The TUF Gaming A15 is ASUS’s newest model addition to their series centered around budget gaming. Armed with the critically praised Ryzen 4000 processors and paired with Nvidia’s ray-tracing capable RTX 2060, it would be an impressive laptop with the specs alone. However, it’s the price at $999 that really sets the A15 apart and turns this powerful laptop into one of the best deals in gaming today.
Aesthetics for gaming laptops are hard to handle. On one end of the spectrum, you have those who wish for something low-key that they can multitask with and take to work without looking like a total nerd. On the other hand, you have people who are paying for a gaming laptop and want it to look like a gaming laptop with a chunky frame for more heat sink space and RGB lights galore. The A15 runs the line somewhat neutrally here, leaning more on the “gamer-look” than the “business executive”. However, the sleek, metallic finish on the lid and slim bezels on the screen present a well-packaged system that says, “Yes, I game, but I’m classy about it and I’m still gonna nail this financial brief.” Then the keyboard turns on.
The keyboard spews out every color possible when you open it on for the first time like a kaleidoscopic nightmare. I’m all for having an RGB capable keyboard instead of a static color, but I don’t know about my keyboard throwing a rave every time I want to check my email. Fortunately, the keyboard is controllable through an included app called Armoury Crate which ASUS has already installed. A bit of searching through the app’s toolbar allowed me to quickly set the color to a static cool blue.
Once that was done, I found the typing experience to be very pleasant. The keys have a soft-touch texture and a tiny bit more travel than the average. Keyboards can be very subjective as no one has the exact same preference. However, I found the keys to be properly spaced, and it gives appropriate tactile feedback. The WASD keys are clear, perhaps to allow better visual confirmation when playing games.
The touchpad is smooth and un-textured. It’s average, if a bit on the small side. I found it responsive and accurate enough. It also sits out of the way from your hands when necessary. I haven’t had any issues of accidentally activating the mouse when typing. The left and right mouse buttons are physical buttons instead of a flexible touchpad. I like the idea of having two dedicated buttons instead of touchpad buttons, but that is also something which is subjective. That being said, the mouse buttons could be a bit less wobbly.
The A15 comes with two type-A USB 3.0 ports, a type-C USB port, HDMI, auxiliary jack, Ethernet port, and a single USB 2.0.
The screen is arguably the lowest point for this laptop, and perhaps where they had to cut corners the most to get down to the price it is listed at. The screen on my laptop is a 1080p, 60hz panel with very low color accuracy – about 65% of sRGB coverage – for both the 60hz and 144hz version. Reports of ghosting have come from users with the higher refresh rate screen as well which implies a low grey to grey response time. It’s not impossible to replace a laptop screen; however, it can be difficult and involve heat guns and tedious removal of glue. Time will tell whether this can be easily replaced and whether the risk is worth the reward.
The speakers are dual downward-firing speakers positioned on the half closer to the user. While no laptop speakers are going to blow your mind, the A15 does a great job at meeting, if not exceeding expectations when it comes to sound from a mobile computer. I had a Dell G3 for a while that sounded like one was listening to everything inside a tin can. After moving to this computer, it was like a breath of fresh air. Decent sound is one of those things that you don’t know you’ll miss until you lose it. The A15 doesn’t leave you lacking. It also offers DTS:X Ultra for those who have headphones that can utilize virtual 7.1 surround sound.
The ASUS A15 performs admirably, especially for the price. It’s not unlikely to see similarly priced laptops equipped with Intel’s 9750H and Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti. Both of those components are outperformed by the A15’s 8 core, 16 thread 4800H and RTX 2060. Another bonus with an RTX card is the ray-tracing capability for games that are compatible. The A15 will be able to pull past 60 FPS on nearly all modern titles on reasonable settings. Cranking the settings up to Ultra or activating ray-tracing may be asking a bit much for this to achieve 60 FPS on extremely demanding titles such as Metro Exodus and Red Dead Redemption 2, but it remains very playable and looks gorgeous while it’s at it. On eSports titles such as Overwatch, Counterstrike, or Valorant, the A15 will be able to take full advantage of the optional 144hz panel that comes as an option in some models.
Synthetic benchmarks might not always translate into real-world gaming, but they’re a great way to compare systems and give a baseline of performance. In 3DMark’s Firestrike benchmark, the A15 earns very respectable scores for a $1000 laptop. In Cinebench, a benchmark made to test the CPU, the A15 far surpasses competitors. As seen in the chart, a similarly priced Dell G3 3590 is outperformed in every way by the ASUS A15.
Gaming is responsive and enjoyable. It’s hard to get a bad experience with the hardware available under the hood of this laptop. However, you can feel the heat emanating off the back and sides of the laptop where the vents are located. It also gets noisy, up to around 40 decibels, although not so noisy that it creates issues to hearing what is happening on screen, as dual fans must work hard to expel the heat created by the powerful processor and graphics card. The A15 has an impressive array of heat pipes to keep things cool, although some design decision left me scratching my head.
This laptop gets toasty. That is, in part, to the powerful components it has. However, it is also due to the puzzling engineering of the rear panel which is supposed to have venting to allow the fans to breathe in cool air to pass over the heat sinks. The A15 has next to no venting in the rear panel. Tiny, slotted cutouts dot the rear panel which provide for minimal airflow to the fans. When looking at the laptop through promotional pictures, it was my understanding that the entire back was perforated to allow for a ton of airflow. I was wrong, however, and I am at a loss for how the laptop is able to breath. With recorded temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius for the CPU during benchmark testing, I’m led to believe it doesn’t.
This isn’t the easiest laptop to get inside. That’s a shame because it gives plenty of upgrade options for the future should you wish to do so. Different models come with different specs so your particular model may vary, but mine came with an empty slot for memory, a 2.5” drive, and M.2 drive as well. However, unlike some laptop models that allow the back to come off with one or two screws, the A15 has many screws plus fragile plastic snaps that could very well break off during your disassembly. Once it is open, though, you have immediate access to everything you need for upgrades and maintenance. My recommendation? Make sure you have everything you want to upgrade it with so that you only have to do it once.
As a side note to upgrading components, my specific model came with a SATA cable to allow for attachment of a solid state or hard drive in the spare caddy. Be warned, however, that the cable is a very tight fit. It made me uncomfortable bending and stretching the ribbon cable to the extent necessary to mount my drive. It works, but I’m waiting for the day that it slips out of the cable connector and I lose access to my SSD.
Overall, the ASUS A15 reminds me of a muscle car. It has all the business under the hood and leaves some of the outside unpolished. There’s only so much you can do with a limited budget. The engineers of the A15 put all their effort into packing in as much power as possible and used whatever little they had left for the finishing touches. It’s why we see a bit more plastic on the exterior than we may like. It’s why the screen is begging to be replaced with something better. And it’s why the rickety back panel flexes and pops its way off when a component needs to be replaced. Aside from the baffling design decision for the back panel which gives minimal airflow, the A15 does exactly what it is supposed to do: provide a premium gaming experience for as little cash as possible. That’s a winner in my book any day.