This Laptop Has A Better 3D Card Than Your Desktop

Unless you’re well enough off to have an Nvidia GTX 980 or better in your desktop, anyway. But I imagine you’d have to be even more well off to afford a laptop which has a full-fat GTX 980 inside it – a huge step on from the traditional performance compromises of portable graphics cards.

This means – numbers! – 2048 CUDA cores, up to 8GB of 7GHz GDDR5 memory, and a core clock of 1126MHz, all inside a laptop. Nvidia claim there’s only around a 3% performance drop compared to the desktop 980, while testing by Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry finds that the new laptop 980 offers around a 20 frames per second boost over the hitherto top-spec laptop GPU, the 980M. In practice, this seems to mean reliably exceeding 60 FPS at max settings in the likes of Witcher 3, Battlefield 4, Crysis 3 and whatever else you want to throw at it.

Clearly, this thing is out of the realms of financial possibility for the vast majority of us, but laptops finally catching up to desktops is a pretty bloody big deal in terms of the future of PC gaming. Laptop companies have been able to fit the 980 into their existent 17 inch chassis too, rather than requiring an even more brutish form factor. Given that a desktop 980 is big and heavy enough to club a mid-sized farm animal to death, that’s quite a feat.

Better laptop gaming performance has fairly recently been available, but involved two 980Ms in SLI, which isn’t a lot of fun in terms of cost, power, heat, noise and reliability, so a single-card offering is mightily more appealing.

I’ve talked about ‘this laptop’, but it would be more accurate to talk about it in terms of a new graphics card part which other manufacturers can stick into their top-end machines if they so wish. MSI (pictured atop this post) and Asus are among those offering 980-adorned laptops, although no-one seems to be talking about price just yet. I’d be surprised if they were much less than £2k, however.

The reason I’m interested in this is less about the 980 itself, and more that manufactures were able to physically fit an ostensibly desktop chip into a portable form factor. It may open the door to more affordable (contextually speaking) laptops with decent mid-range cards. Historically, the highest-end laptops have only managed mid-range performance compared to desktops, but maybe in the near future we’ll end up with a proper range. I’d really like to see more non-massive gaming laptops, too.

43 Comments

  1. Evil Pancakes says:

    I’d still prefer gaming on a desktop with a screen I don’t need to hunch over.

    • golem09 says:

      I still prefer gaming on a huge HDTV on the couch…
      Oh, guess doesn’t matter if it’s a laptop or a desktop at the other end of the hdmi cable.

      What I can’t forget is all those special drivers necessary to run the laptop hardware. It somehow disgusts me.

    • Eukatheude says:

      You can plug a screen in. I also use it plugged into the tv.
      I have a laptop with a GTX970M and I’m playing most stuff maxed out @1080p with regular frame rates, and sometimes I can get away with some antialasing too.

  2. DarkLiberator says:

    I’d imagine the battery life on that wouldn’t exactly be amazing.

    • Lukasz says:

      Gaming laptops do not use dedicated GPU when on battery or even during non-gaming tasks when connected to wall. the dedicated GPU starts only when there is demanding task and computer is connected to the wall.So the battery-life is not an issue.

      At least that’s how my laptop operates

    • Danarchist says:

      Your comment made me chuckle a bit. I recently went into a local big box store and was walking through the laptops seeing what was out there. A energetic sales guy walks up and starts telling me how this “gaming” laptop is among the lightest built and has great battery life. It also had intel integrated graphics…but look how light it is!

    • Faxmachinen says:

      I actually wouldn’t mind a laptop without a battery. The places which have no electrical outlet and the places which tend to be uncomfortable to use a laptop in seem to overlap quite a bit.

      The laptop battery does have other benefits though, such as not losing your progress when the power goes.

  3. Jokerme says:

    Someday all computers will be as small as laptops, but this is not that day. Big computers still have a big advantage if portability is not necessary.

  4. Alice O'Connor says:

    I’m very happy to have a 14″ laptop with a 970M. I mostly use it at my desk with a monitor and keyboard, but also drop into the lounge to play on the TV or travel with so I can work from wherever. It’s running Phantom Pain near-maxed.

    Battery life’s not amazing, but it’s rare to be far from a power cord nowadays. If I’m somewhere away from electricity, it’s probably a place with more exciting things to do anyway. I imagine these here 980 GTX doodads may be awfully noisy, though.

  5. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    This thing probably runs at 100 degrees celsius when IDLE, and comes with two weeks of warranty!

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Oh, and you need loudspeakers rated at 200w RMS with at least 92db of output and a beefy amplifier to hear anything, or the best headphones money can buy.

  6. Saarlaender39 says:

    Alec Meer: “a desktop 980 is big and heavy enough to club a mid-sized farm animal to death”

    Now I’m curious…has this fact been scientifically proven in the past, or are you just making things up for a cheap laugh?

    ;)

    • Dorga says:

      You clearly didn’t watch Hannibal series 02 episode 14: the msi ripper

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      No one show Alec the 980ti cards. Somehow, they are actually even bigger

    • Premium User Badge

      distantlurker says:

      The problem I have with this is that between a cow and a chicken, a mid sized farm animal equates to ‘farmer’ O_o

    • particlese says:

      I hope this wasn’t just for chuckles. As much as I love my lead-filled snowshoe, this market needs way more competition; the innovation has been dead for ages.

  7. UncleLou says:

    Not that it’s not impressive but a 20% framerate boost compared to a 980M would mean it performs – at best – like a 970 GTX, no?

  8. Geebs says:

    I’m very happy that Nvidia has focused so much on power efficiency over the last few generations, but that’s mostly because it means I can stick a 970 in my ageing Mac Pro without melting the PSU. Yet.

  9. Danny says:

    As someone who has used gaming laptops for many years it’s amazing to see the increase of (GPU) power from mobile cards. Still, I’ve moved back to a desktop as there are still two big issues preventing me from enjoying gaming laptops fully:

    1) Heat
    2) Noise

    Granted, these two go hand in hand, but I can’t relax after a working day with a laptop that makes an awful amount of noise because it heats up immensely. It’s not as bad as it was with the 8xx mobile cards from nVidia, but playing demanding games still requires the use of a headset if you don’t want to be disturbed by the noise.

    For some people this isn’t an issue, but I’d like to be able to chill on the couch next to my wife and have a conversation as well.

    Steam in-home streaming has fixed this somewhat, but it doesn’t work perfectly – yet – for quite a few games.

  10. sebagul says:

    Yea, spend some hours each day playing with your head pointing to your hands, and after a year, you will spend the rest of your life taking pregabalin prescriptions for neck damage.

  11. Fersken says:

    This reminds me of the desktop P4 CPUs in laptops several years ago. Hopefully they have done a better job at thermal management since then.

  12. Ufofighter says:

    I have the habit of putting my tea mug right in front of the vent exaust of my girlfriend’s laptop to keep it hot. Maybe with a 980 inside it I could even boil the water.

  13. OmNomNom says:

    I’ll never understand why people gimp themselves by buying ‘gaming’ laptops.
    Desktop is half the price and if you’re playing games that require that kind of power on a laptop (FPS games etc), then you’re doing it wrong.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      I can only speak for myself, but the reason I bought a gaming laptop recently is because it is way more practical to move. I tend to move my computer around alot and a backpack and a plastic bag for the mouse, mousemat and headphones is way more convinient than a bigger bag for a keyboard and a screen.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      It really comes down to the old three-way conundrum: “Cheap, performant, mobile — pick any two.”

      Some people are okay being stationary at a desk while they game. Others treat gaming as a very much a mobile activity — on the couch, in bed, on the bus, etc. — and either have to choose between going cheap and just limiting what they can play, or going expensive and having it all (except money).

      (Granted, the line is being blurred somewhat with live home streaming these days, e.g. Shield or Steam.)

      Me, I sit at my desk playing the latest games on my top-end desktop with my fancy gaming hardware. My sister, meanwhile, pretty much just plays whatever will work on her Macbook Pro (either Mac or Windows). And you might be surprised how many games will work on that, as long as you turn down the settings or don’t mind a low framerate.

      It’s all just about what matters most to you. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, no matter how sensible it may seem.

      • Premium User Badge

        Wisq says:

        (And before anyone points it out: Yes, I know a Macbook Pro is not exactly “cheap”. But it’s not specifically built for gaming, either — and it’s a not-uncommon platform for working professionals in high-tech fields, which can make it “cheap” in the gaming sense if you got it from work / needed to buy it for work anyway.)

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      I like big shiny games that need fast systems. I also like to travel and get out, and all my work is on computers. But I don’t want to juggle and sync two computers, let alone own more stuff – the last time I moved, I carried everything and went by train. So, gaming laptop!

    • OmNomNom says:

      Sorry that came across ruder than expected. What i really meant is that laptops have always seemed a bad fit for PC gaming, at least the kind of games that need decent spec hardware.
      Casual games that generally need less power find their ways to other devices these days, and for the huge sums of money some of these laptops cost you cam get a much more powerful desktop.
      I think my other issue with laptops is a lack of upgradability, if i want a new screen, keyboard, processor, etc i can upgrade without replacing other components whereas with a laptop its ram and storage adnd thats about it.
      Partly because of this they depreciate so quickly too that they are not easily re-sellable and the average non gamer laptop user that might be interested in a cheap second hand laptop probably doesnt want something chunky, heavy, noisy and hot.
      I suppose the future might be a NUC style device, small enough to be upgradable and large enough to be powerful, and you could plug it into a display unit at your destination.

      Sorry for any mistakes, on phone.

  14. I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

    Interesting timing. I’m finally replacing my ancient, overworked Toshiba for a new Asus laptop with a GTX 980m. Just in time to get defensive over these comments. Is this how console gamers feel all the time?

    Yes, this laptop didn’t come cheap. Am I part of a rarefied minority? Here are some things I don’t have: a car; a house; a family to support; a drug habit. I do have a job, which helped me save money to buy this. Here are things I like about laptops: they don’t take much space in my dingy apartment; I can eventually move from one dingy apartment to another without worrying about cumbersome peripherals; I can travel with them; I can bring them with me when I’m staying with family, friends and special friends.

    Worried about not having a monitor? Plug in a monitor. Worried about not using a mouse? Plug in a mouse. Worried about heat and noise? Apparently, there’s been a lot of progress in this area in the last few years. Asus in particular are supposed to have largely reduced both heat and noise output. I haven’t tested this yet, but I remain ever hopeful. As for the battery life, that’s not a particular concern as I’d rarely use it without it being plugged in.

    As for significantly lagging behind desktops, I’ve used extensive Youtubian research to ascertain that this model will run the latest games at the highest settings without spectacularly dissolving itself and any surrounding living tissue. If I haven’t entirely lost my taste for this hobby of ours, I expect to not need to upgrade for at least 4-5 years.

    There are many sensible reasons to choose desktops over laptops – price and performance still chief among them – but I’d like it if there was less of a snobbery about this. Mobile PC gaming has been here for some time, and it’s only getting better. Don’t dismiss it our of hand.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Sounds like your laptop is similar to mine, I got an Asus with a 980m and mine is completely quiet unless I play something really demanding, then it might make a very low wooshing sound, way lower than what my laptop have ever been.

      It also starts up in under 5 seconds and have had no problem with any game I’ve tossed at it.

      Hope my comment have helped ease any worries a bit.

    • Philopoemen says:

      Yeah I only game on a Laptop now, and have been exceedingly happy with my Alienware 17 – yes it’s Dell, but it’s quiet, can handle most games decent enough for me, and I can quite happily game in bed without melting the duvee. (that said, it’s quite heavy…)

      And I have a Asus as well, but that’s my everything-else laptop, this way I keep my gaming laptop just for games, and it does everything I want it too.

      I used to upgrade desktop regularly, but as the years progressed, I found that my upgrade cycles ended up turning into new builds, and then the one off cost of the laptop was worth it.

      I am intrigued by this new card, but the heat/noise component will be the killer.

      • Enkinan says:

        People rip Alienware because of Dell, but I’ll damned if my X51 hasn’t been the best rig I’ve ever owned/built in the last 20+ years.

    • Razumen says:

      I agree with you, laptops and desktops both have their advantages. I bought a Sager laptop with a 260GTX about 5 years ago and it’s served me very well as a portable gaming system, I’ve taken it on trips to to several countries and it’s still running great. Wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t nearly as expensive as other brands like Alienware.

      Of course it loses in upgrade ability, and in terms of size I think there’s mini-ITX systems that are looking about as attractive in that regard. But the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages in my regard.

  15. Raoul Duke says:

    You guys have a bad habit of making statements about graphics hardware without specifying resolution. Statements like “the new laptop 980 offers around a 20 frames per second boost” are utterly meaningless without this info.

    • Cederic says:

      It’s a 17″ gaming laptop, I think it’s reasonable to assume 1920×1080.

  16. namad says:

    even with the identical chips in a laptop the laptop is going to perform slower because it has a much more limited thermal point. without changing the form factor this remains doubly true. still cudos.

  17. Chubzdoomer says:

    Perhaps for now. Good luck upgrading it when the time comes. Maybe then you can drop another several-grand on a soon-to-be-obsolete gaming machine.