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DF Weekly: Hands-on with the Asus ROG Ally - is it really a Steam Deck killer?

Plus Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom reaction and A Plague Tale: Requiem's 60fps mode tested.

It's a massive 105-minute DF Direct Weekly landing today, with myself, John and Alex discussing reactions to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, along with some follow-ups on John's coverage last week. We also discuss the fact that Sharp is providing a new display for an as-yet unannounced console (Switch 2?) while we also give a preview of sorts to A Plague Tale: Requiem's new 60fps performance mode. How did Asobo deliver this and to what extent is it really running at 60 frames per second? We'll have more on that later this week, but just remember - there's no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to real-time rendering and we're not just looking at rendering resolution reductions here. Regardless, 60fps was the key demand from many console gamers and it's great to see the developer respond.

The focus of this blog post concerns the Asus ROG Ally - and why we didn't have a review on embargo last week. Essentially, there seems to be an issue with my unit where the 15W performance mode runs significantly more slowly than it should when it is plugged into the mains - and bearing in mind that battery life is at a premium on this machine, that's how I benched it. Just as I finished my review, various Ryzen 7840U benchmarks emerged that seemed somewhat at odds with my results, which shouldn't be happening as the ROG Ally's Z1 Extreme should be on par or better than the results I was getting.

Through a process of trial and error, I eventually found out that on my unit at least, running it from mains in the 15W mode impeded performance, while removing the power cable instantly gave me a circa 18-20 percent frame-rate boost, making the results much more plausible and requiring a full re-test of the 15W performance preset. This is all the more bizarre as in its high-power turbo mode, plugging the unit into the mains increases performance as it should. I've been talking to Asus about this and hopefully a new unit will be heading my way but my 3DMark results do seem close enough to theirs in the reviewers' guide, so I'm fairly confident that my new 'from battery' 15W benchmarks are accurate.

DF Direct Weekly #101 is hosted and perpetrated by John Linneman, Alex Battaglia - with Rich Leadbetter direct from his Airbnb.Watch on YouTube
  • 00:00:00 Introduction
  • 00:01:04 News 01: Tears of the Kingdom launches!
  • 00:26:05 News 02: Sharp producing next-gen Switch LCD?
  • 00:34:49 News 03: ASUS ROG Ally reviews drop + our impressions
  • 00:50:20 News 04: A Plague Tale: Requiem gets 60fps patch
  • 00:56:36 News 05: John gets a new CRT!
  • 01:02:53 Supporter Q1: With low sales and poor software support, where does the PS VR2 go from here?
  • 01:07:36 Supporter Q2: Could DF revisit some of the recent troubled PC ports and see how they run now after patches?
  • 01:11:23 Supporter Q3: Why does DLSS 3 produce a smoother experience in games with high CPU load?
  • 01:15:47 Supporter Q4: Developers like to blame specific PC configurations for user issues. Could DF emphasize that PC performance issues are often common to all configurations?

I'm going to double-check my new results with a second unit, but it seems to me that the claims circulating pre-launch about a 50 percentage point performance upgrade at 15W and a doubling of performance at max power are not quite accurate. In fact, different games produce different results - as you might expect. Below, you'll see the best scaling I achieved up against the Steam Deck in Forza Horizon 5. There's a circa 29 to 33 percentage point increase in performance up against Steam Deck at 15W, but the turbo modes take that to the next level - albeit with a tremendous impact to battery life that essentially rules out the Ally as a liveable handheld machine.

And that's where I'm finding the key difference between this new breed of Windows portable PC and the Steam Deck. Valve sunk in the time, effort and money not just to create a good handheld, but to back it with software that actually allows it to function like a handheld games machine as opposed to a portable PC, which is how I'd prefer to describe the Ally and the likes of the AyaNeo 2. From a useability perspective, there's a gulf between the experience delivered by SteamOS up against Windows 11 with front-end software grafted on top. Just simple things, like the machine not dropping back to a desktop screen telling you to plug in your PC when you hit five percent battery life. Or being able to access all functions of Steam without needing to alt-tab into Windows to move into offline mode. Or actually utilising a frame-rate limiter that works!

It's early days for the ROG Ally though, and as other reviews have highlighted, there are bugs to resolve - but ultimately, the Ally will find an audience to the more hardcore PC enthusiast. The 1080p 120Hz VRR screen is so much better than the Deck's equivalent. The cooling assembly is state-of-the-art and very quiet, even in 25W turbo mode - this is pretty incredible. And yes, even in the 15W performance mode, there's an extra level of performance that takes games that are 'too big for Steam Deck' back into the realms of playability.

Forza Horizon 5, High, TAA

However, like the AyaNeo 2 - also running on Windows 11 - the fact is that to access the full potential of the chip, you're looking at a massive hit to battery life. It's a reminder of what the core architecture was actually designed for - laptops - and why Valve seems quite happy with the performance profile of its Steam Deck APU. Still, take a look at the benchmark above - at its best, this is a force to be reckoned and I'm sure it's going to do very well indeed. I'll run the full review as soon as I'm happy that there's nothing wrong with my sample.

Other topics in this week's Direct? John has just picked up an old Bang and Olufsen CRT that's heavy enough by itself, but comes with a motorised rotating base that adds to the back-breaking mass - but why did he get it in the first place? We also ponder a question from a supporter which is simply this: remember PlayStation VR2? What happened to it? Additionally, we received numerous requests to revisit all of the PC ports we've looked at this year which launched in such a rough state, while we take issue with social media from publishers looking to apply some of the blame for poor performance to users' hardware. Also: why is it that DLSS 3 manages to produce visibly smoother performance in PC titles with high CPU loads? We've got some theories about that - and it's down to frame-rate limiting on high refresh rate displays producing an unintended but quite welcome improvement in fluidity in some games.

That's our show for this week, but I just thought I'd take the opportunity to remind you all of the many benefits of the DF Supporter Program, not least the ability to watch or listen to the show days ahead of its public release, the chance to help shape the show and of course, receive a range of bonus materials, early access and more. Membership has its privileges, as the American Express advert used to say. Join us!

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