ASUS ROG Ally units may have a major hardware fault — here's why

ASUS ROG Ally SD card
(Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • A number of user reports are beginning to surface concerning the ASUS ROG Ally and its microSD card slot. 
  • The location of the microSD card slot in relation to points of the worst heat generation appears to be having an effect on the memory cards. 
  • The community is rallying around trying to identify possible fixes to stop your cards from frying. 

Since ASUS confirmed its handheld gaming console's release date and price, the ASUS ROG Ally, many gamers were stoked about the whole concept (including most of my colleagues from the gaming department). 

ROG Ally specs

Price: $699 | ($599 version ships in Q32 2023)
Chipset: Custom AMD Zen 4 APU
Storage: 512GB SSD
OS: Windows 11 Home
Display: 7-inch 1080p LCD touchscreen 120Hz
Ports: 1x USB-C port, 1x PCIe port, 1x headphone jack
Dimensions: 11.0 x 4.4 x 0.5 inches
Weight: 1.3 lbs
Battery Life: 8 hours (Asus estimates)

And while the entry competes with Valve's Steam Deck on an even playing field, the former has the capability to run more intensive video games while providing a smooth performance, all while maintaining an impressive resolution on its 7-inch 1080p LCD touchscreen. This is courtesy of its custom AMD Zen 4 RDNA3 4nm APU.

But the more people that use one, the more we're starting to hear about potential flaws. This latest is particularly worrying for anyone who uses a microSD card. 

The ROG Ally runs on Windows 11 Home as its operating system. With this in mind, it's now possible to play the best PC games on these handheld devices, unlike the Steam Deck, which still limits the number of titles you can access in no small part thanks to anti-cheat woes.

It also sports a 512GB SSD which can be expanded using the built-in microSD card slot if you need more storage space for your games. And while all these might seem pretty good on paper, we've equally had a chance to review the ROG Ally, citing many pros over cons. The main take-home was that despite its beautiful display, mappable buttons, and strong performance, the unit's battery life was less than impressive alongside a "finicky interface."

Diablo 4 playing on an ROG Ally with a bright screen.

The ASUS ROG Ally is far more performant for higher-end AAA games than the Steam Deck in most circumstances, owing to more powerful hardware. The Steam Deck, however, has it firmly beat on battery life, oh and it most likely won't fry your microSD cards either.  (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / Windows Central)

Our Co-Managing Editor, Jez Corden, had initially indicated that he wouldn't hop on the Asus ROG Ally train and would be sticking to his Windows-baked Steam Deck instead.

However, Jez had a change of heart after getting the chance to interact with the sleek handheld device during Xbox's Games Showcase 2023. Especially after feeling how light the entry was and its strong performance that can run games like Hollow Knight. Still, the battery life didn't hold up, but that wasn't a major concern for him.

The ROG Ally has a bunch of configurable power states which naturally use more or less power based on your needs. "Silent" profile is, as it suggests, around 10 watts, and produces less heat and noise while gaming. This is ideally what you'd run while playing a 2D game or heavily optimized 3D title. Running a game in this state will give you around 3 hours of battery life, which is respectable.

In testing, Jez hasn't yet experienced the same hardware faults other users have reported with the MicroSD card slot. However, we are now actively trying to reproduce the issue (under normal load circumstances) to see if we can replicate it. The microSD card slot is right next to the Ally's external air vent, which can get searingly warm when playing higher-end games in Turbo mode. 

ROG Ally Gaming Handheld

<a href="https://shop-links.co/link?id=pcmcat1678398541884&publisher_slug=future&exclusive=1&u1=hawk-custom-tracking&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bestbuy.com%2Fsite%2Fasus%2Flearn-about-rog-ally%2Fpcmcat1678398541884.c%3Fid%3Dpcmcat1678398541884&article_name=hawk-article-name&article_url=hawk-article-url" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"">ROG Ally Gaming Handheld

This gaming handheld runs Windows 11 Home and can be used to access several gaming services and storefronts. It's far more powerful than the Steam Deck and will be available this summer. You can preorder it right now.  

Buy at: <a href="https://shop-links.co/link?id=pcmcat1678398541884&publisher_slug=future&exclusive=1&u1=hawk-custom-tracking&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bestbuy.com%2Fsite%2Fasus%2Flearn-about-rog-ally%2Fpcmcat1678398541884.c%3Fid%3Dpcmcat1678398541884&article_name=hawk-article-name&article_url=hawk-article-url" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"">Best Buy | <a href="https://clk.tradedoubler.com/click?p=318038&a=2384906&epi=hawk-custom-tracking&url=https%3A%2F%2Frog.asus.com%2Fgaming-handhelds%2Frog-ally%2Frog-ally-2023%2F" data-link-merchant="asus.com"" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"">Asus (US) 

That said, it seems that the handheld gaming console might be facing a hardware flaw. As spotted in the r/ROGAlly community on Reddit, several users have cited instances where Asus ROG Ally seems to be breaking SD cards. And as highlighted by users affected by this issue, most seem to think overheating could be the main cause.

Some have indicated that their attempts to update drivers on the device didn't remedy the situation, and while Windows 11 could get a read on the SD card, it was still impossible to access it.

Another Reddit user submitted that limiting the device's performance and getting the fans to run faster as a workaround for this issue. This would, in turn, create a cooling effect limiting instances of overheating. Our Co-Managing Editor has been using the same technique as highlighted in the Tweet below:

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However, the workaround doesn't seem to work, at least not for everyone. Another user cited that despite having the fans run aggressively in Armoury Crate while using the device, the SD card still became unresponsive randomly. The user further highlighted that when this happened, the device wasn't even in turbo mode.

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Another user highlighted an instance where they were gaming on the device for nearly 3 hours non-stop. The user indicates that the device got so heated that gaming became uncomfortable. At one point, the user was trying not to have their fingers interact with the vents.

Anecdotally, but I think interesting nonetheless, is the fact that last night, the night before this happened, I played probably my longest actual gaming session so far. I played probably 3 or more hours of Cyberpunk 2077 using the 30w profile. And it was HOT by the end. Like I mean it was so hot that I was trying not to put my fingers near the vents while I played. It's actually why I stopped playing because I felt a bit uncomfortable with the temps. I did check the temps just before I turned it off, it was around 85°-86° and I'd been playing a while, so I decided to finish up. Today I got home and my card didn't work. Hey! I did say this was anecdotal.

_PoorImpulseControl_ on Reddit

To this end, it's not yet clear how one can get around the issue without frying their expandable storage on the unit. The issue seems to be persistent among multiple users. And while ASUS and community members are trying to come up with a permanent fix for this, there are a couple of things that you could try to sort of prevent the issue.

First, community members have advised users against updating their SD card reader drivers. Additionally, users have been warned against running their device on turbo mode while the power cable is connected. This is because ends up overheating, and as a result kills the SD card. And lastly, it's also important to ensure that you don't run the device at the highest TDPs and also ensure that the fans are running.

Note: It's not been established that heating is the main cause for this issue.

Kevin Okemwa
Contributor

Kevin Okemwa is a seasoned tech journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya with lots of experience covering the latest trends and developments in the industry. With a passion for innovation and a keen eye for detail, he has written for leading publications such as OnMSFT, MakeUseOf, and Windows Report, providing insightful analysis and breaking news on everything revolving around the Microsoft ecosystem. While AFK and not busy following the ever-emerging trends in tech, you can find him exploring the world or listening to music.

  • Thretosix
    I hope they figure this out. The ROG Ally is looking pretty nice. I'm not a fan of handhelds, this unit may change my mind.
    Reply
  • 1078mac
    Hasn't happened here yet, but it does get pretty warm on some titles so certainly seems possible. I keep having the on screen keyboard pop up randomly after games covering the crate software. It's all doable and gaming is great, but just not as slick as steam deck interface. I remind myself deck had a ton of issues initially and still has some here and there. However I don't blame windows for these flaws anymore than I blame Linux for the deck interface working better. I means Linux doesn't have a set gaming interface either. Valve made it happen. So really it's on Asus to improve the consistency of their software Oh and I updated the SSD to 2tb and it was the fastest hardware fix I have ever done. Reinstalling everything was super easy due to Asus' cloud recovery as well
    Reply
  • dirtyvu
    Thretosix said:
    I hope they figure this out. The ROG Ally is looking pretty nice. I'm not a fan of handhelds, this unit may change my mind.
    I've been loving the ROG Ally, having played with it about 3 hours a day for 2 weeks.

    Battery is not amazing but it's not bad either. If you want a marathon session only on battery, this isn't the machine but then again, play a AAA title on other portables, you won't get great battery life either.

    I can't imagine having games on SD cards as SD cards are slower than the SSD. But I guess for those want that, you might have to worry. I have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate so I have no issues with dumping and adding games frequently.
    Reply