Despite the Rocky Start, the ROG Ally made portable computers a real competitor to the Steam Deck

The ROG Ally is celebrating its 1-year anniversary today, June 13, 2024. Below, we look at how it overcame launch issues to become a viable Steam Deck competitor and a sign of how open the market can be of portable computers.

Considering how much the market for portable gaming PCs has exploded since Valve launched the Steam Deck in early 2022, it’s great to remember that its closest competitor is only a year old. Over a year after the Steam Deck hit the market, Asus followed up with the ROG Ally, a Windows-based gaming rig that, on paper, was a big step up from Valve’s rig. Not only was it more powerful (and potentially very so), it offered an experience that, at the time, was missing from Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS when it came to game and launcher compatibility. It wasn’t long before the Ally’s biggest appeal was also considered its Achilles heel, but even with the initial problems of adapting Windows to a device it was never meant to work seamlessly with, the ROG Ally has proven to have more than enough customer demand and variability for it to be highly successful.

In May 2023, Asus announced the ROG Alliance just as Valve was starting to get a handle on Steam Deck supply issues. For the longest time, it was incredibly difficult to get your hands on a Steam Deck, with a release limited to a handful of regions and demand completely outstripping supply. The ROG Ally was the antidote to that bitter pill, launching more widely across the globe given Asus’ much more established distribution network and giving those with a Steam Deck-sized hole in their heart another option. It also competed on price, with its highest-spec model coming in at just $50 more than the Steam Deck equivalent. For that, you get a bigger screen, a higher 1080p resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate and, most importantly, variable refresh rate support. The ROG Ally was comparable to the Steam Deck in terms of size and weight, albeit with slightly less favorable ergonomics as many would discover upon picking it up. Still, with almost eight times the theoretical power behind it, thanks to the latest Z1 Extreme chip inside courtesy of AMD, it looked like a no-brainer in a world where the weaker and less accessible Steam Deck currently ruled.

ROG Ally offers Steam Deck-like form and functionality on a Windows-based device.
ROG Ally offers Steam Deck-like form and functionality on a Windows-based device.

Another big draw was Windows, which made the ROG Ally compatible with anything you might want to play on a desktop. The Steam Deck launched with SteamOS, a highly customized version of Linux that allowed Valve to turn its handheld into a more console-like experience, albeit at the expense of compatibility. Many games, especially those with certain anti-cheat systems, were not compatible with the operating system (and still are not), while the operation of games from other publishers required some complications. SteamOS was also overloaded in the months after launch and flat out didn’t support Game Pass for PC given its Windows Store requirements. Windows support seemed like a viable solution to these problems, and one that gave the ROG Ally even more allure. Not only would Game Pass work seamlessly, but switching between Steam, the Epic Games Store, and more would work just like on any other desktop.

The problem that became apparent upon release, however, wasn’t that the ROG Ally wasn’t up to par with the Steam Deck hardware-wise, but that its OS of choice simply wasn’t up to the task of being used in hand format. Windows was cumbersome to navigate on the ROG Ally, and Asus’ own attempt to wrap the experience with its Armory Crate software wasn’t as smooth and seamless as the much more advanced SteamOS. ROG Ally couldn’t stop and suspend games when you disabled Ally, a staple in the handheld world, but a logical choice when Windows on a desktop never requires it when playing games. It created a lot of friction between the freedom of choice and the user experience on the device, quickly leading to suggestions that, despite the surprisingly poor performance, the Steam Deck was still the device of choice.

And yet, ROG Ally found a large and vocal audience. It was praised for its compatibility across all launchers, especially for making it easy to take Game Pass on the go. Its performance, while nowhere near the expected leap over the Steam Deck, was still enough to make the argument worthwhile, even if it came at the expense of battery life. Its display wasn’t revolutionary, but the higher refresh rate and support for variable refresh rates gave it a significant advantage over the Steam Deck, with the latter especially important on a mobile device that can’t always keep up. a stable frame rate. Despite its inability to significantly overcome the obstacles that Microsoft itself doesn’t have with Windows on this type of hardware, the ROG Ally became a strong choice for those with specific needs, making it exactly what it promised to be – an improvement on compared to Steam Deck that would provide a strong competition in this booming market.

Its effect has also been evident. Before the ROG Ally was launched, the Steam Deck was almost unbeatable in terms of its price-performance ratio, but since then it had to compete not only with Asus, but also with Lenovo, MSI, Ayaneo and new market players such as EG like Zotac. Each tries to differentiate itself with small iterations on the same basic formula, with varying degrees of success. Still, it’s Asus and its ROG Ally that have come within striking distance of the Steam Deck and remain its most popular competition. It’s a product Asus believes in too, with the announcement of a new iteration coming just over a year after the original. Aimed to fix some of the shortcomings of the original, the Asus ROG Ally X comes with slightly revised ergonomics, replaceable sticks, a significantly larger battery and better cooling considerations. It’s not the follow-up some may have wanted, with Asus and Valve waiting for the expected significant performance boost from AMD’s upcoming chips. However, when that day finally arrives, it will be fascinating to see how the second round of this match plays out, with consumers ultimately the biggest winners.

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