Asus ROG Ally X vs ROG Ally: Hands-on with the new, improved handheld

Asus recently announced the ROG Ally X – a refresh of last year’s Ally. It’s been criticised for not offering any kind of performance upgrade, but based on my experiences testing a range of PC Windows handhelds, I think it’s a solid upgrade in many ways. The move from 16GB to 24GB of memory addresses issues afflicting a small but growing number of new games, while doubling the size of the battery goes a long way in sorting out the number one problem impacting every Windows handheld: the awful battery life.

It’s true though, the Asus ROG Ally X is using the same Z1 Extreme processor as the non-X model. The octo-core Zen 4 CPU set-up paired with a 12 CU RDNA 3 GPU remains as is, running at the same clock speeds. There is a small performance improvement though, thanks to the fact that the Ally X doesn’t just increase memory capacity, but bandwidth as well. The 16GB of 6400MT/s LPDDR5 is replaced with 24GB of 7500MT/s LPDDRX. These processors thrive on bandwidth, as we saw with Steam Deck OLED, where I saw anything from a two percent to nine percent performance increase in games from that faster RAM – without going into specifics in the preview phase, you should expect much the same in the transition from Ally to Ally X.

There are also scenarios where having more memory offers up a gigantic improvement in gaming performance – I refer you to Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, which is a stuttering mess on the original Asus ROG Ally, but is nigh-on stutter free on the Ally X. This is because the game requires a decent amount of both system memory and video RAM and while this can be configured in the Asus Armory Crate software, no option offers up an acceptable gameplay experience. The Ally X just runs perfectly fine as is on its default setting, which splits the 24GB of RAM into 16GB of system memory and 8GB of VRAM.

Rich Leadbetter presents his hands-on experiences with the Asus ROG Ally X.Watch on YouTube
Asus ROG Ally Asus ROG Ally X
Main Processor AMD Z1 Extreme AMD Z1 Extreme
Memory 16GB LPDDR5 6400MT/s 24GB LPDDR5X 7500MT/s
Display 1920×1080 – 120Hz IPS with VRR 1920×1080 – 120Hz IPS with VRR
Battery 40WHr 80WHr
I/O One USB-C, MicroSD, Headphone Jack, XG Mobile Port Two USB-C (inc. one USB 4/Thunderbolt 4 Compatible), MicroSD, Headphone Jack

Another example is Remedy’s Alan Wake 2. It can run on the original Ally, but memory checks on boot suggest that the game requires 12GB of system RAM and 6GB of VRAM – an 18GB total not available on the older model. You can ignore the prompts and plough on, but it’s hardly ideal. This may seem slightly odd in a world where the Ally has the same amount of memory as Xbox Series X and PS5 (more in fact, bearing in mind that the consoles reserve RAM for system tasks), but the split memory pool set-up on PC is a limiting factor – something that Ally X powers past thanks to excess capacity.

Beyond the memory, there are further improvements and I’d say that barring the inclusion of an OLED display or a massive 8.8-inch screen like the Lenovo Legion Go, these changes put the Ally X up there with the best of the handhelds out there.

First up, let’s talk battery life. For me, this is by far and away the weakest component of the original Ally with its 40Whr battery. The thing is, to get the most out of the Z1 Extreme, 25W consumption on the APU is the sweet spot. Add on other system components and you’re looking at power consumption well north of 40 watts. It’s very, very easy to see battery life on the original Ally consumed within an hour – or less. While doubling the battery size isn’t going to give you Steam Deck OLED-like longevity, around two hours of triple-A gaming (or a bit less) using the 25W APU power setting isn’t that bad. It worked for me.

The bigger battery allows Asus the change to redesign the handheld’s innards. The change from a white casing to a black one is obvious, but in the hand, it’s the weight that’s most noticeable. At 678g, it’s meatier than the original Ally’s very slight 608g – but that’s a price I’d easily pay for such a massive battery. Otherwise, the basic form factor of the machine remains mostly unchanged – and that’s a bit of a marvel actually. The AyaNeo Kun, for example, has a slightly smaller battery than the Ally X, but it’s obviously a much larger unit and it weighs a whopping 900g – 222g more.

Inside the case, the new battery sees Asus revamping the internals significantly. The fans are smaller – which typically means louder – and yet the new Ally has a claimed increase of up to 24 percent on airflow, while actually being quieter. All I can really say from a user perspective is that the 25W mode I like to use is definitely quieter than the original Ally. The internal redesign means that the smaller, Steam Deck-like 2230-format SSD gives way to a more standard 2280, opening the door to more drives, cheaper drives and access to higher capacities – all the way up to 8GB. We’re also getting a 1TB SSD now, increased over the 512GB in the original Ally which always felt very restrictive to me.

Going back to the exterior, there’s more weight to the analogue sticks, bigger triggers and more travel on the face buttons. There’s grippier grips too. These are smaller refinements and I didn’t really have any issues with any of this stuff on the standard Ally, but it’s all welcome nonetheless.

Head to head showing Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora running smoothly on Asus ROG Ally X, but with lots of stutter on the original Ally, owing to its lower memory allocation.
In the preview phase, Asus isn’t allowing benchmarks. However, by repurposing our frame-time graph (sans numbers) you can compare consistency in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora running on identical settings on both Allies. The X’s extra RAM makes a game-changing difference, eliminating game-ruining stutter. | Image credit: Digital Foundry

The ports situation has changed and for the better, The contentious SD card port – which caused a bunch of problems for users of the original Ally – is moved to a completely different location, as has the headphones socket. The single USB-C on last year’s model, mounted flush with an XG Mobile eGPU connector, is also revised on Ally X. There are now two USB-C ports, one of which is USB-4 compatible, meaning you have access to a wider range of eGPU options or, simply more I/O – always a bit of a trouble spot on the original Ally.

For many though, this won’t be the handheld they have been waiting for. No appreciable performance increase over last year’s model means that the Asus ROG Ally X generally offers the same gameplay experience as the Lenovo Legion Go and the vast range of Chinese brand handhelds out there, based on either the Z1 Extreme or the very similar Ryzen 7 7840 or 8840U. Also, it still has the same 7-inch 1080p LCD when OLED would be so much better. However, it remains the only handheld with variable refresh rate support – and that’s a gold mine as you can rely on more consistent, smooth gameplay without having to lock to the refresh rate or clean dividers of that refresh rate (30fps at 60Hz, 40fps at 120Hz etc). VRR is worth its weight in gold.

It is a bit of a shame that the price has been bumped to $799 mind you – and that’s a fat pile of cash bearing in mind how much Asus ROG Ally discounting we’ve seen over the past year. However, with that being said, we’re still looking at a price-point that’s significantly cheaper than the premium handhelds out there with 32GB of memory. I don’t think that the Asus ROG Ally X is the definitive Windows PC portable, but of all the equivalent handhelds I’ve tested so far, this is the one I’d be packing in my travel bag based on my testing so far.


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