The AMD Hits Keep Coming! ASUS TUF A15 Gaming Laptop Review
The last AMD notebook that I remember checking out was the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14. It was a spectacular machine that had excellent performance because it was one of the first laptops to hit the market with the AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS, an 8-core/16-thread processor.
It had a really unique design, excellent battery life, and the performance really did put some of the Intel notebooks to shame. The price was also a steal considering what you were getting, it honestly was an awesome laptop. By the way, if you are interested in my full review of that model you can check it out right over here.
TUF A15 vs. Zephyrus G14
What I have in front of me is the ASUS TUF A15, which is a slightly more affordable alternative to the G14. What is really interesting is that the specs between the two are pretty similar, but the A15 does cut corners in build quality, I/O, and a few other things.
On paper when you compare this to the Zephyrus G14, the only real difference is the CPU and the GPU… and even then barely different. You are getting an 8-core/16-thread Ryzen 7 4800H that has a higher TDP than the Ryzen 9 4900HS in the G14, also the base and boost frequencies are lower on the Ryzen 7 CPU. The GPU on the TUF notebook is an RTX 2060 versus the RTX 2060 Max-Q on the G14, and the rest of the specs are basically the same. However, the price difference is pretty significant. The TUF A15 is $250 USD cheaper than the G14, which is a lot. The starting price of this laptop is $700 USD and for that you get a Ryzen 5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a GTX 1650. You can configure it up to the specs that I have on my sample, but watch out for a few SKUs that ASUS is offering, some of them have a smaller battery along with a dedicated 2.5″ hard drive bay.
Design & Build Quality
With that of the way, let’s get into the physical aspects of this laptop. Starting with exterior impressions, and I’m going to say that I am in love with the sleek sandstone matte grey finish. ASUS is calling it Fortress Grey, it’s an aluminium lid with plastic bits on the inside, so it doesn’t feel as premium as a G14. However, it is a day and night difference compared to the GA502DU that I checked out last year from ASUS, which was also an AMD-based notebook. They are also offering a Bonfire Black design, which also looks cool, but I personally like the grey. You just get this utilitarian vibe when you look at this thing, especially with that TUF logo engraved on the center and some of the other design cues that omplete that stealth look. I really like it.
The webcam is located at the top with a small bump on the lid. The nice thing about this is that it allows you to easily open the laptop with just one hand, nice touch ASUS. Unfortunately, the hinge wobbles a lot, so definitely watch out for that. When you have it on your lap typing up something it does get quite distracting. I was also surprised by the fact that it hardly showed any fingerprints, so that’s definitely a bonus. There is a bit of flex on the lid, particularly in the center, but I expected that because this isn’t a unibody design since it would cost more money.
An Ugly Keyboard
Things do take an interesting turn when you open the lid, because this interior space just does not reflect the low profile look from the outside. It just screams gamer-y and I’m not a fan of it. I think ASUS was trying too hard to compensate for the plastic materials being used by going with a brushed texture. I actually prefer the sandstone finish on the ROG GA502DU. In fact, the interior looks way better on that model versus the TUF Laptop.
You are getting a full-size keyboard with ROG fonts on the key caps. The arrow keys are minuscule compared to the rest, so that might be a problem for people with larger hands. The keys themselves feel good and they do have a bit of travel distance, but they feel a bit mushy. I’m not sure if it’s due to the plastic body, but it’s certainly not as good as the G14.
The WASD keys are translucent, which is kind of unique because you can see the switches underneath, but it just kills the consistency. I assume gamers appreciate the separation. RGB lighting has made its way into the keyboard. The illumination of the WASD keys do look a bit weird, especially when compared to the rest of the keyboard. It’s bright enough to get you through those night gaming sessions. Honestly, I just wished they were all the same, but let me know if prefer having a separate WASD key layout versus just having normal keys? I’m curious to know.
Great Trackpad & Buttons
The trackpad is surprisingly really good for the price point. It has a smooth plastic finish, which really helps when navigating through Windows easily. It’s actually better than the Arrow series on GIGABYTE laptops, which was surprising to me. It’s not a glass surface like what you will find on more expensive premium notebooks, but it gets the job done. It also has support for Windows Precision drivers, which is nice. And something that this notebook reminded me of is just how amazing dedicated primary left and right buttons are. We are slowly starting to see integrated ones, but this has dedicated buttons and they are awesome.
Webcam & Speakers
This is the camera test on the TUF A15. The video quality is obviously not the greatest, but the microphone sounds pretty good. You will notice a lot of compression with my voice, but it does a pretty good job isolating the background noise, so that’s nice. The speakers are bottom facing, but ASUS pulled a really smart move by adding cutouts on the side, resulting in twice the sound output compared to previous generations. I have to say these sound pretty amazing, the bass is deep because the sound bounces back to the chassis when you have it laid out flat on a desk. The highs are nice and detailed, but they do tend to become harsh sometimes. For casual or general listening purposes this thing will exceed your expectations. It’s actually better than my Blade 15.
Port selection is decent, but there are a few questionable choices. Most of them are on the left-hand side starting with power input, LAN port, HDMI 2.0b, two USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A ports, one USB Type-C 3.2 Gen2 that also supports DisplayPort 1.4 (and G-Sync!), and an audio jack. Switching over to the right, you get a single USB 2.0 port and that’s it. I don’t know why, I’m not sure it’s even legal to ship notebooks with a USB 2.0 port in 2020. Also keep in mind that those two Type-A ports on the left-hand side are 5Gbps instead of 10Gbps, which is an outdated spec. I guess this is an area where ASUS had to cut corners, so it is what it is.
An Okay Display
Moving onto the display, it is a 15.6-inch IPS-level screen with a 144Hz refresh rate, and as a bonus it also supports Adaptive Sync. Unfortunately it isn’t the most colour accurate screen, it only covers 64% sRGB, 40% Adobe RGB, and 47% DCI-P3. Therefore, if you are a content creator or a photographer you should probably stay away from this notebook. Thankfully the viewing angles are nice and there is good contrast, and I didn’t experience any backlight bleed on my sample. The screen only gets as bright as 300 nits, so outdoor visibility will be a bit challenging. With that being said, the gaming experience on the TUF A15 was absolutely amazing and that is thanks to the 144Hz refresh rate. If you are a hardcore gamer you wouldn’t necessarily prioritize colour accuracy, what really matters is that you get a smooth stutter-free experience and this thing delivers.
Upgrading is super easy on this laptop, all you have to do to get inside is use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the top and you get easy access to two RAM slots that support a maximum of 32GB. The NVMe SSD is joined by an additional M.2 slot for expansion, which was very thoughtful of ASUS to include. The SSD that comes with this notebook is not the fastest that I have seen, but interestingly enough it edges out the G14.
Amazing Battery Life
Perhaps the most exciting feature of this TUF notebook is the battery life, because it just blew our minds. It is absolutely insane. Mike, Dmitry and myself we were just in awe looking at the numbers. ASUS has crammed in 90Wh battery inside this thing, and as we all know the power efficiency that comes with AMD’s Zen 2 architecture is an engineering Marvel. On our light load test, this laptop lasted the longest among our other gaming laptops, including the G14. More than 10 hours of light use is ultrabook category, which is just nuts. Switching over to our heavy load tests, running RealBench on a loop, it once again far surpassed our expectations.
Temperatures & Frequencies
Finally, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this review, the performance. I think you are in for a surprise. Now just like every of the notebook, we did test the TUF A15 with its built-in performance mode enabled, and as we ran our synthetic tests to set a baseline we noticed that the Ryzen 7 4800H was noticeably faster than the Ryzen 9 4900HS on the G14. It was pretty clear on our multi-core tests like Cinebench R15 and R20. It also goes to show how far behind Intel is even with their 8-core/16-thread offerings. Meanwhile, single core results saw both AMD-based systems tied, and as usual this is an area where Intel takes the edge.
Before I get into real world tests, I do want to explain something really quickly. The TUF A15’s thicker body has allowed ASUS to cram in a really, really good cooling solution. That means that the Ryzen 7 4800H is able to consistently hit higher frequencies in multi-core loads than the Ryzen 9 4900HS in the Zephyrus G14. Basically that should mean it will gain a performance advantage by sacrificing weight and size versus G14 in most cases, but not every time. In order to see how this notebook behaves when it comes to clock speeds, let’s look at Maya render using every core at 100% over the course of 10 minutes. As you can see, temperatures climb up to around 88°C before falling off a cliff and stabilizing over 70°C. Why is this happening? Well you can see some hints as we add clock speeds to this. Basically it looks like this Ryzen 7 4800H boosts high for the first two minutes and 30 seconds of the test at 3.6GHz, but then AMD’s algorithms step things down to 3.1GHz. That is still a really respectable clock speed, but it didn’t change no matter how much cooling we threw at it which is probably because it reached a power threshold.
Moving on to gaming and here is where things get really interesting. Since Doom Eternal puts a multi-core but not full core load on the CPU, the power limit don’t get triggered so temperatures are able to remain pretty high. This is also because the GPU is working at full load, so every internal components gets impacted. Unlike the Maya test this situation means a gradual decrease in clock speeds rather than them falling off a cliff. For this game it translates to about 3.35GHz as a constant after 10 minutes or so, which is pretty respectable. As for GPU temperatures, well they were kept below NVIDIA’s throttling thresholds throughout the test. This also goes to show how good ASUS’ cooling assembly is. Moving on to the actual clock speeds, those leveled out at about 1550MHz, which is actually well above NVIDIA’s stated Boost Clock of 1200MHz for this GPU. What that means is that there is thermal headroom that is being taken advantage to allow the RTX 2060 to hit higher than the spec frequencies.
Let’s jump into the real world tests, and this Ryzen 7 CPU just loves to flex its muscles. It’s honestly not even funny at this point. Zen’s capabilities with its increased IPC and blisteringly fast multi-core performance completes this Blender test in record time. It is the same story with DaVinci Resolve, the higher TDP of this Ryzen 7 CPU allows it to maintain higher clock speeds for longer, which results in faster exports versus the G14. I also want to mention that this is a very GPU focused render, so the RTX 2060 is at a disadvantage versus the RTX 2070s and the RTX 2080s that the Intel machines we have come with. It is also why the A15’s non-Max-Q GPU takes the edge in the AMD versus AMD comparison. Switching over to Adobe Premiere, with the new update leveraging NVIDIA and AMD GPUs export times have become faster. Now the AMD systems are really competitive, but Intel still takes the edge here and the reason for that is pretty interesting. Even though the new Premiere update leverages GPU horsepower, it doesn’t use both the discrete NVIDIA GPU and Intel’s integrated graphics alongside one another. Meanwhile, on the Intel system it still uses QuickSync and the discrete card to boost performance even further.
If you use handbrake for transcoding, this Ryzen CPU is fast, most certainly faster than Intel by a long shot. Wrapping things up with our compression test using WinRAR, the results line up with our expectations. Basically, this CPU is super impressive and it can keep up with anything and everything you throw at it, whether if it’s compiling code, rendering, or gaming.
Speaking of gaming performance, the TUF notebook was once again victorious when compared to the G14. As you can see with Tomb Raider, Far Cry 5, Rainbow 6 Siege, and Overwatch, the sustained higher clock speeds on the CPU along with the non-Max-Q RTX 2060 pushed frame rates that were much higher than the G14 at 1080P and with the highest settings. Let’s also not forget that the G14 is significantly smaller than the TUF notebook and it’s thinner too, so the frame rates that it achieves are also respectable. It will be certainly interesting to see where things fall if/when AMD notebooks are paired with higher end GPUs, but for now they deliver an awesome combination of 1080P performance with really good pricing.
Turbo Mode / Turbo Noise
Moving on a bit, I decided to also test the performance with ASUS’ Turbo Mode enabled. The performance increase was very minimal over the standard mode and it produced an epic amount of noise. Honestly, I would just stick to the standard mode and not even venture into Turbo because it just sounds like a jet fan. Surface temperatures are okay under heavy gaming sessions, but the one area you need to watch out for is the top right-hand side because it does become a hotspot and that might be an issue if you’re gaming for longer sessions with an external mouse.
It’s time to conclude my thoughts on the TUF A15 gaming laptop. I have to give it to ASUS for delivering a really fast machine for $1,200 USD. The performance is absolutely amazing, it just puts some of the most expensive offerings from Intel to shame when it comes to CPU intensive workloads. That Ryzen 7 CPU loves to flex its processing prowess. It’s fast, and it is actually faster than the Ryzen 9 4900HS on the G14. That is because ASUS was able to cram in a really good cooling solution, and also you are of course sacrificing on the weight and size compared to that more compact laptop. When it comes to gaming it’s certainly not the fastest machine out there, especially when compared to notebooks with higher end GPUs. That RTX 2060 does come at a disadvantage, but it still gets job done at 1080P for the most part. I just really wish to see higher end GPUs paired with AMD CPUs. I’m not even sure if that’s going to happen anytime soon, but if it does that would make history.
I really like the exterior design on the A15. As I mentioned earlier, it looks utilitarian which goes along with the TUF branding, but the interior design man just kills me. It looks gamer-y, it doesn’t really align with the exterior design of this laptop. If you are willing to overlook that you should definitely pick this up, it’s a great option. You are compromising on a few things like build quality, because for the most part it is a plastic chassis, except for the lid. The hinge is not quite strong, it does wobble the screen a lot. The display is not colour accurate, so if that is something that you value you should probably look elsewhere. However, given that this is geared towards gamers the A15 delivers because of that 144Hz refresh rate.
Finally, the I/O is not up-to-spec. You are not getting the fastest USB 3.2 Gen2 connectivity and it has a USB 2.0 port, these are certainly some things to keep in mind. I should also mention that the A15 does not have a Wi-Fi 6 module, so it really depends on how you value that as well. Overall, for the price I’m very impressed. I think the performance is what is most exciting thing about TUF 15. It’s the fastest machine that we have ever encountered, much faster than the Intel offerings that we have, which is kind of awesome and was unimaginable a few years ago.
Buy items in this review from Amazon & other partners at the links below:
ASUS TUF A15 – https://geni.us/TUFA15