I’ve reviewed a lot of laptops over the last few years but at some point, the differences begin to merge into one big blur. It’s a lot harder to recommend a $4000 laptop over a $2000 one as the performance gap has shrunk immensely. The new Asus TUF A15 is a perfect example of a perfectly good gaming laptop that doesn’t break the bank but yet offers incredible performance.
The unholy alliance of AMD and NVIDIA chips is what makes this budget computer a genuine contender amongst a sea of super skinny, super expensive laptops. After reviewing the spectacular Asus Zephyrus G14, I wasn’t keen on testing the TUF A15 because its really always been the cheaper, less glamorous Asus laptop.
Yes, I’m a snob. But the funny thing is that despite some quirks and odd design choices, the A15 is a really good laptop.
Asus TUF A15 Review
The design of the A15 is an oxymoron. It’s simultaneously sublime and elegant but also garish and loud. On the outside, you have a very clean, understated lid design. The slate metal grey lid has no markings except the TUF logo and what looks like black screw heads on each corner. It looks very cool. The underside looks rugged with a large vent made of honeycomb shapes. There are angled etchings and large hard rubber feet to keep the A15 firmly planted on whatever surface it’s on.
Around the back, the aggressive-looking vents expose the copper cooling fins which enhance the industrial, military look. There’s an additional vent on the right-hand side of the chassis while the left side is dedicated solely to I/O ports. It all looks really good and you’d never think this is a budget gaming laptop.
The problem comes when you open the lid. You are assaulted with a keyboard deck that has a brushed metal look but also a ton of opposing angles that looks rather clumsy. This is made even worse by the keyboard itself. Translucent WASD keys stand out like a sore thumb on all black keys. Asus squeezed a full 107 keys but the number pad keys are squashed and the arrow keys are super tiny.
Overall, the internal look of the A15 stands in such contrast to the exterior that it’s almost like they were designed by two separate teams that were given different briefs. It’s baffling and jarring and completely undermines what would have otherwise been a great-looking laptop.
Putting aside the odd design choices, the A15 is very well built. The plastic chassis is so rigid and creaks when you forcibly try to flex it but it doesn’t feel weak in any way. There are zero flexings on the keyboard deck no matter how hard I pressed; something I’ve only experienced on very premium laptops like the Apple MacBooks. The same is true for the display lid which is so uncompromisingly rigid. The hinge is pretty solid but I did notice the lid shake when typing on my laps. Nothing too distracting and I only mention it because I’m supposed to nitpick about such things.
According to Asus, in order to earn the TUF name, laptops must successfully survive a rigorous battery of MIL-STD-810H tests. Test devices are exposed to drops, vibration, humidity, and extreme temperatures to ensure reliability. I’m not willing to put this review sample through my oven or shower so I’ll just take Asus’ word for it.
And you’d be forgiven for thinking that the A15 is a chunky boy but far from it. It’s only 2.4cm thick which is only 0.4cm more than the Zephrus G14 and only 0.5cm more than the skinny Zepyhrus M. And it’s a hair over 2 kilos which is surprisingly light. The combination of size and build makes the A15 very portable and a great choice for students. It will survive the knocks in your backpack and you can do some gaming in between classes.
The A15 comes with a 15-inch IPS LCD display with a 144Hz refresh rate and adaptive sync. It’s not the most colour-accurate display in the world with only 40% NTSC colour space. Actually, it’s pretty bad — especially when you put it side by side with a screen like the MacBook Pro’s Retina Display. The colours are inaccurate and washed out. Everything looks like a pair of cheap jeans that have faded from two washes. This is definitely not a screen for creators. It works fine for your average web browsing and office docs but don’t expect your photos to look right and don’t even try to grade video.
But to be fair, it doesn’t look that bad in games, in fact, you might just think games aren’t as bright or punchy as your television. I put that down to the fast-moving nature of games that you aren’t usually stopping to admire the scenery. But since I get to test quite a few devices at the same time, it’s painfully obvious to me. Not sure why Asus went with such a panel and not something similar to the one on the excellent Zephyrus G14. I’d trade the fast refresh for a better colour quality panel.
Speaking of refresh, the panel supports adaptive sync and it works as advertised. The RTX 2060 isn’t the most powerful GPU in the world but at medium settings, Fortnite and Apex Legends will easily run at 150-160FPS. Games like CS:GO will perform even better and at those framerates, this panel will not let you down. Everything is smooth with no stuttering or tearing so the A15 will work well for esports.
Keyboard and touchpad
I talked about the keyboard’s design earlier and while I find it unattractive it’s actually a decent keyboard to use. The keys have enough travel to give you that satisfying sense of depth. The keycaps are nice and wide which makes them easy to hit. I remain a fan of Asus’ design choice for the space bar which is thicker on the left side where your thumb needs to hit it when playing games.
The keys are backlit, obviously. It isn’t per key as this is a budget laptop. You’ll have to live with a single block of colour and only four preset profiles that you access in the Armory Crate software. It’s nothing exciting but it’s there if you want it. The already white WASD keys look even weirder with the backlighting on. It’s a shame Asus didn’t do a zone lighting just for the WASD keys which might have made them a bit more palatable.
Another thing to note about the keyboard is the teeny-weensy arrow keys which sit slightly below the rest of the keys. This breaks the symmetry of the keyboard bottom row. Trust me when I say you will not be using these often because of how small they are.
Now let’s talk touchpad for a moment because this one is bad. I don’t know if it’s just a driver issue but the touchpad on my review unit just kept sticking. The cursor would just stop responding to my touch gestures. It was really frustrating my webpage browsing just stopped because the touchpad just stopped working. I tried to update the drivers but that never resolved the issue.
What’s more, the touchpad uses a rather dated design that includes a touch panel with separate left and right buttons. I can’t tell you how many times I was frustrated because I was pressing the panel expecting it to click like every other modern laptop and was met with unyielding force. The buttons themselves are nice and wide and you can use tap gestures to do the same thing but yeah, not great.
Performance, games and heat
The A15 comes with one of AMD’s new Ryzen 7 4800HS processors. It has 8-cores and 16 threads with a base clock of 2.9Ghz which can go all the way up to 4.2Ghz boost. Ours comes with 16GB of fast 3200Mhz RAM — although the A15 can take as much as 32GB. And, the system also has a 1TB SSD drive so data transfer is also wicked fast. All this is to say, the TUF A15 is wicked fast. Let the benchmarks speak for themselves.
I compared the A15 against the new Gigabyte AERO 17 HDR with a 10th Gen Intel i7-10875H and the Asus golden child, Zephyrus G14 with the Ryzen 9 4900HS. Now, on paper, the 4800HS is the weakest of the bunch but you wouldn’t know it from how well the A15 performs. In fact, it outperformed all of them across Cinebench and Geekbench CPU tests. Take a moment to see what AMD has achieved here. This is the cheaper CPU and yet it kicks all sorts of butt. I can see this being my favourite new processor in a laptop.
And that’s not all. The A15 outperformed the AERO 17 HDR in so many of the games at 1080p which surprised me a lot. I fully expected the new RTX 2070 Super to dump all over the RTX 2060 but clearly, Asus has found the magic formula with the Ryzen + NVIDIA combination that works spectacularly well. Games run so well and that’s exactly what the A15 was made to do.
Ok, so what about heat? The A15’s military grade construction works wonderfully to keep heat away from the player. That’s great because it does get pretty hot but only out the back of the laptop. A jetstream of hot air shoots out the backside and I’d strongly advise you never gamewith the A15 on your lap. In saying that, the keyboard deck never gets hot, staying cool and comfortable to touch.
Of course you will have to deal with a lot of fan noise. My wife has started getting used to me and my roaring laptops but it will be plainly obvious to everyone around you that you’re gaming because of the noise. I can deal with that but irritation is that the A15 is also quite loud when you aren’t gaming. Even on the silent fan profile, the fans were still quite audible so you kids who want to work in a library might think twice.
Connectivity, sound and battery
Asus laptops are always generous with their connectivity ports and the A15 continues the tradition. What is different though is the placement of the ports. The A15 packs the bulk of its ports on just the left side. You get two 3rd Gen USB-A with one of them supporting DisplayPort 1.4 so you can easily connect to an external monitor. There’s also an HDMI 2.0. The A15 also has Gigabit Ethernet port for wired LAN access and a power port for charging that’s nicely out of the way. A single USB port sits on the right side.
Audio is provided by two speakers that sounds quite good. The speakers get loud enough and produce a rich and warm sound profile. The lower frequency and bass lack definition and strength but as far as laptop speakers go, it will pass. Besides, you will most likely be using headsets and when you do, the DTS:X makes audio sounds really great.
The battery on the A15 is surprisingly disappointing. At best I was able to get 3 hours per charge — a far cry from Asus stated figure of 8.7 hours. Even when I tested the laptop with WiFi off, RGB lighting off, the display turned down to 50% and manually turning off the NVIDIA GPU, I still couldn’t go beyond four hours. I’m not sure what’s going on here because the Zephyrus G14 easily managed 5.5 hours without all that tinkering. Maybe it’s my test unit. And let’s not even try to game on the battery as that will see you bleed it dry in under 1.5 hours.
The Asus TUF A15 in our configuration will cost you $2,099 which is a steal considering what you get but you can get it even cheaper by choosing different CPU or GPU. The A15 is far from perfect but overall packs enough in to make it a great buy for most people looking for an affordable gaming laptop. The Ryzen 7 4800H paired with NVIDIA RTX 2060 performs fantastically for the price, on par with the more expensive Zephyrus G14.
If I had to choose, I’d pick the G14 for its much better design but the TUF A15 is really tough(pun intended) to beat on value. The military-grade build is unquestionable and even though I didn’t like the design of the keyboard deck, the rest of the laptop looks great. It’s easy to recommend this to students who need a great gaming machine and a laptop for school.
The ASUS TUF a15 was loaned to PowerUp! by the Asus Australia for the purpose of this review