ASUS TUF Dash F15 Review – The RTX 3070 Laptop
Table of contents
This is the TUF Dash F15, an ultraportable gaming laptop that looks almost too good to be true. It is thin, lightweight, has amazing battery life, and best of all it rocks an RTX 3070. Also, it costs just a little over $1,400 USD, which is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but comparing this to the average laptops featuring an RTX 2070 Super it’s hundreds of dollars less.
Now the RTX 3070 should technically give you more performance than an RTX 2070 Super, but more on that a little bit later. The question is what are you actually sacrificing for this kind of graphics performance? There is a lot I want to get to in this review, like why this laptop might be a case of a buyer beware, because these new NVIDIA GPU’s and the CPU’s they are paired are not always allowed to perform up to their potential.
Let’s start things off with the specs of the RTX 3080, RTX 3070, and RTX 3060, because there is a bit of a switch up from the last generation. While the RTX 2000 Super GPUs had the exact same specs on both desktop and mobile, these new GPUs are really, really different. Both the RTX 3080 and RTX 3070 get a pretty big cut in the number of CUDA cores this time, and they are based off the same GA104 core as the desktop RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti. The RTX 3080 also gets its memory interface slashed to 256-bit, but there is now a 16GB version of that card. The RTX 3060 on the other hand also gets its core count increased since it is using a fully enabled version of the GA106 die from the new desktop variant.
So what’s really happening here? Well some of you might be thinking that it’s a conspiracy to lower performance, but after talking to Mike I think we have come up with another theory. You see by using cores with a different number of portions disabled NVIDIA is actually able to launch these without having to sacrifice the supply of their desktop GPUs. They can maximize yields on the GA104 core, which is easier to produce than the GA102 that goes into the desktop RTX 3080 and the RTX 3090.
Now about that buyer beware situation that I talked about earlier, it has been around for a long time with laptops, but I think it is about to get a lot more confusing. You see it all comes down to the amount of power that the GPU can consume. Desktop GPUs all have a pretty constant power draw, for example if you buy two RTX 3080’s they will probably consume around 320W provided that they are not overclocked. On the laptop side, it’s actually a lot more fluid since power is specified based on the thermal and power limitations of each laptop design. More power means more performance, but that also means higher heat loads, so you can bet that a laptop that is rocking a 125W RTX 3070 we will outperform and run hotter than the same GPU that is limited to 80W. However, determining what sort of GPU you are going to get is not easy since manufacturers actually don’t advertise what power settings their hardware is running at.
NVIDIA’s Max-Q spec used to give at least some idea, but that has been modified so it won’t be able to indicate a lower power model any more, which is just really unfortunate. Instead, Max-Q is sort of a catch all phrase now for a bunch of technologies that includes Dynamic Boost 2.0, that balances CPU and GPU power depending on load conditions, a new Whisper Mode for better acoustics, and DLSS along with NVIDIA’s new Resizeable Bar feature. Given all these new features Max-Q just no longer has the same meaning and it won’t be used to highlight power anymore.
The problem with the laptop market is the same with the prebuilt PC space, when you pair up a fast GPU with a slow CPU that could leave a massive amount of performance on the table, especially at low resolutions like 1080P. And that is where the Dash F15 CPU needs to be brought up because this laptop is using Intel’s Tiger Lake Core i7-11370H. It is actually an exciting design based on Intel’s latest architecture, but this CPU is also based on a design meant for the ultrabook market, because it only has four PCIe Gen4 lanes. So you see where this is all going right? Synergy between CPU and GPU is super critical, especially when it comes to laptops.
All of this begs the question of what kind of gaming performance you can get from the RTX 3070 inside this slim portable Dash F15 laptop. But before that we need to put these results into context, because the Dash F15 has three different performance preset settings in their Armoury Crate software. The presets are Silent, Performance, and Turbo, and across every mode temperatures are kept really well in check, and the maximum was just 76°C.
One thing I do need to mention is that in Turbo mode ASUS relaxes thermal constraints and their effect on clock speeds so Turbo mode is about a 100MHz faster on average than setting the Dash to Performance. In Silent mode GPU clocks never went above 990MHz so you will sacrifice some major frame rates there. Now based on the amount of power being sent to the GPU package, it looks like ASUS is pushing the RTX 3070 to just 80W or even a bit less. That puts it pretty much where the older Max-Q cards bottomed out, which means this is probably going to be one of the lowest performing RTX 3070’s we will see, so just take that into account when looking at the benchmarks.
Noise isn’t that bad either with all the modes staying under the 50dB mark, and it’s pretty obvious that ASUS is sacrificing some top-end performance in order to reduce that. The interesting thing here is that there is very little separating the Performance and the Turbo presets. Another critical area for thin-and-light laptops is surface temperatures, and those are kept under control really well. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is the hot air that is exhausting from the side, because it blasts right onto your hand when you are using an external mouse.
Now let’s get right into benchmarks, and starting off with Call of Duty you can see right away that the Dash F15 gives pretty reasonable average frame rates, but COD loves more processing threads so I’m thinking those 1% lows point towards a CPU bottleneck. Overall though, the performance is good, but a lot lower than we would expect from an RTX 3070. CS:GO on the other hand loves single-threaded performance and here the Dash F15 is actually able to beat and outperform the MSI G66 by a slim margin, even though it’s GPU is set to a lower power envelope. Remember that this MSI laptop sold for over $2,400 USD last year, then again 1% lows take a hit again and hover around what those previous generation AMD laptops hit. Doom ends up really highlighting how inconsistent the Dash F15’s performance is, since this time it bridges the gap between these similarly priced AMD designs but it still trails behind the RTX 2080 Max-Q and RTX 2070 Max-Q designs. The same goes for Jedi: Fallen Order, which tends to favor multi-core rendering a bit more than some other titles. I think a trend is becoming clear, even at just 80W an RTX 3070 should be performing better than this. Rainbow 6: Siege is an interesting one too, while the average frame rates make the Dash F15 a pretty good value, it really struggles to deliver consistent FPS and that shows in the really poor 99th percentile results.
Based on its name alone, the RTX 3070 is supposed to be much faster than the RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super right? Well not with the Dash F15, and that is because the GPU is operating at a lower power envelope than the other Super Max-Q GPU’s in our charts. Those average between 89W and 95W while this one topped out at just 80W. The other issue can be traced back to a bottleneck. You can actually see this by checking out GPU usage. On a laptop like the MSI G66 – and almost every other one we have tested – GPU utilization tends to be between 96% and 99%, and that means the CPU is able to process information as quickly as the graphics card is able to supply it. With the F15 in performance mode that number gets cut to an average of 92% and a lot of inconsistency. You see those GPU cycles are being left idle waiting for the CPU to catch up in some games and that causes huge frame time dips. But does Turbo mode do anything? Well the answer to that is no, and utilization ended up being exactly the same.
I think the problem here is pretty simple, even at just 80W the RTX 3070 is overpowered for the Tiger Lake H35 platform. I just can’t point fingers towards one single factor either, it could be a PCIe limitation or the CPU or both, but either way it’s there. The sample that we have over here goes all out in terms of specs, however some of the highest-end components aren’t the right call for a lot of people. With that in mind the Dash F15 also comes with an RTX 3060 and a 512GB SSD for about $350 USD less.
If you thought those gaming benchmarks were interesting, let’s move on to how well the Core i7-11370H in this the Dash F15 handles our benchmarking suite. Power input on this Tiger Lake CPU is really, really high, at first I thought HWInfo64 was misreporting, but it turns out that isn’t the case. According to Intel this chip can hit upwards of 60W for shorter periods of time, but after that it should technically fall back to around 35W under a full core load. That doesn’t happen here with Turbo mode sticking to a constant 60W, while even Performance mode stays at a constant 48W. Basically this follows with what we have seen from Intel, where they have their CPU’s specified at lower power, but partners can push them a lot higher without any problems. It also makes me wonder why ASUS didn’t use a Comet Lake H-series processor because this thing is sucking down almost the same amount of power as some of the i7-10750H’s that we have seen before. In the top two modes that leads to some aggressive clock speeds at or above 4GHz, while Silent stays very close to Intel’s base frequency. It just feels like ASUS is pushing this little chip for all it’s worth. Considering the maximum junction temperature of the CPU is 100ºC, the Dash F15 manages to control heat pretty well, it never throttled or even got close to it. Performance mode started getting up there, but the fans ran at a higher speed to keep the heat in control.
One of the biggest surprises is how good Tiger Lake is with single and lightly thread performance tasks, ad this is probably what is preventing it from getting absolutely spanked in gaming benchmarks. Then again, operating at a constant 48W doesn’t do all that much to stop the Core i7-11370H from getting slapped around pretty hard by AMD CPU’s in purely multi-core loads. As we go through the other benchmarks you will notice that this processor behaves a lot like a Core i7-9750H from a few years ago. It’s within 10 to 20% of the MSI G66, and remember that laptop was going for almost double the price of this one. Even in Adobe Premiere it’s getting respectable results, probably because the app is able to leverage the QuickSync video engine to accelerate renders. Meanwhile, DaVinci Resolve could have been a lot worse, but since its renders are pretty GPU focused the RTX 3070 helps prop up the result in a pretty big way.
Now where this thing really shines is in battery life, even in Performance mode we got a crazy 15 hours and 45 minutes out of it, which is a new record for a gaming laptop. Even under a heavier workload there was almost 3.5 hours of battery life. Since our heavy workload is a combination of lightly and heavily multi-threaded workloads, the super high power consumption we saw just a few minutes ago doesn’t impact the results, but it could in the right circumstances so take that into account.
Design & Build Quality
With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the design and build quality of the Dash F15. I like what ASUS has done designing this thing, it’s pretty subtle with a few TUF topography accents and I really like it. There are two colour options, the one I have over here is called Eclipse Grey, but there is another one called Moonlight white which looks even better in my opinion. Build quality is pretty good, it’s mostly plastic, but it is put together really well. I didn’t notice any flexes or creeks, and the hinge is pretty stable and smooth to open, which by the way can be done with one hand.
They have also managed to maintain a slim form factor, it is only 19.9mm thick and it weighs around 4.41 lbs or roughly 2.00 Kg. The included power brick is pretty compact and the cable is easy to manage, it won’t take too much room in your bag.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The keyboard layout is pretty standard, ASUS has separated the WASD keys with translucent keycaps, and there are four extra keys at the top that allows the user to quickly adjust volume, mute the microphone, and access Armour Crate, so you can switch between the different performance profiles. The keys themselves are really good, they are adequately spaced for a comfortable typing experience, and I love the feedback that it provides. It is also LED backlit, but interestingly it doesn’t feature RGB. ASUS actually took a bold move this time and went with a lighter teal colour, and I really like it. Overall it’s easily one my favorite keyboards within this price range.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing for the trackpad. While the surface is pretty smooth I did notice that it does tend to skip quite a bit, it’s just not as accurate as a glass surface. Also the left and right buttons just feel dead, I wish they were a little bit more on the mushier side. This laptop is categorized under ASUS’s mid-range lineupsso for the price point just keep your expectations low. Now normally I would switch over to the webcam test, but unfortunately I can’t do that because this laptop doesn’t have a webcam. I don’t know what side of the fence you are on, especially if you are looking for gaming laptop, but I personally do value webcams because we are living in a day and age where everything is virtual so webcam is certainly crucial for attending video meetings and things like that. Not having one is a deal breaker to me personally.
Moving on to the speakers, the drivers are actually located at the bottom, which is a classic move by most laptop manufacturers. They sound okay, but they are not going to blow your mind. I did spend some time listening to ChilledCow on YouTube, and I noticed that the trebles were pretty clear and the bass was moderate so it’s good enough for casual listening.
Thankfully, the display is fantastic. It is 1080P, 240Hz, and IPS so it’s really nice and covers 99% sRGB, 75% Adobe RGB, and 77% DCI-P3. These are numbers that I’m used to seeing on laptops that cost $2000, maybe $3000 last year. It’s really refreshing to see good quality displays on laptops that costs less than $1,500, and it’s good enough to pull double duty for content creation or just enjoying watching movies or TV shows. The gaming experience is the icing on the cake, it’s fast and smooth, and when paired to a 3ms response time you are really in for a treat in FPS titles.
Connectivity & Upgradeability
Taking a look at the I/O, you have power-in, gigabit ethernet, HDMI 2.0, USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A, Thunderbolt 4 port, and an audio jack. Switching over to the right, you get a couple more USB Type-A ports. The inclusion of that USB-C Thunderbolt port is really interesting because that is typically reserved for premium laptops that costs $2000-3,000. It’s a good way to expand your I/O if that is something that you are looking into.
Upgradability is pretty straightforward on a Dash F15, but keep in mind that 8GB of RAM is soldered onto the PCB so you will have one slot to populate with an extra module. In my case, it’s fully populated. The primary NVME SSD is really fast, I got around 3.5GB/s read speeds and 2.7GB/s write speeds. There is also an additional M.2 slot for expanding your storage.
To conclude, the TUF Dash F15 has left me really conflicted, because this laptop is built really well for the price, it has a portable form factor that is really appealing, it gets amazing battery life, the display is fantastic, the keyboard is great, but I just feel like the RTX 3070 should have been paired with the higher-end Tiger Lake H35 processor. At the moment gaming performance is being left on the table and buyers who are expecting more performance from a higher-end GPU aren’t going to get that with this laptop, which is really unfortunate. What is even crazier is that if you take the performance of this processor and compare it to previous generation Ryzen 4000H series, there is just no competition, the numbers are all in AMD’s favour.
Now I do want to mention that while we haven’t tested the sample with the RTX 3060, that would be a pretty good option for buyers in that price range, because it does come with a 512GB SSD and keeps most of this model’s other strong attributes. The display does take a little bit of a downgrade, but overall it seem like a pretty good value provided you are willing to get over the fact that it doesn’t come with a webcam. On that note, let me know what you think about the a Dash F15 from ASUS, and most importantly the RTX 3070. Are you impressed or disappointed with this performance? I’m really curious to know because there are so many laptops coming in for testing. Honestly, I can’t wait to evaluate individual GPU performance and just see how much power laptop manufacturers decide to push through their models.