AyaNeo 2/ AyaNeo Geek review: handheld performance reaches the next level
Far more powerful than Steam Deck - but at what cost?
The pace of technological progression is relentless. Valve's Steam Deck has just celebrated its first birthday but as fantastic as the device is in so many ways, there are concerns about how well the latest games will run on it as we finally emerge from the cross-gen malaise. Enter AMD's Ryzen 7 6800U, a processor that out-specs the Deck's Van Gogh processor in almost every dimension. It's designed for laptops, but seems to work well in a handheld form-factor too. The AyaNeo 2 and the AyaNeo Geek are the latest portable PCs to arrive at Digital Foundry and thanks to the 6800U, the performance is simply phenomenal - but it comes at a cost: battery life.
Putting aside power draw for a moment, AyaNeo's two handhelds are powerhouses, capable of excellent results at both 720p and 1080p - so fine for both mobile and docked play. This won't be news for those who've seen what the Ryzen 7 6800U can do when integrated into a laptop, but somehow, AyaNeo delivers equally gripping results from its handhelds. When challenged with the games that pushed Deck hard, AyaNeo pulls comfortably ahead. Doom Eternal at 1080p60, Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered with ray tracing (!), Fortnite with the full UE5 feature set, A Plague Tale Requiem looking beautiful at a locked 30fps... these handhelds are capable of great things.
|AyaNeo 2/Geek||Steam Deck|
|Main Processor||Ryzen 7 6800U||Custom AMD 'Van Gogh'|
|CPU||Zen3+, Eight Cores, 16 Threads, Max 4.7GHz||Zen2, Four Cores, Eight Threads, Max 3.6GHz|
|GPU||RDNA2, 12 Compute Units, Max 2.2GHz||RDNA2, 8 Compute Units, Max 1.6GHz|
|Peak GPU Compute||3.38TF||1.64TF|
|Memory||16/32GB LPDDR5 6400MT/s||16GB LPDDR5 5500MT/s|
|Display||1920x1200, 1280x800 (optional on Geek only) - 60Hz IPS||1200x800 - 60Hz IPS|
|Default OS||Windows 11||SteamOS|
|I/O||Three USB-C, MicroSD, Headphone Jack||One USB-C, MicroSD, Headphone Jack|
Let's put the core tech into perspective before we talk about the quality of the handheld itself. Stack up the 6800U's specs against the Steam Deck's custom processor and we're looking at a night-and-day difference. The Valve handheld uses a quad-core Zen 2 CPU cluster, while the 6800U actually has eight cores on a revised architecture and with higher potential boost clocks. The GPU side of the equation is also much improved: the eight RDNA2 compute units in the Deck give way to 12 of them in the 6800U with a max clock of 2.2GHz up against the 1.6GHz in the Valve handheld.
On paper, it's a whitewash but the power range of the Van Gogh chip in the Deck ranges from 4-15W. That rises massively in the 6800U to a 15-22W range, although the Ayaneo handhelds here can run at lower or higher TDPs if you so wish (results won't be that great, however). This strongly suggests that while the 6800U will be more powerful, you'll need to use more energy to access that enhanced performance, which means lower battery life.
The AyaNeo handhelds attempt to mitigate this with a bigger battery - the 40WHr battery in the Deck gives way to a mammoth 50.25WHr equivalent in the products we're reviewing today. Even so, running flat-out, I've had just 70 to 75 minutes of play from both AyaNeo 2 and AyaNeo Geek. Frame-rate limiters and smart TDP adjustment software will help, but on demanding games, you'll always be facing stamina issues on the go. It's in battery life that you face the brutal reminder that the Ryzen 7 6800U was primarily designed for thin-and-light notebooks, whereas Steam Deck's more frugal Van Gogh chip was always designed for a gaming handheld.
As for the actual difference between AyaNeo 2 and AyaNeo Geek, aside from minor cosmetic options, the Geek is the firm's attempt to cut back on specs in order to deliver a cheaper product. There's not that much difference, however, as both are clearly premium handhelds. Still, the Geek has lower spec alternatives you can choose to lessen the hit on your wallet. Both ship with a 1200p screen, for example, but the Geek offers an 800p alternative. AyaNeo 2 has a PCIe Gen 4.0 NVME SSD, the Geek has Gen 3.0. Also, the gyros and haptics in the Geek have a lower spec too, but I can't really tell the difference in that regard. I tested both with a 2TB SSD and 32GB of LPDDR5-6400, but again, lesser options are available in both categories.
The handheld itself is of a simply beautiful design. It's really hard to fault. It's smaller than Steam Deck, just as easy to hold and possesses excellent analogue sticks and logically placed buttons - it's an impressive device. The IPS display is really something too, measuring in at seven inches with deep blacks, rich colour reproduction and remarkable brightness. The 1200p screen may be considered overkill for a handheld, but it is possible to make use of that real estate - the Radeon 680M graphics in this thing are highly capable. For games that do run well at 1080p/1200p, the fine resolution on a seven-inch screen is remarkable. There's no adjustable refresh rate, unfortunately, and this is a killer feature on Steam Deck. However, although it's not recommended by AyaNeo, the 1200p screen does accept a 48Hz custom resolution via the Custom Resolution Utility (CRU) tool.
Returning to the form factor of the device, Steam Deck's singular USB-C gives way to three of them on both AyaNeo models - two on top, one on the bottom. Two of them have full USB 4 bandwidth to get the best from an external GPU hook-up if you want to go down that route, but ultimately just having more I/O options is extremely welcome. MicroSD and headphone jack are also included, naturally, as is a fingerprint reader and volume button. I was also supplied with the optional dock which offers HDMI 2.0 output (albeit with 4:2:2 chroma subsampling), two USB-Cs and two type As. What's interesting about this is that the main USB-C docking port at the front is adjustable, meaning this was as useful for my AyaNeo Air handheld as it was for the new models - as you can see in the hardware gallery on this page.
The package overall is a win, the specs are incredibly impressive and the performance of the 6800U is a clear leap above Steam Deck, but just how much more capable is it? As you'll see in the video, I had issues with v-sync disabled on both units, where it worked just fine on AyaNeo Air and the Steam Deck. Therefore, I opted to test with v-sync on throughout. This is likely how you'll game anyway as handhelds actually use portrait screens, meaning that v-sync off screen-tearing moves from left to right as opposed to up and down on a standard screen. It looks hideous, to be frank, and that's likely why v-sync is mandated on devices like Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch.
Where the AyaNeo handhelds fall short compared to Steam Deck is in its OS and front-end. Valve spent years building an interface that works for SteamOS, while the AyaNeo devices run on Windows 11 with a threadbare launcher called AyaSpace. This scans your hardware for your installed games, presenting them in a menu. The software also allows you to reconfigure inputs, haptics and to tweak RGB on the sticks. Most useful is the ability to change the TDP limit of the processor. You can go lower than 15W but you power-starve the processor if you do so and severely limit performance, but you can go higher too. 22W is described as game mode, while a Pro option lets you go up all the way to 33W. AMD's specs recommend a 28W limit, for the record.
Power defines in-game frame-rates and you can see a range of power scaling tests within the video review. I tested at 15W, 22W, 26W and 33W. If you take a look at the gallery below, you'll note that by far the biggest power boost comes from the jump from 15W to 22W. That's what AyaSpace calls game mode and it's the sweet spot for high-end mobile gaming. In Forza Horizon 5, for example, moving from 15 to 22W sees 46 percent more power delivering a performance boost of 33 percent. 26W represents a circa 19 percent of extra power over 22W, but you're only getting eight percent more performance. The difference between 26W and 33W - not shown in the gallery - amounts to statistical noise, although other titles see marginal gains.
What you do get in the gallery are performance increments compared against Steam Deck running at its capped 15W - and there are some interesting surprises. First of all, despite its spec weaknesses, titles like Control and Doom Eternal can actually run faster than the AyaNeo handhelds when they're pegged to a matching 15W. That's because - remarkably - the open source Radeon driver used in SteamOS can have major efficiency advantages over AMD's own Windows equivalent. Once the extra juice is added though, the extent of the AyaNeo's performance advantage becomes evident. Even at 22W, a 35 to 40 percent performance advantage is commonplace - and that's a massive amount of headroom for powering past the limitations of the Steam Deck in the most demanding games. Moving beyond 22W, there is some extra headroom but it's best reserved for docked play, where you'll be plugged into the wall, unburdened by the already onerous battery life limitations.
As you'll see in the embedded video, I spent a lot of time - and had a lot of fun - really pushing this hardware and I'd urge you to watch it because tailoring a PC game to match the capabilities of the kit often produces some beautiful results that are so much more impactful than performance differentials expressed in percentage terms. I still can't quite get my head around an AMD integrated GPU delivering ray tracing features at playable frame-rates. The concept of PS4-level performance from a mobile device is also remarkable, so it was particularly great to run the PC version of God of War at PS4 equivalent settings and to get very, very close to the performance of the gold master code, which ran with an unlocked frame-rate. Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered? That'll run at 1080p30 too and arguably delivers an improved experience against the original PS4 version.
In the past, we've shown PC games running at matched settings to PlayStation 5 games too, with A Plague Tale: Requiem being the latest example, and in one test, I saw the AyaNeo Geek at 33W deliver 27 percent of the PS5's throughput in like-for-like testing. Dropping resolution vs PS5 sees frame-rate numbers creep up, but even at 720p (upscaling from 482p via TAAU) the PS5 at 4K upscaling from 1440p still ran around 10 percent faster. It's just one scene from one game, but an interesting test nonetheless. A Plague Tale: Requiem struggles on Steam Deck, but as you'll see in the video, I could achieve an effective 30fps lock in the game - and it looks phenomenal in handheld form.
I've still got some reservations about whether titles designed for the ninth generation consoles will scale to these AMD-based handhelds going forward - and right now, Unreal Engine titles still seem to have issues. Returnal and The Callisto Protocol could run well, in theory, but stuttering problems were never too far away. This isn't the fault of the AyaNeo handhelds though, but rather the continuing issues we have with various PC ports - and it's interesting to note that Valve's level of curation with Proton compatibility layer is so impressive that many of these issues are smoothed away on Deck, something that isn't a given on any Windows-based handheld.
I've been using the AyaNeo 2 and AyaNeo Geek for a couple of months now and I'm continually impressed by the quality of the experience and the performance on tap. I'm also really impressed by the surrounding community and the various apps that are emerging. However, it's definitely a machine for the high-end power user, not the mainstream-friendly experience delivered by the Valve handheld. There are encouraging words from Valve about getting SteamOS running on Ryzen 7 6800U devices, which is enticing: a superior interface, the Proton compatibility layer optimised for RDNA 2 graphics and hopefully better power management. It could be huge. However good the AyaNeo handhelds are, there's always the sense that Windows 11 is an awkward fit compared to Valve's tailor-made OS.
Ultimately, Steam Deck remains the cheaper and indeed better option for the mainstream user, but I'm still highly taken with the AyaNeo 2, its various remarkable gaming feats and its simply beautiful display. And with news that the Ryzen 7 6800U is heading for a revised version of the AyaNeo Air - along with other lower power CPU options - I'm intrigued to see what comes next.
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