ASUS ROG Ally Handheld Gaming PC

While the Steam Deck is the best retro gaming console you can get right now, the ROG Ally from ASUS could dethrone it if its $700 price leak is true. Here’s why.

Steam Deck Is Great but Struggles Emulating Some Systems

The Deck is the definitive emulation machine you can get right now, but even it has a few tough-to-crack nuts. The first is PS3 emulation.

PlayStation 3 emulation has come a long way in the last decade, with the RPCS3 evolving into a powerful emulator capable of running many PS3 games with excellent performance. If you have the hardware powerful enough to provide playable performance, that is.

And Steam Deck’s CPU —remember, the CPU is usually responsible for emulating older systems— is just below what we would call an optimal solution for PS3 emulation. Yes, many games work fine and some, like Skate 3 or Dante’s Inferno, can even run at 60fps. But other titles refuse to run at playable frame rates, such as Metal Gear Solid 4 or Killzone 2. Lastly, you need to tweak RPCS3 settings in many games to make them playable, and a number of titles are still unplayable on the Deck. This includes Red Dead Redemption, which runs at around 10 frames per second.

The 4-core/8-thread Zen 3 processor found in the Deck with its 15W TDP is the main reason for the poor PS3 emulation performance. Add the fact that RPCS3 works best on Windows, and not on Linux-based SteamOS, and we can conclude that you need a more powerful CPU and Windows for the best PS3 emulation experience. After all, RPC3 demands a beefy CPU, with the recommended AMD CPU listing on the RPCS3 website asking for at least a 6-core Zen 2 part or better. The Steam Deck just cannot hit that mark, leaving lots to be desired regarding PS3 emulation performance.

The limited CPU performance also hurts the Deck in certain Switch titles. While Breath of the Wild finally runs at stable 30fps on the Deck, other titles, such as Kirby and the Forgotten Land or Xenoblade Chronicles 3, struggle to run at constant 30fps. Your author had to resort to playing Kirby on his Switch Lite because the game would not play well on the Deck.

Finally, Xbox 360 emulation on the Deck is in a pretty rough spot at the moment. Firstly, just getting Xenia, the Xbox 360 emulator of choice, to run on the Deck is a pain. And when you finally do run it, you realize you cannot play a single Xbox 360 game on your Deck because they all run poorly and come with massive visual glitches. No amount of messing with settings or installing patches can help. You need a Deck running Windows to play Xbox 360 classics such as Fable II, Gears of War series, Forza Horizon, or Red Dead Redemption.

Graphical glitches in Red Dead Redemption emulated on SteamOS.
Playing Red Dead Redemption on the SteamOS version of Xenia results in some weird graphical glitches.

Top-Tier CPU Inside ASUS Rog Ally Is Perfect for PS3 Emulation

The ROG Ally looks like the best solution for PS3 emulation woes on handheld PCs, thanks to its capable CPU options and competitive pricing. The latest handheld gaming PC from ASUS comes in two flavors: the flagship version sporting the AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme and the more affordable version packing the regular Ryzen Z1 APU. And both APUs include beastly CPUs for a handheld device.

The Z1 Extreme features an 8-core/16-thread Zen 4 part with a 30W TDP. That’s twice the cores and twice the available power compared to Steam Deck, and then you also have the new Zen 4 architecture with superb gaming performance. The regular Z1 APU packs “just” a 6-core/12-thread Zen 4 processor, also featuring a 30W TDP.

Performance ratings of AMD Ryzen Z1 and Z1 Extreme.

Performance-wise, even the AMD Ryzen Z1 CPU should eat any PS3 game for breakfast and ask for more. And since the ASUS ROG Ally runs Windows, you won’t have to worry about poor performance and compatibility issues stemming from running RPCS3 on SteamOS. The ROG Ally should end up being the best handheld device for PS3 emulation by far.

The two monstrous CPUs should also make Switch emulation near-perfect. Titles currently struggling on the Deck should run flawlessly on the Z1 and Z1 Extreme, again one-upping the Deck. Finally, you shouldn’t worry about GPU performance because even the 4-core RDNA 3 GPU on the regular Z1 should be enough to output PS3 and Switch games in 1080p resolution, the native resolution of ROG Ally’s display.

And considering that the leaked $700 price is for the 512GB Z1 Extreme version of the Ally, the Z1 version of the ASUS’s handheld should be more affordable. We reckon that the price for the base version of the device, equipped with the Z1 and most likely packing 256GB or less storage, will be around $500, maybe even lower. This would be an insanely good price for a device that can power through any kind of emulation, along with being able to run the latest AAA PC games.

Windows OS Ensures the Best Xbox 360 Emulation Experience

The second issue with Steam Deck emulation prowess is Xbox 360 emulation. The state of Xenia on Linux (the foundation for SteamOS) is quite poor, and when we tried to emulate Red Dead Redemption, the game ran at 12-14fps and was a visual glitch galore. From what we’ve seen, the same can be said about other Xbox 360 heavy hitters such as Fable 2 or Gears of War titles.

Now, after we’ve installed Windows on our Deck, we’ve managed to run RDR at nearly 30fps and with zero graphical issues, which is miles better. But since the Steam Deck doesn’t natively run Windows, the thought of installing a different operating system just to be able to play a handful of games isn’t very attractive.

Red Dead redemption works much better in Windows than in SteamOS and doesn't have any graphical glitches
Graphics correctly rendered in Red Dead Redemption using Xenia on Windows.

But this shouldn’t be an issue for the Ally. The device runs Windows 11 out of the box and can run Xenia natively, not through Proton. The ROG Ally also packs much more powerful CPUs, meaning that performance should be better than what the Deck can achieve on Windows. In other words, the ASUS ROG Ally should offer the best Xbox 360 emulation experience on handheld PCs, on top of being the king of handheld PS3 emulation.

Emudeck for Windows Is the Last Piece of the Puzzle

Being able to play PS3 and Xbox 360 games at playable frame rates and without visual glitches, as well as having enough horsepower to emulate every other gaming system for $700 or less sounds wonderful. With all of that said, though, the Steam Deck still has a significant emulation-related advantage over other handheld PCs in Emudeck.

An Photo showing front page of Emudeck Website

Emudeck is an application that automatically installs and configures numerous emulators. The app can also add game ROMs to Steam and install Emulation Station, which you can use to browse and play games you don’t want to add to your Steam library. In short, Emudeck is a one-stop solution for all Steam Deck emulation needs. And the thing works flawlessly.

On the other hand, if you own a Windows handheld PC, like the upcoming ASUS ROG Ally, you must manually install and configure all those emulators, which is an immense pain and can take multiple days to finish. Well, not anymore. The cherry on the cake of ROG Ally’s emulation promise is the Windows version of Emudeck!

Currently, you’re limited to using an early access version available to Emudeck Patrons. But once the stable version, available to everyone, comes out, that’s it. The ROG Ally will have the last part needed to become the ultimate emulation machine on the market. We look forward to the May 12 release of the ASUS ROG Ally, and we wholeheartedly hope the price leak is accurate. Because if it is, the ROG Ally has a real chance to dethrone the Deck, not only when it comes to emulation.

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Profile Photo for Goran Damnjanovic Goran Damnjanovic
Goran Damnjanovic is a freelance writer specializing in PC hardware, gaming hardware in general, and video games. He has over seven years of experience writing for various online publications, including TechSpot and EsportsHeadlines.
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