PC and peripheral maker Asus has a tradition of selecting the most durable electronic components and combining them with sturdier casings in its The Ultimate Force (TUF) motherboard range. And now, the Taiwanese giant has decided to bring that resilient TUF moniker to a new range of ‘long-lasting’ laptops. Asus is claiming that the TUF FX504 will be sturdier, more reliable and have a longer lifespan than a “standard laptop” thanks to a few key technologies like a patented anti-dust cooling system and a keyboard that’s rated for 20-million strokes per key.
Asus is planning on releasing the new TUF models in Australia only initially, with the two available configurations expected to hit retailers in late April 2018. At this point we’ve only been able to get an early engineering sample, but given the product’s release date it shouldn’t be long till we can get some performance benchmarks on a final consumer model.
As for validating just how rugged the TUF series is, it’s actually quite difficult to benchmark the exact effects that better thermal design and active dust management have on lifespan, or to verify the 20-million-key-press durability — at least not without using the device day in and day out for a few years.
In a large sense, you’ll need to take Asus at its word then, a more reliable gaming laptop seems like a good offer, but how does this TUF pioneer hold up to the competition in the current gaming market?
Price and availability
The TUF FX504 from Asus is a 15.6-inch gaming laptop that features an 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8750 CPU, 16GB of memory and a discrete entry-level gaming graphics card.
At launch, Asus is making this model available in two specific variants. There’s the FX504GD which offers an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card with 128GB PCIe solid state drive, 1TB hard disk drive and a 15.6-inch 1080p TN panel. Then there’s the FX504GE, which gets upgraded with a 1050 Ti GPU, a bigger 256GB SATA SSD, a 1TB SSHD hard drive and an IPS display.
Both units will be available in Australia by the end of April 2018, with prices for the FX504GD and FX504GE landing at AU$1,699 (about US$1,290 and £920) and AU$1,899 (about US$1,440 and £1,030), respectively.
Intricate design elements aren’t normally a big focus for budget gaming laptops, with the overall appearance generally losing out against performance and price considerations, but the TUF series is hoping to add a stronger focus on engineering into this segment and, in the process, build a gaming laptop that’s designed to last.
You could argue that the six-core Intel 8th-gen CPU’s lower base frequency and more distributed workload should lead to lower overall temperatures and less system stress — both of which will increase longevity, in theory. That said, most gaming laptops from here on out will also use a Core i7-8750H CPU, so it’s not exactly a unique longevity boost.
Asus’ patented ‘Anti-Dust Cooling’ system is designed to actively expel dust using two capture tubes that are fed by the fan blades to prevent it from collecting in the system and damaging it over time. Adding to this, a cutaway on the hinge-edge of the laptop shell allows for a bigger rear fan vent and facilitates up to 27% greater thermal dispersion than a conventional laptop case. This combines with HyperCool fan-response software, which gives users better control over the thermal/noise balance and, hopefully, keeps the laptop’s components running at peak performance for longer.
The TUF FX450 scissor switched chiclet keys have a 0.07 inch (1.8mm) travel distance that feel nice enough when typing or gaming and the 15-inch form factor means that there’s enough space to offer a full sized keyboard… just. There are some space constraints that require the number pad to be pressed directly up against the main keyboard — making it feel a little unnatural to type on when going for the right-side backspace, return and shift keys. The decision to shift the directional pad out of line with the main keyboard however, is a much better solution than abbreviating the number pad further.
The FX504’s keyboard features some neat gaming design perks like an inlet fan below the WSAD key group, to keep ventilation flowing to your hand under long gaming sessions. If we continue on the longevity bandwagon, the FX504’s keyboard is also reportedly twice as durable as the industry standard for gaming laptops, withstanding up to 20 million key presses.
The trackpad is too sticky for our liking and while it isn’t out of place in the ranks of gaming laptops, it’s got a long way to go to be on par with the best. Left of centre trackpads seem to be pretty commonplace on 15-inches (on account of the added number-pad), but this will make the device harder to use for anyone unaccustomed to left handed trackpad control.
The fundamental storage configuration on the TUF FX504 seems reasonably commonplace on the surface. Both devices offer a smaller SSD for the operating system and essential apps, combined with a larger-capacity platter-based hard disk drive for stashing games. Look a little closer however, and both models offer interesting storage features that are uncommon amongst the ranks of affordable gaming laptops.
The less-expensive FX504GD model features a 128GB SSD connected via PCIe for 1500MB/s read speeds. This much faster drive isn’t overly common on devices in this price bracket and so when combined with a 5400rpm 1TB HDD, you get a particularly appealing storage configuration for an entry level gaming laptop.
If we shift focus to the FX504GE you see this SSD go up in size to a 256GB capacity, but it loses out on the PCIe connection — defaulting to the SATA 3 (6Gbps) interface for read speeds of just 500MB/s. While PCIe speeds are undoubtedly desirable, both these drives max out at around 500MB/s write speeds, so it makes sense on balance for the larger-but-slower SSD to sit on the more expensive model.
What most excites us on the FX504GE however, is the addition of a new kind of SSD/HDD hybrid drive that accompanies the primary SSD. This hybrid drive bolts a mini SSD to a traditional HDD to offer the same 1TB storage capacity at significantly faster transfer rates. Seagate’s 2.5-inch Fire Cuda drive uses the mini SSD to temporarily store the most regularly used information in order to reduce the need for spinning the platter. This translates into game loads that are between 2 and 5 times faster and should, theoretically, increase the overall longevity of the hard drive by reducing mechanical wear and tear.
One thing that you could say is missing from the TUF FX504 is a fast 120Hz+ screen for more responsive and smoother gaming visuals, but considering there’s only a GTX 1050Ti GPU (at best) you don’t really have the processing power to run the majority of games fast enough to utilize such a fast screen anyway.
The 15.6-inch FHD display that’s on offer comes with either a TN or IPS panel. These two technologies will give you two distinct color profiles and viewing angles, but both apparently exceed the sRGB gamut by 130% and run at 60Hz to offer comparable game display experiences.
The engineering sample we got hands on time with only had 4GB of RAM, some 12GB shy of the on-sale configuration, so it can’t be relied on for any performance benchmarks. We did however run the CPU-specific Cinebench R15 benchmark in order to check the new Intel Core i7 chip was performing as expected. With a multi-threaded score of 752 and a single core score of 166 in a recommended power mode, it’s clear that the new chip is an improvement over Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ CPUs.
We didn’t attempt to crank out a Cinebench R15 CPU score in performance mode since the sample had only partially perforated vents and an unfinished thermal management system. Even without pushing the chip to its limits, the balanced scores put it in position to compete with the lofty 1,100-plus multi-threaded scores that were seen on the MSI’s GE63 Raider and the new Gigabyte Aero 15 using a Core i7-8750H CPU at full-tilt in a performance-mode power configuration.
At a little over 0.98-inches (2.5cm) thick and weighing around 5 pounds (2.3kg), this laptop isn’t as portable as something like Asus’ Vivobook Pro (which also has a GTX 1050). Put it up against something like Asus’ 5.5-pound ROG Strix GL553VE form last year and it looks relatively slim, shaving off close to 10% of the overall weight.
If you're not looking to move it around much, then there’s a lot of features on offer here that make up for the thicker form factor. We haven’t had the opportunity to vet the positive effects of the TUF FX504’s ‘Anti-Dust Cooling’ ventilation or the more resilient keyboard, but from what we can tell the SSHD on the FX504GE will make a big difference to both game load speed and longevity. In addition to these key components there are some smaller details like the vented WSAD keys and the choice of business or gaming shell coloring that emphasize the amount of thought that has gone into this device.
It’s impossible to accurately assess a laptop without first benchmarking its performance, but from what we can see, the two new TUF FX504 units seem to land at a fair price. If you aren't fissed about portability and want a gaming laptop that’ll last, then the FX504 has a number of features that you won’t find elsewhere. The only caveat is that the FX504 leans on Nvidia’s two entry level graphics cards, which don’t offer enough power to be expected to perform well on games that’ll be released in three to five years time. So even if the TUF FX504 is considerably more durable, it’s debatable as to whether it really needs to be.