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Seriously, the Asus ROG Ally could replace your desktop

The moment I played a game on Asus’ upcoming ROG Ally, it felt too good to be real. Performance is off the charts, and the form factor is surprisingly comfortable. And the more I thought about the ROG Ally after using it, the more I actually pondered replacing my high-end gaming desktop with the handheld.

I’ve been clear about my worries about Windows 11 on a handheld like this, and although we hear about efficiency with each new launch from AMD, Intel, and Nvidia, it’s hard to feel those gains in everyday use. But the ROG Ally not only looks like the winner against the Steam Deck, it also might just replace your desktop PC.

We need to talk about efficiency

Z1 processor for the Asus ROG Ally.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

We’ve all heard about performance-per-watt metrics and bold claims about efficiency ad nauseum, but in the enthusiast PC space that’s dominated by peak performance, they often fall on deaf ears. But he ROG Ally is a showcase of what efficiency advances can materialize as.

The ROG Ally uses AMD’s new Ryzen Z1 processor, which is built with Zen 4 CPU cores and RDNA 3 GPU cores. It’s faster than the Steam Deck’s APU, and efficiency advances are what make a form factor like the ROG Ally even possible.

That’s not what gets me excited about the handheld, though. The updated XG Mobile is. Asus released this external GPU dock a couple of years ago, and the most recent iteration packs a mobile RTX 4090 inside. The ROG Ally supports the proprietary connection, allowing you to plop down at your desk, dock the ROG Ally to the external GPU, and play games at a higher performance level.

Asus ROG Ally attached to the XG Mobile dock.

It’s just the level of performance that makes a difference. As we’ve seen with laptops like the Asus Strix Scar 17 and MSI GT77 Titan, the mobile RTX 4090 is capable of outpacing even a desktop RTX 3090 Ti in some games. I wasn’t able to do any explicit performance testing with the ROG Ally and XG Mobile, but the duo provided a 4K gaming experience that I certainly wouldn’t argue with.

I wouldn’t have any issues replacing a desktop with the ROG Ally and XG Mobile. It’s an expensive combo — we don’t know how much the ROG Ally costs yet, and the XG Mobile is $2,000 — but not any more expensive than a high-end gaming desktop packing a GPU like the RTX 3090 Ti. And that’s with performance that can rival such a high-end PC.

It’s a testament to the advancements made in efficiency over the last several generations. There’s no doubt that a desktop RTX 4090 is much faster than the mobile version, but the ROG Ally enables a form factor that wasn’t possible in previous generations, and all without sacrificing performance.

Windows 11 does the trick

The Digital Trends website on the Asus ROG Ally.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s another aspect that helps the ROG Ally as a full-fledged desktop: Windows 11. The ROG Ally isn’t the first Windows 11 gaming handheld, but it’s the first with an ecosystem designed to work with Windows 11.

That comes courtesy of Armoury Crate, Asus’ gaming-focused management app. Unlike the Steam Deck, which needs to reboot if you want to switch between gaming mode and desktop mode, everything runs over the top of Windows 11 on the ROG Ally. Instead of a completely separate UI for launching games and managing your system settings with thumbsticks, Armoury Crate simply runs on top of Windows.

Even better, there’s a dedicated button to launch Armoury Crate. There were a handful of times while testing the ROG Ally where I would end up on the desktop or in a Windows menu while poking around. And no matter how far I went, I could always click the button and go right back to the handheld-focused UI.

Controller settings on the Asus ROG Ally.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s not hard using Windows 11 in handheld mode, either. It’s not perfect, but it’s far easier to navigate with the touchscreen than the desktop mode of SteamOS. For example, touching an address bar in a browser automatically brings up a keyboard, unlike SteamOS, where you can only invoke the keyboard with a button combination. It’s a small change, but it makes using Windows 11 in this form factor feel much more practical.

Armoury Crate was built to interact with Windows 11 as well. Through the app, you can fully rebind the controls on the ROG Ally, including mouse and keyboard commands. Beyond that, Asus includes several Windows shortcuts that you can bind to buttons, such as showing your desktop, launching Task Manager, and opening an application.

I don’t want to use the ROG Ally with Windows 11 in handheld mode, but I’d take using it over SteamOS in handheld mode mode any day. Still, it’s not perfect. Because Windows 11 is static, the ROG Ally is more than happy to let you run several applications at the same time, including multiple games. Managing what apps you have open is something that doesn’t come up on the Steam Deck, and it’s a primary concern on the ROG Ally.

App settings on the Asus ROG Ally.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

You don’t ever have to interact with the Windows 11 desktop, though. Armoury Crate automatically hooks up to the EA app, Xbox app, Steam, Epic Games, Ubisoft Connect, and GOG Galaxy, so you can install all your games and launch them through Armoury Crate without ever touching the Windows 11 desktop.

Built for more

Asus ROG Ally sitting on its dock.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Between Windows 11 and highly efficient hardware, the ROG Ally is capable of delivering a desktop experience. It’s clear that Asus designed the handheld for this purpose, too. In the box, for example, there’s a small plastic dock. It’s just a cheap piece of plastic, but it props the device up like a dock, and that’s all you really need.

In addition, the charger doesn’t just hook into the wall. It uses USB-C, and along with that connection, the charger also includes a USB port and an HDMI 2.0 output. Even if you don’t have XG Mobile, you can hook the ROG Ally up to an external monitor without buying any additional accessories.

I still need time with the ROG Ally to test where it excels and where it falls behind, but it’s already impressing me. The handheld experience is great, there’s no doubt about that. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see the device replace some high-end gaming PCs when combined with the XG Mobile, and that’s something to get excited about.

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Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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