After the reveal of the Asus ROG Ally handheld last month, AMD took the wraps off its shiny new Ryzen Z1 chips, a line of APUs designed specifically for Steam Deck-style portable gaming devices. But on paper, the chips (or at least what portions of their hardware was revealed) seem pretty similar to a couple of fresh ultraportable laptop CPUs from AMD, specifically the Ryzen 7 7840U (for the Z1 Extreme) and the Ryzen 5 7640U/7540U (for the Z1). A few new details have come to light, illustrating the differences.
While it’s hardly surprising that AMD would use its processor know-how for multiple low-power devices at the same time, the devil appears to be in the details. Tom’s Hardware quotes an AMD representative who says that the company had to “validate entirely new power ranges and optimize the voltage curves” for the Z1 and Z1 Extreme, even if the hardware is superficially similar.
Crucially, the Z1 and Z1 Extreme can run on as little as nine watts or as much as 30, depending on the demands of the software. Compare that to the more restrictive 15-30w range of the Ryzen 7040U series. A six-watt difference might not seem like much, but in a form factor like the Asus ROG Ally (or indeed, the Steam Deck) every tiny bit of extra battery life makes a difference. That’s especially true if you’re playing a less demanding 2D game, or perhaps streaming one from GeForce Now or Xbox Game Pass. The Z1 processors also have their Ryzen XDNA AI co-processors disabled, though apparently the physical hardware will remain — it might not make sense for the Ally’s power-sipping hardware profile.
I asked AMD’s Frank Azor (a frequent guest on our The Full Nerd podcast) if AMD was planning on using the Z1 processors for form factors beyond something like the Ally or Steam Deck. He replied that these designs were specific to this class of device, and plenty of other AMD processors were available for laptops that required similar capabilities. That would seem to line up with the customizations made for the Z1 line outlined in these latest details.
The ROG Ally will have an official launch later this week on May 11th. The juiciest detail yet to be revealed is the pricing, though if early leaks are accurate, Valve might have something to worry about.