Your next gaming laptop will have a VR-capable desktop graphics card inside. Intrigued? We explain all.
Nvidia will no longer separate its high-end laptop and desktop graphics chips. Instead, it will stuff its Pascal-based desktop chips, the GTX 1060, GTX 1070, and GTX 1080 into various laptops from all the major manufacturers currently making gaming machines.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 laptop specs
The table below shows the specifications of the GPUs.
The eagle-eyed amongst you might have spotted there aren’t many differences between the desktop and laptop versions of these GPUs. In fact, the only major difference you’ll find is on the 1070. There are more CUDA cores, 2,048 instead of 1,920, and a slightly lower boost clock speed of 1,645MHz instead of 1,683MHz.
Aside from that, you get the same powerful, VR-capable chips, just in a laptop package.
Video: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 review
Nvidia's Pascal architecture is now so efficient there’s no need for cut-performance, laptop-only chips any more.
However, the firm is keen to stress that it’s not just overall architecture efficiency gains that have made this possible. Other advances in electrical design have made cramming powerful components into a small space much easier. This includes a much more efficient, ‘multi-phase’ power supply that minimises inefficiency when supplying the GPU with electricity and a ‘dual-FET’ power supply design that packs more power into a smaller space.
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But, for the most part, it’s the power efficiency of the chips themselves that have pushed Nvidia over the edge into not needing laptop-specific GPUs any more.
What about that curious GTX 1070 that differs from its desktop counterpart? Nvidia says it’s able to produce more GTX 1070s in this way because the GP102 chips the 1070 is built on can be produced to run at this slightly lower clock speed. To counter the low clock speed, Nvidia has enabled an extra bank of streaming multiprocessors (SM). Nvidia says the performance difference between the two will be minor, although could be as high as 10% under certain circumstances.
Previously, only chunky laptops such as the Asus ROG GX800 came with desktop graphics
In some rare cases, the laptop GTX 1070 can perform better than a desktop version, although only when the game in question has excellent multi-thread support. See our benchmark results below for some examples.
Nvidia reckons it has between 90 and 95% of the gaming laptop market. This isn’t hard to believe; we’ve seen very few AMD GPU laptops passing through our doors in recent years. With such a large portion of the market, Nvidia appears to have every major laptop manufacturer on board to produce a gaming laptop with its latest Pascal technology on board.
Because the form factor of the chips is the same as the previous generation ‘Maxwell’ GPUs, many manufacturers will simply stick one of the new chips into an existing chassis. There will also be brand-new machines taking advantage of the efficiency gains of the new Pascal architecture, with thin and light designs becoming more prevalent.
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More laptops will get Nvidia G-Sync this year, with notebook screen tech finally catching up with desktop monitors. Expect 120Hz screens with the slightly unusual 2,400x1,400 pixel resolution, G-Sync and IPS technology to become more commonplace this year.
With increased power efficiency coming from the Pascal architecture, claims of 30% more battery life are looking realistic, although when you consider most gaming laptops will only manage two hours of gaming at the absolute maximum, this isn’t going to be changing many lives.
Desktop graphics chips have previously been seen inside gaming laptops, with the likes of the MSI Dragon and Asus ROG GX700 both getting fully-fledged desktop GTX 980s.
One mystery remains, and that’s the thorny issue of pricing. Since Nvidia is using full desktop chips, the price of gaming laptops is going to go up. The estimated starting price for a GTX 1060 laptop is $1,300, which equates to roughly £1,200 including VAT.
If this turns out to be accurate, Nvidia will have to launch some lower-specification laptop GPUs fairly sharpish to avoid locking out gamers on a budget. It didn’t have a comment on any lower-specification products at the launch event, so those looking for sub-£1,000 machines will need to stick to laptops running a GTX 960M for now.
At the launch event of its laptop graphics line-up, Nvidia had several machines on display for benchmarking purposes. You can see below that both the GTX 1080 and 1070 performed near-identically or even slightly better than their desktop counterpart.
This isn’t a huge surprise; our desktop figures are from benchmarking conducted in June, so driver updates will have likely improved performance. In addition, clock speeds will have varied, as manufacturers are free to overclock their laptops as far as their cooling will allow.
The GTX 1080 results are from a Clevo P775, which is an incredibly bulky laptop. It was running a desktop Intel Core i7-6700, which is more powerful than the processor in our benchmarking desktop. The GTX 1070 figures are taken from an Asus ROG G752 that runs an Intel Core i7-6820HK which, again, is likely more powerful than our desktop processor. No laptops running the GTX 1060 were available for benchmarking.
It didn’t take a genius to see this coming, but it’s nice to finally be able to drop the confusing differences between mobile graphics cards and their desktop counterparts. Gamers with lots of money will be delighted, but those on a budget will have to wait a little longer for something both new and affordable.
With only AMD’s bottom-end AMD Radeon RX 460 expected to find its way into laptops any time soon, Nvidia isn’t going to have much competition for several months at the very least.
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Let us know your thoughts on the new laptop GPUs in the comments.