass is one of the major differences between the ROG Ally and Steam Deck, and makes the ROG Ally feel like the unofficial handheld Xbox that many fans have been clamoring for. While the Xbox launcher on PC is still somewhat buggy, overall the experience is good, and highlights the brilliance of Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Play Anywhere.

Steam Deck on the other hand isn’t so simple. While native Game Pass support is possible on Steam Deck, it takes a little too much jiggery-pokery for most gamers to adopt. You’ll need to follow a full guide on how to dual-boot install Windows on your Steam Deck, preferably on a separate SD card, and cross your fingers that all goes to plan.

If you don’t want the hassle, you have a couple of other options. Both require some tinkering but are still valuable assets if you want to access Game Pass games on the Deck. Cloud Gaming is the way to go, via the Heroic Launcher, some magic with Microsoft Edge on the handheld, or the Greenlight app for Linux.

While it won’t be a deal breaker for many Steam Deck users, Game Pass is a lot more accessible on the ROG Ally at the time of writing. Fingers crossed Microsoft can work with Valve to get some smoother native support in the near future.

Best Xbox Game Pass Games

Game Verification: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Another difference between the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck is the lack of game verification on the former. This isn't particularly surprising given that the Ally pretty much operates as a portable Windows 11 gaming PC. Essentially, you have to either install a game and test it out, or check to see if the relevant specs are compatible online. But, in theory, most games should run relatively comfortably.

For the more experienced crowd this won’t bother you one bit, as it's par for the course with PC gaming. You don’t get any kind of ‘Verified’ status on your everyday Windows PC, so you’re not expecting to get one here. But, for the more casual gamer who is now used to Steam’s Verified or Playable status, it could make the ROG Ally a bit intimidating at first. This may seem like a small feature, but it can provide that little bit of confidence when installing and playing games for the first time, especially if you're not the most tech savvy gamer out there. To be clear: I'm not saying the ROG Ally needs a verification system, as more often than not games will just work, but it is still a notable difference between the two devices.

Features: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Windows 11 has some down sides, but it can feel like a win when it comes to the Ally, and running additional launchers through the device is as easy as it is on your PC. The likes of Epic, EA, GOG, Steam, and Xbox are directly installable to the device without any additional work involved like it is on the Linux-based Steam Deck. There’s also the Armoury Crate software which will throw every game you install into a handy home screen.

Steam Deck does feel a little more friendly when using its version of Steam Big Picture, but overall the ROG Ally does trump it when it comes to installing additional launchers. While it’s not impossible to install all the launchers listed on the Steam Deck, it does take significantly more tinkering to achieve a lot of what the ROG Ally does in a few steps.

However, running Windows does also mean that the ROG Ally misses out on all of the software-based customization that Valve has done to optimize the Steam Deck. While there are some degrees of software tweaking you can do on the Ally – such as adjusting power settings, resolution, and setting a framerate cap via Armoury Crate – the lack of complete hardware/software symbiosis is still notable.

Unfortunately, the Ally does also lack the Steam Deck’s ability to suspend and resume a game at the touch of a button. This means that any time you want to stop playing for longer than a simple pause, you’ll need to save and quit out of your game entirely, and load up again fresh the next time you want to play. This is, of course, the standard way things go on desktop PCs.

The 10 Best Steam Deck Games

Price: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

The Z1 Extreme 512GB model of the ROG Ally will be priced at $699.99, while the standard Z1 256GB model will be available for $599.99 (more detail will be announced at a later date). This price point is vital for the success of the ROG Ally, as it could either make or break the device. In contrast, the Steam Deck has three different tiers to choose from, with the 64GB model priced at $399.99, the 256GB at $529.99, and the 512GB at $649.99.

As you can see, at just under $700, the most expensive ROG Ally model is only $50 more than the beefiest Steam Deck available, packing with it a whole slew of technical improvements over Valve’s handy device as well. This is an extremely competitive price model, and could definitely grab the attention of gamers looking for a handheld gaming device. But, the Steam Deck's accessibility is still evident in its pricing, with the lowest tier starting at just under $400, especially since this model will still get you the same power level as the $650 Deck.

Accessories: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Unlike the Steam Deck, you won’t get a carry case alongside your purchase of the ROG Ally, so you’ll need to invest in one ASAP if you want to keep the device as safe as possible. Asus is selling a dedicated carry case that’s available to buy for $39.99 (see at Best Buy), and it’s water repellent, includes space for accessories, and even features its own integrated stand for the Ally. Asus has even developed its own new controller, intended for use with the Ally, but likely useable on any Bluetooth enabled device. It costs $169.99 and can also currently be ordered from Best Buy.

Another interesting addition to the Asus arsenal is the ROG XG GC33Y Mobile, featuring the latest Nvidia RTX 4090 GPU to plug the ROG Ally into, ramping up the power to another level. You won’t be surprised to learn that this costs just under $2000.

Each device also has a dedicated charging dock available, so you can link the handhelds up to your monitor as well. But, before you go, both devices can benefit from improved battery life, so I’d recommend picking up a powerful power bank as soon as possible.

ROG Ally Accessories

Conclusion: ROG Ally vs Steam Deck

Both the ROG Ally and Steam Deck have generated significant buzz among gamers, with each device offering its own unique set of features and capabilities. The ROG Ally feels a bit more powerful than the Steam Deck, and even has a beautiful 1080p screen to enjoy while gaming on the go. Xbox Game Pass is another big win for the Ally, with Steam Deck falling behind when it comes to easy-to-access native support for launchers other than Steam.

On the other hand, it does feel like the ROG Ally is missing out on the software-based customization that optimizes the Steam Deck as a device overall. Moreover, Steam Deck feels reasonably more settled when it comes to being a handheld device, with community led gamepad profiles, unique front-facing touchpads, and the ability to resume games on the fly after putting the device to sleep.

In summary, it's an exciting time for gaming handhelds, and the ROG Ally and Steam Deck are just the beginning of what could be a new era of portable gaming (preferably with more battery life in the future). As more devices enter the market, gamers will have a wider range of options to choose from, providing a more personalized gaming experience than ever before. While it does have a few setbacks, the ROG Ally is a great step in the right direction for handheld gaming, and a wonderful competitor to the Steam Deck that could inspire even more brilliance in the market moving forward.

Robert Anderson is a deals expert and Commerce Editor for IGN. You can follow him @robertliam21 on Twitter.

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