ASUS ROG Ally Review: A Powerful Handheld Gaming PC with Room for Improvement

I explore the ASUS ROG Ally in my latest review, the first handheld gaming machine produced for mass market retail. It’s currently a Best Buy exclusive (affiliate link) selling for $699. Despite its rough edges, the Ally’s performance is undeniably impressive, thanks to its AMD Z1 Extreme processor.

The Ally’s standout feature is its ability to run games at 1080p with decent frame rates, something that sets it apart from competitors like the Steam Deck that run at 720p. The 7″ display runs at 1080p 120hz with freesync support at 500 nits of brightness. The display looks great with vivid colors. But its rather slow 7ms response rate negates some of the advantages of the fast refresh rate.

I tested several games, including Forza Horizon 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Death Stranding, all of which ran smoothly at 1080p. The device also handled emulation well, running GameCube games without any hiccups.

I found the sweet spot is to run the games at 720p on the native display which will deliver greater than 60fps performance in most games. Most of the 1080p detail is lost on a small display like this so not much is sacrificed turning the resolution down. But it’s nice to know it can deliver decent 1080p performance when connected to an external dock through its USB-C port.

Because it runs Windows 11 as the underlying operating system it is compatible with a bulk of the Windows games on the market including compatibility for nearly all popular gaming platforms – including Xbox PC Gamepass downloads.

The Ally isn’t without its drawbacks, however. The device’s control surface feels clunky with huge dead zones on the analog sticks and the triggers. The directional pad is even worse, registering false diagonals and feeling a bit cheap for the price point.

While it has a full service USB-C port, it’s running on the older USB 3.2 Gen 2 standard vs. a USB 4.0 port that would allow for Thunderbolt device compatibility. Asus opted instead to use their own proprietary expansion port designed for their mobile GPU product. Those mobile GPUs start at around $799 – more than the cost of the Ally itself! USB 4 would have been much better as just about any PCI Express card could be used in an expansion box. See more about that USB 4 Thunderbolt compatibility in this video.

And of course the Windows 11 operating system isn’t ideally suited for a handheld gaming device. Asus attempted to compensate for this with their Armoury Crate software and launcher, but it often has to dump the user back to a Windows interface for accessing gaming platforms and other configuration items. Users will also spend a lot of time updating the device, having to do so in Armoury Crate and Windows Update to get it working at peak performance.

The Ally also fell short on the 3DMark Stress Test, indicating potential throttling issues under heavy load. But I didn’t notice any significant slowdowns during gameplay.

Despite these issues, the Ally is by far the best performing PC handheld on the market. Nothing comes close. If performance is all that matters to you I’d choose the Ally over the Steam Deck. But the Steam Deck feels like a much more cohesive product overall despite the Ally’s performance advantages.

I Preordered a ROG Ally

I pre-ordered an Asus ROG Ally (compensated affiliate link), the new Asus gaming handheld today from Best Buy.

This looks to be a device targeting the Steam Deck and differentiating itself by running Windows and not Linux. For those subscribed to the Game Pass PC or Ultimate Edition, the Windows 11 powered Asus handheld will make it a lot easier to access PC game downloads vs. Valve’s device.

The Ally is slightly more powerful vs. the Steam Deck but I don’t think the performance differences will be significant enough to designate it a “Steam Deck Killer.”

That said, the Ally may have some legs given their retail distribution strategy and marketing push. It’s exclusive to Best Buy stores upon its initial release meaning it will be available for hands-on demonstrations at hundreds of retail outlets throughout North America. This will undoubtedly drive some consumer interest that many of the lesser known brands can’t afford to do from a marketing perspective.

I’m sure Microsoft will give it a marketing boost too as it runs Windows and is a great solution for portable Gamepass downloads. In fact my friend and Xbox community manager Larry Hyrb (aka Major Nelson) got an early unit for an unboxing on his podcast.

But if pre-orders are any indication it’ll take some time to build up consumer awareness and interest. Pre-orders began on May 11 here in the US and units are still available on release day both for shipping and local store pickups at Best Buy. By comparison I had to wait months for my Steam Deck!

I’ll have more on this once my unit arrives next month. Stay tuned!