Tutorial #25: TWEAKING THE ASUS TUF GAMING A15 - Part Deux

 



My previous post about the A15 was about plucking the low hanging fruit of performance. However, there is always the scope of optimising the settings further to gain the greatest benefit for the lowest cost. That is what I was up to on and off since the last post and having reached a satisfactory result, I have decided to share the same for anyone trying to squeeze the little bit extra from this hardware.

The base concept is still the same, to get more out of the GPU at the expense of CPU within the permitted power and thermal budget. To that end, I went through the process as follows:

1. Reduced the CPU temperature and Normal/Short/Long TDP limits to 85 and 25/35/45 respectively in Ryzen controller to provide further headroom to the GPU.

2. Reset the MSI Afterburner settings to stock which had the following curve for my RTX2060.

3. Ran an actual game as I would like to play it (in this case Dishonored 2 at 2K Ultra with HBAO and Triple Buffer) and noted the Average and Maximum GPU frequencies attained in the middle of the game.

4. Few observations first. Neither the CPU or GPU are thermally throttled in any way. Instead, the GPU hits the power limit which in the case of the A15 is 90W. Note that the included GPU is the RTX 2060 Notebook Refresh and thus it is a 110W TGP part. This indicates that the laptop does have thermal capacity to spare, especially as I had conducted these test with an ambient temperature close to mid-30 degree Celsius. Having the option to push the GPU Power further would have been great but with that being an impossibility with a locked BIOS, the next step was to figure out how to extract the most from the hand I have been dealt with.

To that end, I noted the frequencies which yielded the sustained performance (1560 MHz @812 mV) and the peak performance (1755 Mhz @918 mV) in-game.


This concluded the stock performance analysis. Now, there might be multiple guides present that put forth different suggestions as to how you can proceed with undervolting or overclocking but I decided to use these figures to try to set a target that I wanted to attain. In this case, it was to try to push the stock sustained performance to the lowest voltage (i.e. 1560@700) and the peak stock performance to the sustained voltage (i.e. 1755@812). Doing so manually with a smooth curve was going to be quite a challenge, so I decided to take a bit of a shortcut in attaining this objective as follows:

5. Executed the Nvidia OC Scanner within MSI Afterburner to produce an OC curve. The curves are not always the same, so I executed it a few times, also at slightly different CPU TDPs to come up with the curve that resulted in the highest boost frequency. In this case, it was as indicated below.


If I look at the frequencies at the concerned voltages, then it is 1515@700 and 1755@812. Thus, it seems I have almost attained the target I set out for without doing much.

 
Taking a look at the HWInfo figures again with the OC curve, it can be seen now that the sustained frequency has jumped to 1725 MHz from 1560 Mhz which is a decent OC. Also, the peak frequency now is at 2040 MHz which is an even bigger leap but it comes at a much higher voltage (1006 mV). The effect of this however is that the GPU is now hitting all the performance limits apart from the thermal one.

Almost there, but "almost" is not good enough, so I had to push it a bit further.


6. At this point, I decided to try to move the curve to the left, in effect overclocking the OC curve even further to see how much more performance can be extracted from it. I started by essentially shifting the curve to the left by 25 mV but as soon after I started encountering artifacts within the game indicating that I had pushed it a bit too far. As a result, I shifted the curve by 12.5 mV instead and found it to be perfectly stable. 

The other change I did was to flatten the curve at the half-way mark of the complete voltage range which is at 975 mV. There are various reasons to do so, primary of which was that the GPU never really reaches the frequency associated with that voltage and if it does as stated in the point above, it is for a fraction of a second. Consequently, it also saves the effort of manually adjusting the curve in futility. An argument could be made that the curve can be flattened even earlier to essentially attain an undervolt but I wanted to allow the GPU to boost to its practical maximum as much as possible.

With the above, after smoothing out the double frequency jumps (15 Mhz instead of 30 Mhz for a single increment in voltage step), I was left with the curve indicated below.


It starts at 1560@700 (surprise!), reaches 1755@800 and peaks at 2010@975. So how does this curve now fare within the game?


Firstly, we are back to only hitting the power and utilisation limit. The sustained in-game frequency is now 1755 Mhz, a further 30 Mhz boost from the default OC Scanner curve. The peak frequency is now 1965 Mhz though as against 2040 MHz earlier, but as I mentioned previously, it is transient and if you look at the average GPU power, it has come down to 69.4W compared to 70.3W for the OC scanner curve and 71.3W for the default curve. Amusingly, the maximum power consumption was over 97W with the stock curve and I also observed it breaching the 100W barrier in an intermediate test. May be it is due to some quirk in HWInfo or otherwise, the card is indeed capable of going over its locked TDP of 90W in some cases, though without much benefit.

7. With the GPU OC sorted, next, I wanted to see if I can push the CPU a bit more in co-ordination with this curve. You will have to take my word for it, but I tried increments and decrements for all the TDP values while keeping the temperature limit at 85 degrees Celsius and I finally found the best performance at Normal/Long/Short TDP of 25/40/50 respectively.


The proof, of course, is in the pudding. Thus, I present to you now, the comparison between the stock performance and after the CPU/GPU tweak. The duration of the HWInfo figures spanned from the launch of the Time Spy test to the calculation of the score.

Stock:

Post tweak:

A good jump and also a slightly higher score than the tweak in my last article (6703). What it doesn't indicate though is that the power consumption is lower than last time.

8. One last thing! I didn't at any point mention anything about the GPU memory overclock because I kept it for the last. After trying out different increments, I settled for a boost of 500 MHz as it was stable and didn't lead to any noticeable increment in power consumption and thermals. With that, here is the final result.


To put things in perspective then, this is how the tweak stacks up against the stock setting.








Tutorial #24: Tweaking the Asus Tuf Gaming A15


Previously, in my review of the laptop, the only tweaking I had undertaken was an auto-overclock of the GPU which, as per expectation, yielded a performance improvement of around 6% overall with only a slight loss in CPU performance, purely on the basis of the additional available thermal headroom.


During that time I had left the CPU untouched because AMD does not officially support tweaking on laptops and Ryzen Controller did not work for me then. However, later I came across Renoir Mobile Tuning and found it to be operational for this laptop, albeit with a few bugs. I switched to Ryzen Controller again and found that it too now worked well for Renoir with the additional benefit of applying the setting automatically on boot.

With a CPU tuning tool in place, the next thing was determining what to do with it. While these tools often end up as overclocking utilities, my intention couldn't be further opposite to that. The idea was to effectively underclock the system without losing performance i.e. to reduce the temperatures while still maintaining a performance boost over the stock settings.

To cut a long story short, I played around various combination of settings to finally settle on one that seems to work the best. Not that it an exhaustive analysis but rather the most practical among the ones I had tried. Note that I only experimented with the Boost TDPs and the temperature limits. The boost duration seemed pretty logical and I did not want to introduce yet another variable that muddied up the testing. Eventually this resulted in the following changes:
  • Temperature Limit: 90
  • Long Boost TDP: 54 
  • Short Boost TDP: 50
For reference, the default temperature limit is 95 with long and short boost TDPs of 60 and 54 respectively. Also, I auto-overclocked the GPU again to make the most of any benefit available from reduction of the CPU performance. So, how did this theoretical reduction in CPU performance impact the benchmark scores for Fire Strike and Time Spy compared to the ones from the review?


As expected, this has quite an impact on the CPU performance as it has dropped by nearly 5% but on the other hand the graphics score has jumped by 1% resulting in an overall gain of 0.7% on Fire Strike, taking it past 16,000 for the first time. However, the result for Time Spy was more interesting as there was a minor loss instead overall indicating the underclock has more of an impact of DX12 than it does on DX11, which is probably not unexpected. Note that this is an indication of the gain over the gain already achieved by overclocking the GPU originally, so overall the incremental gain is still worth it.

Lastly, the laptop has a secret weapon up its sleeve. Until now, all the tests were conducted using the default Performance mode. However, there is also a Turbo mode which sets the fans whirring to possibly the maximum setting under full load. Yes, it boosts up the scores even further. Below I have again attached a comparison of the Turbo mode performance for the stock CPU settings in comparison to the underclocked one and it is quite the same as earlier. While the DX11 performance is higher with the underclock, it is lower by an equal proportion in case of DX12. 

It has to be kept in mind though that apart from the scores, the underclock has an additional benefit in reducing the overall temperatures and also prolonging the life of the components. Also with the combination of the 4800H with the RTX2060, it is the latter that is going to hit the limit rather easily compared to the former, so a sacrifice of CPU performance for a GPU gain makes a lot more sense.

Finally, I leave you with a comparison of the current profile comprising of a GPU Overclock and CPU Underclock on Turbo with the stock GPU and CPU settings.

A jump of 7.8% on DX11 and 6.6% on DX12 with lower overall temperatures to boot is nothing shoddy. Seems something called as free lunch does exist after all.

Review #65: Asus TUF Gaming A15 Laptop (Ryzen 7 4800H | RTX 2060) ★★★★✭

 Team Red + Team Green - A killer combination!


Introduction:

Ever since Y2K, when AMD stole the limelight for a bit with breaking the 1 GHz barrier and releasing AMD64, AMD as a company failed to impress on me the need to purchase their products. I had opted for Intel just prior to the Athlon breakthrough and every upgrade cycle of 4-5 years led me to opt for Intel. Hence, I was simply enthralled at switching to Team Red after nearly two decades of being stuck with Team Blue. My GPU always has been Team Green but with the integrated Vega 7, there is a dash of Red over there as well.

The Choice:

During the holiday sale 2020, it was between this and the Acer Predator Helios 300 for the princely sum of "not quite" one lakh INR. I could see the reviews racking up for the Core i7 variant on Flipkart and I had even purchased the same but cancelled it as soon as I came across this Renoir masterpiece. It helped that Amazon also offered a much higher exchange price for an old laptop that was lying around, compared to Flipkart.

To put it straight, the Helios 300 has only one thing going for it compared to this one and that is the screen. On the flip side, this comes with a monster CPU, DDR4-3200, a 2000+ Mbps 1 TB SSD from Western Digital, a large 90 Wh battery, lighter weight, higher travel keyboard and about as good a cooling solution as the Helios. It also looks more professional than the Helios, so you can use it in formal environments without having people snickering at you. So overall, it is a win for the A15 over the Helios 300.

Display:

To address the elephant in the room, Asus gimped on the screen, using a Panda panel that has only about 65% sRGB colour gamut and >20 ms response time with quite some screen flex. It pales (no pun intended) in comparison to the 90% sRGB panel with 3ms response time on the Helios, but that is about it. I still managed to get popping colours out of it by increasing the saturation on Radeon Software and calibrating the display from within Windows. Sure, it throws accuracy out of the window in favour of something eye-pleasing but I am not looking to do any colour-work on it and even otherwise, I am looking to connect it to my 120 Hz 4K TV at home for gaming. I am unsure about it, but with the HDMI or DisplayPort output being driven by Vega, it should also support FreeSync directly compared to laptops having output routed through the Intel GPU.

Hardware:


The primary reason for getting this laptop is the Ryzen 4000 series. The 4800H puts the Core i7 to shame. I ran Cinebench after updating the system and without any tweaks. It registered nearly 500 on the single core and 4386 on the multi core, that even the Core i9-9980HK can't touch in most laptops, due to it being a blast furnace rather than a processor. The 4800H did not even touch 80 degrees on the Cinebench multi-core test. It did go past 90 on Firestrike but it never thermally throttled whereas the under-volted 9980HK in my earlier laptop hit 100 degrees within seconds and throttled like it was being asphyxiated.

The RTX 2060 is also the 2020 "refresh" variant with the 1.25V GDDR6 and higher TDP. It passed 15,000 on Firestrike on the first run but with the CPU running much cooler, it opens up the possibility of over-clocking the GPU farther than you can on an Intel machine.

Among other points, the machine ran without much noise on the benchmarks, but I expect it to reach whirring heights with demanding games, something that is to be expected of most gaming laptops. I haven’t checked the battery life and probably never will over the life of the laptop, as I always used it plugged, but the 90 Wh battery with the 4800H will provide a longer battery life than any Intel gaming laptop. The lonely USB 2.0 port on the right-hand side is a bit of a let-down but I have my fingerprint reader permanently plugged in so that I can use Windows Hello. Not having TB3 is also disappointing but I can’t see myself needing it over the lifespan of the laptop as DLSS will most probably help with higher resolutions in the near future.

Tweaking:

As expected, the UEFI on the laptop is barebone. AMD also doesn't support Ryzen Master on laptops, leaving it to OEMs to decide on the thermal envelope. That leaves Ryzen Controller as a tool of choice as it has experimental 4000-series support but with it currently being limited to STAPM settings, it is more likely to be needed to extract more performance rather than to lower temperatures, and thus is not the need of the hour.

However, as I mentioned previously, there is light at the end of the tunnel in terms of extracting more performance from the GPU. As the following 3DMark screenshots indicate, the GPU is able to provide 6-7% more performance using Auto-Overclock at the loss of less than 1% CPU performance. The GPU temperatures too are similar, though the CPU temperature does go up by 4-5 degrees at idle and 2-3% degrees at full load, but still does not throttle.

Warranty:

The unit received from Amazon was manufactured just 2 weeks before as per the warranty registration date. It can be changed to the invoice date by providing Asus with the invoice and a photo of the laptop serial number. An additional year of warranty, after using the 10% off code provided with the laptop, costs about $35 which is quite respectable.

Conclusion:

To sum it up, at the sale price, you can only go wrong with a gaming laptop if you choose Intel. Asus got most things right apart from the screen which is gut-wrenching but not a deal breaker, especially if you use a monitor or TV. In this case, it is what’s inside that counts and this thing is as TUF as it gets.

P.S.: It comes with a huge 16A plug that would probably go well with a microwave in the kitchen. Thankfully, the power adapter has a standard connector as a desktop PSU, so I was able to connect a 16A cable with the regular sized plug. You can also probably get away with a lower amperage cable but it is best to get a 16A one if you can.