Anirudh RegidiJul 06, 2020 13:34:58 IST
I’m not entirely sold on the idea of the ASUS TUF Gaming A15 FA566IU.
Superficially, it’s a great laptop and it ticks all the right boxes. At just under a lakh, you’re getting a powerful AMD Ryzen 7 CPU (the first of its kind in India), an excellent mid-range GPU, a ‘fast’ 144 Hz display, a thermal design that won’t roast your palms or thighs, good battery life, and a very decent aesthetic.
Sadly, odd pricing and a couple of rather unusual design decisions means I just can’t recommend this specific model outright.
Specs: A tad unbalanced
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4800H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with 6 GB VRAM
RAM: 16 GB DDR4 RAM @ 3,200 MHz
Storage: 512 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD
Display: 15.6” 1080p @ 144 Hz with Adaptive Sync
Ports: 1x USB-A 2.0 (450 Mbps), 2x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps), 1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) with DP 1.4, 1x HDMI 2.0b out, 1x RJ45 Ethernet, 1x 3.5 mm combo jack
Battery: 48 Wh capacity, 180 W charger
Price: Rs 95,000
This is a good config for the price, but there are three issues here:
First, that Ryzen 7 4800H is overkill. It’s one of the most powerful mobile CPUs you can buy today. In fact, it’ll put many mid-range desktop PCs to shame. The problem is that it’s paired with a mid-range graphics card — the 1660 Ti — which is simply never going to push that CPU to its limits. I’d have preferred a mid-range CPU with a more powerful GPU…
… which brings me neatly to issue #2.
For Rs 5,000 more, you can get a similar config with the more powerful, and feature-rich, Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU. That’s a 5 percent increase in price for dramatically improved performance in certain scenarios.
The third, and I believe the most egregious flaw, is the display. Sure, it’s a 144 Hz panel with Adaptive Sync (that translates to no visual tearing in games), but the panel is rated at 45 percent NTSC, which means its colour accuracy is garbage. To add to this, this specific panel has a pixel response time of 18-22 ms, nullifying any advantage that 144 Hz refresh rate brings. More on that later.
A fourth potential issue is thermal management, but it’s a relatively minor issue compared to the three aforementioned ones.
Performance: Wasted potential
When it comes to gaming laptops, the purpose of a CPU is to not bottleneck the GPU. Gaming performance is almost always determined purely by the GPU, especially in budget systems.
It simply makes more sense to pair a Rs 60,000 GPU with a Rs 10,000 CPU than it does to pair a Rs 30,000 CPU with a Rs 40,000 GPU. Gaming performance scales linearly with faster GPUs, not CPUs.
A good CPU has its uses of course. If you’re a programmer or content creator, having additional cores or a faster CPU will significantly speed up your work, but we’re talking gaming laptops here, and in that regard, the FA566IU is just so much wasted potential.
See, the CPU in this laptop is fantastic. It’s a game-changer. Looking at my data, the 4800H’s performance is only challenged by the MSI GT76 Titan, a beast of a machine that costs Rs 4 lakh, and which, with its fans running at full tilt, sounds like it’s preparing for lift-off.
The CPU in the TUF A15 threw up a score of 3,957 in Cinebench R20 (vs 4,324 on the MSI GT76 Titan) and completed our standard video conversion test in a mere 20 minutes (18 min on the Titan) when using CPU encoding.
The Mozilla Firefox compile test is relatively new, and the 4800H managed 31 minutes here, which is more than twice as fast as the average Ultrabook.
This CPU is good. It’s very good.
But then we come to the GPU. The 1660 Ti is great, but it’s still a mid-range card.
Every game I tested was bottle-necked at the GPU level. In fact, I never saw CPU load exceed 83 percent in any title. In most titles, the load was limited to under 70 percent.
To top it off, the 1660 Ti lacks proper support for ray-tracing features (i.e. RTX) and DLSS (Deep Learning Super-Sampling).
RTX is Nvidia-speak for a graphics rendering technique that generates realistic lighting in games. Once you’ve seen a game running with RTX enabled, you can’t go back.
DLSS is an Nvidia RTX-specific feature that intelligently and dynamically upscales graphics resolution to give you better performance at little to no perceivable loss in quality. Combined, these features make for a fantastic gaming experience.
Nvidia’s GTX cards like the 1660 do support RTX in some games, but at a tremendous performance penalty that makes the feature useless for anything but a demo. For instance, turning RTX on dropped Metro Exodus performance to sub-20 fps with the 1660 Ti. An RTX 2060 manages 40+ fps at the same settings.
Benchmark figures are otherwise quite nice. You’re getting 50 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider at max settings, 70+ in Metro Exodus at the ‘normal’ preset with RTX off, 52 fps in The Division 2 at Ultra, 60 fps in Borderlands 3 at high, 60 fps in Red Dead Redemption 2 using the ‘quality’ preset, and so on. It could even manage 60 fps at med-high settings in Call of Duty Modern Warfare with RTX off.
This is good stuff and I’d normally be happy with these scores, but the lack of RTX does sting when you know the feature can be had for just Rs 5,000 more. As a gamer, I see no reason to subject myself to a less than ideal experience.
Clearly, this config is unbalanced for gaming. ASUS should have offered a cheaper Ryzen 3 or 5 with the 1660 Ti and RTX 2060, and used the savings to offer a better display.
This display sucks. Big time. At about 60 percent sRGB coverage, you’re looking at a budget laptop-grade colour gamut (the Rs 40,000 Mi Notebook shows slightly better colours). Reds look orange, greens don’t pop, and in-game enemies meld into the background in fast-paced shooters.
The movie-watching experience is passable, and you just can’t edit photos and videos without worrying about colour accuracy.
Many laptop displays in this price range have the same awful colour gamut, however, so it’s not like we gamers are spoilt for choice in this segment.
Anyway, the laptop’s 144 Hz display does sound good on paper, but then the monitor’s response time is a terrible 18 ms. At 144 Hz, you can’t settle for anything less than 10 ms. 5 ms or lower would be ideal.
The refresh rate is the number of times per second that your monitor can update the image.
The response time is the amount of time it takes a single pixel on your monitor to transition from one colour to another. Usually, this is measured as the time taken for a pixel to go from grey to white to grey again.
While an image can refresh faster than the response time of a pixel, those images you’re seeing will not have accurate colours. And you’ll see ghosting.
The images below should illustrate why this is a problem. The first is an image shot on this review laptop while the UFO is scrolling horizontally at 144 fps and 7 pixels per frame.
The second is an image shot on a BenQ EX2780q also at 144 fps. The EX2780q is a 144 Hz panel with a rated response time of 5 ms.
As you can see, the ASUS shows significantly longer trailing ‘ghosts’ behind the UFO. This ghosting, as the phenomenon is aptly titled, is the bane of gamers everywhere. Heavier ghosting means blurrier movement, which means it’s that much harder to track and hit moving targets.
A higher quality 60 Hz panel, would, I think, have been a far better option in this case. For one thing, at least the multimedia experience would have been great. And for another, gaming would have been a more pleasant experience, at least in single-player titles.
Miscellaneous: Speakers, fan noise, design
The rest of the spec is fine. Speakers are louder than what I’ve heard on gaming laptops in this price range, and the fan isn’t so loud as to drown out the speakers, even when running at max speed.
The thermal design of this laptop has attracted some amount of controversy for allegedly being inadequate. Personally, I think the design, while not ideal (no heat sinks on VRMs, SSD placed directly under a heat pipe), does the job well enough to not need to worry about thermals.
In my testing, the laptop routinely hit 85° C on the CPU and GPU, but in both cases, the components were power limited and not thermally throttled. The temps are indeed high, but no higher than what I’ve experienced on many gaming laptops in this form factor.
Maybe I was lucky, or maybe ASUS did some tweaking on the initial design that went out to reviewers. I honestly don’t know. I just know that thermally speaking, my unit performed at par or better than laptops in a similar form factor.
Honestly, I think the poor-quality display is a bigger issue than thermal management.
Verdict: To game or not to game
This brings me to my biggest issue with the machine: I don’t know who it’s for.
For gamers, the configuration isn’t good value. The CPU is overkill and the more powerful and capable RTX 2060 GPU option is just five percent more expensive. The display is also a problem because it lacks in both colour gamut and response time. Given the number of reports I’m seeing about thermal issues with the design, I also can’t blindly recommend the RTX 2060 option (which should run hotter) without thoroughly examining its performance. This 1660 Ti model is already nearing its thermal design limit.
For content creators, performance is excellent, but the display is a poor choice. There’s absolutely no way you can edit anything on this machine without wondering if you’ve screwed up the colours.
If you don’t mind investing in an external display, or already have access to a good one, you can get away with buying the A15. And even then, I’d very strongly suggest you skip this model and go for the Rs 1,00,000 RTX 2060 model instead.
Personally, I’m waiting on MSI, Dell, Lenovo, and the like, to refresh their gaming line-up to see if they have a better-specced machine on offer. ASUS’s own updated Zephyrus range should also be arriving soon. If you can wait, wait.
Note: ASUS tells us that COVID-19 issues have affected logistics, which is why we don’t have the RTX 2060 model for review yet.
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