ASUS ROG Ally Review: Ryzen-Powered Handheld Gaming Powerhouse
ASUS ROG Ally: 9W Handheld PC Gaming Tests
30XX, from BatteryStapleGames, runs flawlessly (and is a ton of fun!) at 9W.
Silent is kind of a funny name for this preset. The only way to possibly hear any fan noise out of this thing whatsoever is to go into Manual mode and crank up the fan all the way. The nomenclature probably results from ASUS re-using the Armoury Crate software from its gaming laptops, which certainly do make some racket when the fans spin up.
By contrast, the ROG Ally is quite well-behaved, and that's a nice change from the Steam Deck; Valve's machine can get downright whiny under an extended heavy load. The ROG Ally never makes a peep, even in Turbo mode—instead, it just cooks the AMD APU right up to 95ºC. Performance and Silent mode have no such thermal issues, and jokes aside, it's very unlikely that extended use at 95°C will actually damage the machine. It does limit performance, though.
So if it isn't for temperatures, and it isn't actually for noise, why would you use the performance-choking Silent mode? For battery life, of course. The typical power draw from the battery with the SoC in Silent mode is between 11.5 and 15 watts. That value includes every component of the system drawing power from the battery, not just the Ryzen Z1 SoC. With that kind of power draw, you can get a decent amount of playtime out of the Ally's 40-WHr battery.
The list of games that play well in Silent mode is relatively short compared to the ROG Ally's amped-up Performance mode, but interestingly, a solid majority of these games play just fine in the Ally's native 1920×1080 resolution. The savvy reader will have already realized that this because a great many of these games are relatively simple 2D titles.
Indeed, games like 20XX, Hollow Knight, and Terraria are the opposite of demanding, but they're still a blast to play, and that makes them exceptionally well-suited for playing on a handheld system where you're trying to conserve every bit of battery life that you can.
Conker's Bad Fur Day, in Mupen64Plus-Next
We're going to go into some of the titles in detail below, but before that, we just wanted to point out the Nintendo 64 title Conker's Bad Fur Day. It should come as no surprise that emulation works wonderfully on the ROG Ally, but we were also quite impressed that even demanding Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii titles can run smoothly in the 9-watt Silent mode. Of course, older systems typically work fine, too.
Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night Performance ReportLooking at the recommended settings thus far, you may have noticed a trend: we will typically cut down the resolution before reducing a game's graphical settings. The reason for this is that the ROG Ally isn't really lacking in GPU power, nor in video memory. (4GB isn't a lot for AAAs these days, but it's overkill for indie and older games.)
What the ROG Ally is lacking, performance-wise, is simply memory bandwidth. Sure, the 100 GB/sec memory bandwidth of the ROG Ally is very impressive compared to your typical desktop machine, but compared to even older and low-end graphics cards, it's pretty mediocre.
The fastest way to reduce the memory bandwidth needs of a game is to simply reduce its render resolution. Dropping games from the native 1920×1080 down to 1280×720 cuts the necessary memory bandwidth by more than half, and it can take a struggling title all the way to 60 FPS or higher.
We bring this up in the case of Bloodstained because when playing on the 15W Performance setting, this game runs flawlessly in native resolution, with all of the in-game settings on "Epic." That is not the case when playing at 9W, though.
Settings for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Cutting the resolution back to 1280×720 (and then upscaling it back to native with AMD's Radeon Super Resolution) helps tremendously, but you're still going to suffer with lots of enemies on screen, or in certain detailed environments. With that in mind, you can cut Anti-Aliasing, Post-Processing Quality, and Shadow Quality down to "High" to smooth things out and improve performance.
With these settings, Bloodstained still looks fantastic, and plays very well on the ROG Ally at 9W. You won't really notice the lost resolution on the ROG Ally's small 7-inch display, either.
Fortnite v24.30 Performance ReportAhh, Fortnite. A perfect example of how to shamelessly chase trends and build the most profitable game in the world. We jest—sort of—but the fact remains that Fortnite continues to be unbelievably popular. We don't normally test multiplayer games like this in our standard reviews because it's all but impossible to get a repeatable test. That's not as important in a more subjective report like this, though.
Fortnite is somewhat unique in the market in the sense that it is an incredibly scalable title. On the top-end, Fortnite supports hardware ray-traced lighting and bleeding-edge virtualized geometry technology. It also has a state-of-the-art temporal upscaler, and some pretty impressive netcode, too. However, Fortnite also has an extremely cut-back "Performance Mode."
How cut-back? Well, check out the comparison above. It's pretty comical the first time you see it. Fortnite's Performance Mode was made with tablets and Chromebooks in mind, and in that context, it makes perfect sense that the ROG Ally in 9W mode is able to deliver a 60 FPS experience here. Actually, this is the way we recommend playing Fortnite on the ROG Ally, because the smooth framerates and simple visuals make it easy to play and win.
However, if you're fond of fancy graphics like yours truly here, it can be hard to pass up the opportunity to turn on Lumen and Nanite, the advanced lighting and geometry engines of Unreal Engine 5. Fortunately, the ROG Ally has the horsepower to use them, if you like—albeit not at 9W.
Fortnite settings for ray-tracing on ASUS ROG Ally.
Yes, indeed: if you raise the power limit, you can run Fortnite's DirectX 12 mode with Lumen lighting and Nanite geometry at fully playable framerates on the ROG Ally. We don't necessarily recommend anyone to do this per se, as while it certainly works, the framerate stability can be poor at times. We think the ROG Ally is running into a memory capacity problem, as ray-traced effects tack on a big extra memory cost. Still, it's pretty darn cool that it can do it at all.
Ori And The Will Of The Wisps Performance ReportTwo-dimensional precision platformer Ori and the Blind Forest was a breakout hit for Microsoft. With its absolutely stunning visual style, gorgeous presentation, emotional story, and critically, its pinpoint-precision-required platform gameplay, it captivated gamers upon its release in 2015.
There's one thing that the original Ori game didn't really have much of though, and that's combat. While Ori could defend itself, the emphasis in the first game was on precision platform and storytelling. That all changes a bit in the sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps; this second game gives you a laser sword within the first five minutes of gameplay.
This game is a pure Metroidvania title that retains the lovely atmosphere and incredible visuals of the first game while drastically extending and deepening the gameplay. Some fans of the first game feel that the second title suffers from this emphasis on gameplay, but your author isn't among them.
Ori and the Blind Forest is an almost-pure 2D game, so you might reasonably think it is very undemanding. Well, relatively so; it's here in the 9W section, after all. However, if you want to play Ori 2 on the ROG Ally with the maximum battery life, you're going to have to make some concessions. Drop the graphics quality from High to Balanced, drop the base resolution scale to 70% (giving us something like 720p HD), and then also turn on Dynamic Resolution scaling—though you can set the Y scaling to 100%.
With these settings, Ori and the Will of the Wisps typically stays around 60 FPS, which is important in a precision platformer like this. Of course, if you step up to 15W, Ori 2 runs flawlessly in "High" quality with native resolution, but that'll kill your battery pretty fast.
Warframe ROG Ally Performance Report
One of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in the history of the video game industry, Warframe is a title that has come from very humble origins to boast a player base in the millions over the last decade. It runs on the developers' in-house "Evolution" game engine, which bears some resemblance to older versions of the Unreal Engine—no surprise, considering its creators worked with Epic on the Unreal series for many years.
Warframe is a surprisingly nice-looking game considering how well it runs. The fact that it's a fully 3D cooperative online shooter game that can run playably in the 9W mode of this machine is a testament to its incredible optimization. Indeed, if you set the game to "Medium" settings and then enable the automatic resolution scaling, it'll become perfectly playable at 9W, but with some caveats.
First of all, only the game's "indoor" missions are playable on the 9W setting. The open world environments are just too heavy for the Ryzen Z1 Extreme SoC when it's burdened by such a tight power limit. Secondly, most of that 9W TDP is going to the GPU, and so, in this mode, Warframe suffers from immense shader compilation stutters. If you haven't played the game before on this machine, it's going to be a horrible stutter-fest at 9W, at least for the first minute or two of each mission.
Still, as long as you're playing content you've played before—very likely, given Warframe's grindy F2P nature—and as long as it's an indoor mission, Warframe runs very nicely at 9W on the ROG Ally, even with 4 players.
You do have to accept that you're going to be looking at an upscaled 960×540 image most of the time, though. Check out the picture above. There's little better comparison to be had between what you get from the ROG Ally at 9W and what you get at 15W. The difference is less than it could be, but more than we'd like, especially considering the difference in battery life.