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AMD Ryzen Z1 handheld gaming chips lay down gauntlet for the Nintendo Switch 2


AMD has announced a new line of processors built from the ground up to power handheld consoles: the Ryzen Z1 series. Billed as ‘the ultimate high-performance processor for handheld PC gaming consoles’, the Z1 and Z1 Extreme will be system-on-a-chip (SoC) APUs incorporating both AMD’s Zen 4 CPU architecture and RDNA 3 graphics architecture.

Why is this exciting? Well, for starters, these chips will be with us very soon, as AMD is partnering with Asus to deliver the first Z1 handheld: the previously-announced Asus ROG Ally.

It gets better: performance-wise, the Z1 chip inside the ROG Ally should absolutely demolish every other gaming handheld on the market right now, from the Valve Steam Deck to the Nintendo Switch. AMD has also claimed that the Z1 APUs will offer excellent energy efficiency – good news, since the ROG Ally will be running Windows 11, and that’s already made me concerned about its battery life.

(Image credit: AMD)

The standard Z1 chip will feature a 6-core/12-thread CPU and 4-core iGPU with up to 2.8 teraflops of gaming performance, while the Z1 Extreme uses an 8-core/16-thread CPU and 12-core iGPU for a whopping 8.6 teraflops of potential performance. For reference, the base Nintendo Switch is capable of about 0.4 teraflops; in gaming PC terms, the Z1 Extreme is roughly equal to the RTX 3050.

Now, we didn’t think the 3050 was all that impressive back when we reviewed it, but that was looking at it in a desktop PC gaming context; for a handheld targeting 1080p, the Z1 Extreme could be pretty incredible. With AMD’s Radeon Super Resolution 2 upscaling tech, the Z1 Extreme can reportedly crack 60fps in a tonne of triple-A games at 1080p.

Opinion: AMD and Asus aren’t here to play around

Asus is planning to reveal more details about the ROG Ally – including the launch date and pricing – in a special event on May 11. I wouldn’t rule out a surprise launch on the day, but let’s not get our hopes up too much.

An Asus exec has already said that “the price will be below $1,000”, but it’s not clear whether that means all models will sit below the thousand-dollar mark, or just the base Z1 version – since the ROG Ally will be available with the Extreme chip too. Personally, I suspect we might see a $799 Z1 model and a $999 Z1 Extreme model.

(Image credit: Asus)

In any case, this is bad news for Valve and Nintendo, currently the biggest names in the handheld gaming space along with the less well-known AyaNeo. It’s extremely good news for AMD, though; the Switch and Steam Deck already both use custom AMD APUs, and the two gaming giants will likely want to upgrade their hardware in the near future, prompting more demand for AMD’s new Z-series chips.

The Switch in particular is in dire need of a successor, with the console now well into its sixth year and starting to show its age. The Nintendo Switch 2 (or whatever ridiculous name Nintendo gives it) will almost certainly be powered by AMD tech, so when the Ally arrives it could give us a delicious taste of that handheld potential.

Me? I’m just hoping Sony is watching. Give me the PSP2, dammit!

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