Don't buy a Steam Deck! For $400, the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 is a much better 'portable Xbox.' Here's why

Steam Deck and Asus ROG Ally.
If you have $400 to spend on a gaming handheld this holiday, make sure to get the ROG Ally Z1 over the Steam Deck (Image credit: Windows Central)

The internet and YouTube influencers sure seemed to have a grudge against the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 (non-extreme.) Every review I read or video I watched showed highly negative reactions to the weaker option in the ASUS ROG Ally lineup. It reminded me of some journalists and reviewers' opinions on the Xbox Series S. The main issue facing the ROG Ally Z1 was not the power difference between itself and its more powerful brother, the ROG Ally Z1 extreme, but instead that there wasn't much of a price disparity, meaning it was a no-brainer decision to pay the extra $100 to get the more powerful option. 

At this point, BestBuy has remediated that issue with an abnormally long and deep discount on the ASUS ROG Ally Z1. You can still get it new from BestBuy for just $399, making it a direct competitor to Valve's base model Steam Deck. Currently, the base model of the Steam Deck is $349 because Valve is phasing it out, but even still, the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 is a better pickup for $50 more, and I'll explain why.

Just a quick heads-up: if you're lucky, you might have an open box ASUS ROG Ally Z1 in your area, which BestBuy is letting go of for an insane $339 for excellent condition devices.

Is the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 (non-extreme) worth picking up?

ROG Ally turned on and on main Windows 11 screen.

The ROG Ally Z1 looks and feels amazing and is virtually the same as the Z1 extreme aesthetically.  (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / Windows Central)

In one word? Yes, the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 is worth picking up. If you don't want to drop $600 on the Z1 extreme like me, $400 is a much more appealing price point for a handheld that will get limited use between my Xbox Series X and gaming PC. 

When the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 dropped to $399 during Cyber Monday, I couldn't help but pick one up. I had watched all the videos on YouTube saying to avoid it and a bunch of other negative reviews, but in my mind, at $399, it would be the perfect Game Pass/Xbox gaming handheld even if it couldn't play the newest and best AAA games. 

When mine came in the mail, I won't lie. The setup process was obtuse. My Microsoft account was corrupted, and I couldn't use anything from the Microsoft Store. After reinstalling Windows 11 three times, I finally got it functioning correctly. My main recommendation is to make sure not to merge the ROG Ally Z1 with one of your pre-existing desktops, which, for some reason, defaults to during Windows 11 setup. My desktops are all running preview builds of Windows, and I think this broke my ROG Ally, so a quick word of warning there. 

Once I finally got the ROG Ally Z1 up and running, I needed to optimize it. There are several videos on YouTube on different ways to do this, but the most basic and most crucial step is to go into Armory Crate > Settings > GPU Settings and change it to 6GB because auto doesn't seem to scale correctly. 

I won't lie; the out-of-the-box experience for the ASUS ROG Ally is worse than the Steam Deck, but for me, being able to have a fully integrated and functional Xbox app that brings over all of my PC Game Pass games and save files over from my Xbox is all I ever wanted from a handheld. It doesn't hurt as well that I can play the new World of Warcraft Season of Discovery on it as well, which I absolutely love

If you want more storage in your ROG Ally, the memory often goes on sale and we do our best to cover those deals. Once you're ready to do the upgrade, you can check out our How to upgrade an ASUS ROG Ally SSD and transfer your data from a storage backup guide

How does the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 (non-extreme) perform?

The best way I can describe the ROG Ally Z1 non-extreme is similar to the Xbox Series S. I expect to lower the resolution and target lower frames per second for an enjoyable experience. Still, in all reality, it's completely viable and playable in most games. All of the comparison videos I watched were of people throwing benchmarks of the Z1 extreme vs the Z1 with the same settings and showing the Z1 underperforming. This, of course, is just bad testing. We would never try to benchmark the Series S vs the Series X with the same texture quality, draw distance, etc. 

I can play nearly any game on the ROG Ally Z1 extreme at a playable frame rate. Here are some benchmarks from CyberPunk 2077

The ASUS ROG Ally Z1 can get nearly 60 FPS with low settings at 720p resolution. (Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

This screenshot shows a quick benchmark I threw together on the ASUS ROG Ally Z1. It is getting nearly 60 FPS at 720p resolution with low settings. This still feels great on the handheld screen and with the variable refresh rate with little to no screen tearing. 

At 1080p low settings Cyberpunk 2077 is running over 30 FPS. (Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Even bumping the resolution up to 1080p, the game runs over 30 FPS for the most part and is completely playable. I even tried playing the game with FSR at ultra-performance at 1080p and locked the FPS to 40, and due to the 120 FPS screen on the ROG Ally, the game mostly stayed locked and felt great. 

This is the secret weapon of the ROG Ally. The 120 FPS screen makes 40 FPS gaming a viable and fantastic option. I played Forza Horizon 5 last night for about an hour, and on the 15W performance mode, on medium settings and 1080p resolution, I was able to have a nearly locked 40 FPS experience, which felt great, and I was still able to win races.

The only game I have not been able to make playable yet is the new Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, which I discussed last week as an example of why games shouldn't be released in December. No matter what I do in this game, I can't get it to stay over 30 FPS, though I have seen the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 Extreme hold a nearly locked 30 FPS on this game, and this is where the real discrepancy will lie between the two devices.

At the very top end, for AAA games running on 25W battery power or 30W plugged-in power, the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 Extreme is likely to nearly double the ASUS ROG Ally Z1's performance. This was consistent across most of the review videos I watched. However, I think this use case isn't very likely. Unless you plan to use the ROG Ally as a desktop and keep it plugged in while you play it, or you want to play games at 25W on battery mode and drain the battery in an hour or two. You will likely play games that can run efficiently at 15W or even 10W, in which case the FPS between the two devices becomes much more competitive.

PC Game Pass is chock-full of smaller-sized and scoped indie and AAA games like Vampire Survivors, Pentiment, Sea of Stars, and more that will run flawlessly on the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 in the 15W or 10W modes. These are the perfect on-the-go games that I want to play away from my LG OLED TV and Xbox Series X. If I want to play Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, I'm going to want to see Pandora in all of its beauty and splendor, not have it scrunched up on a handheld screen. For this reason, the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 is definitely worth the money and performs admirably in the use cases I throw at it.

ASUS ROG Ally — Ryzen Z1|$599now $399.99 at Best Buy

ASUS ROG Ally — Ryzen Z1 | was $599 now $399.99 at Best Buy

ASUS' beastly gaming handheld is aimed squarely at the Steam Deck but also makes a compelling case over the Nintendo Switch thanks to its overwhelming power, fast and responsive screen, and all the freedom and customization from this design and the use of Windows Open-box, where available, starts at just $299.99.

Perfect for: Those who want to play practically every PC game imaginable while on the go, on a vivid and responsive 120Hz display

Avoid if: You're really just looking to play modern Nintendo Switch games (although you can absolutely legally emulate backups on the ROG Ally, if you want)

💰Price check: $599.99 at ASUS eShop

👀 Alternative: ROG Ally — Ryzen Z1 Extreme | was $699.99 now $599.99 at Best Buy

🔍Our review: Asus ROG Ally: So close to being the perfect gaming handheld

Colton Stradling

Colton is a seasoned cybersecurity professional that wants to share his love of technology with the Windows Central audience. When he isn’t assisting in defending companies from the newest zero-days or sharing his thoughts through his articles, he loves to spend time with his family and play video games on PC and Xbox. Colton focuses on buying guides, PCs, and devices and is always happy to have a conversation about emerging tech and gaming news. 

  • wojtek
    there should be a asterisk in the title-"if you live in the USA and has access to the best buy"... and don't forget our affiliate link!
    I wonder if deck would got more love if there were affiliate links to steam store ;-)