Pascal has mobilized, officially launching in notebooks today. The GTX 1080, 1070, and 1060 full desktop GPUs will be available in Pascal notebooks, similar to the GTX 980 non-M launch from last year. Those earlier 980 laptops were a bit of an experiment, from what nVidia's laptop team told us, and led to wider implementation of the line-up for Pascal.
We had an opportunity to perform preliminary benchmarks using some of our usual test suite while at the London unveil event, including frametime analysis (1% / 0.1% lows) with Shadow of Mordor. Testing was conducted using the exact same settings as we use in our own benchmarks, and we used some of our own software to validate that results were clean.
Before getting to preliminary GTX 1080 & GTX 1070 notebook FPS benchmarks on the Clevo P775 and MSI GT62, we'll run through laptop overclocking, specification differences in the GTX 1070, and 120Hz display updates. Note also that we've got at least three notebooks on the way for testing, and will be publishing reviews through the month. Our own initial benchmarks are further down.
Gaming laptops have historically been synonymous with “cinder block” – particularly true for the GTX 980M, GTX 980, and GTX 970M units we've reviewed – but that isn't always the case. Still, slimming down the form factor comes at the substantial risk of increased thermals. Packing high-performance silicon densely into a small box is a breeding ground for poor dissipation potential, offset only by careful controls (throttles) and, normally, a hefty amount of copper. Thermals happen to be our test specialty; we're particularly interested in exploring the temperature readings of MSI's new GE62 Apache Pro 6QD laptop, a 15.6” portable with a GTX 960M and i7-6700HQ.
But it's not all about thermals. Our GE62 6QD Apache Pro ($1300) review benchmarks gaming (FPS) performance of the GTX 960M & i7-6700HQ, looks at thermals, and tests battery life. For a bout of fun, we threw in a battery life test with the keyboard backlight and background software disabled, just to see if it'd increase longevity. Games used for real-world benchmarking include GRID: Autosport (battery life analysis), DiRT Rally, The Witcher 3, GTA V, Metro: Last Light, and Shadow of Mordor.
The GTX 980's entry into laptops – without suffixed “M” demarcation – provided a look at the world of true desktop graphics as integrated on mobile devices. We reviewed MSI's GT72S Dominator Pro G ($2760) with its GTX 980, conducting additional overclocking tests to determine just how far the desktop part could be pushed when crammed into a laptop.
Turns out, it was pretty far. And we're revisiting the subject with Intel's new i7-6820HK and the GTX 970M. This benchmark looks at just how far a laptop CPU and GPU can be overclocked, then runs game FPS and Adobe tests to determine if OCing is worth it. We use The Witcher 3, DiRT, GTA V, Shadow of Mordor, and Metro for FPS tests, then run trace and automated testing for Photoshop and video editing software. A CyberPower Fangbook 4 SX7-300 was used for the benchmark, which is outfitted with the 6820HK unlocked CPU.
The GT72 Dominator Pro G is MSI's latest gaming notebook, primarily symbolic for its inclusion of nVidia's GTX 980 desktop GPU. Last month, we reported that desktop GTX 980 GM204 chips were en route to the notebook market, already integrated in various form factors and manufacturer offerings. We've gotten hands-on with a few GTX 980 notebooks – the Aorus X7 DT, CLEVO P870DM, ASUS GX700VO, MSI GT72 – and have seen form factors spanning slim (<1” thickness) through the usual “desktop replacement” models (2”, for the GT72).
Our first GTX 980 notebook review is of MSI's GT72 Dominator Pro G, including gaming (FPS) benchmarks, thermal & temperature plots, battery life, and value. There's no softening the blow with this one: It's $3100, 2” thick, and weighs about 8.4 lbs. This is, in its truest form, a “desktop replacement” laptop. Of note, we previously reviewed CyberPower's Fangbook III with a GTX 980M, which is a rebranded MSI GT72 notebook using the mobile version of the GTX 980 – a slimmed-down offering from today's model. With the Fangbook on extended loan, we were able to re-benchmark performance and conduct a GTX 980 vs. GTX 980M laptop benchmark. To expand on this just slightly, a desktop GTX 980 was also benchmarked as a parity-check with the more thermally-constrained notebooks.
A notebook-desktop graphics disparity has generally relegated portables to custom, low-performance silicon when matched against desktop alternatives. The limitation is almost entirely tied to the thermal and energy limitations sanctioned by a small box – especially for laptops aiming for a sub-1” thickness. For all the laptops we've helped readers reflow and for which we've refreshed thermal compound, it's clear that there's good reason to reduce the thermal envelope of a mobile GPU.
CPU-GPU thermal equilibrium is often achieved in notebooks resultant of a shared cooling solution, normally a single copper heatpipe that feeds into a single fan for dissipation. Until recently – the revolution of lower-TDP components spurred on by nVidia, Intel, and now AMD – the primary bottleneck to a notebook's performance has been that thermal headroom. Manufacturer optimizations in the silicon have improved per-Watt performance to a point of seeing tremendous gains with, for instance, the GTX 980M – but even the 980M exhibited a performance deficit of 35% against a “real” GTX 980.
NVidia aims to change that. The newest product in the company's lineup is actually a year old – it's the GTX 980, but in notebooks. Until this point, there's been the GTX 980M, but the GTX 980 “proper,” we'll call it, hasn't been unleashed in notebooks in a fully unlocked form. We recently met with nVidia to get an in-person hands-on with the new GTX 980 notebooks and have first impressions, a full review is due once we've got laptops in-hand in the next week or so.
The performance disparity between same-architecture desktop and mobile GPUs has historically been comparable to multi-generational gaps in desktop components. Recent advancements by GPU manufacturers have closed the mobile performance gap to about 10% of the desktop counterparts, an impressive feat that results in low-TDP, highly performant laptops with longer battery life.
Battery life has long been a joke for gaming laptops. To yield gaming prowess of any measure, notebooks are normally affectionately named “desktop replacements” and never disconnected from the wall. As modern architectures have improved process nodes and reduced power requirements, it's finally become possible for gaming laptops to operate for a moderate amount of time on battery. Battery life is dictated by a few key points: Active power consumption of the components, thermal levels of the system and battery, and power efficiency at other locations in the stack (S0iX on CPUs, DevSleep with SSDs, for instance).
When it comes to price, gaming laptops are the worst of all worlds: We lose the tremendous customization afforded by custom PC builds, but the sacrifice is made in return for portability and all-in-one versatility. Laptops use a “business triangle” as any other product would, generally forcing selection between size (portability), performance, and battery life; to get all three is possible, but maddeningly expensive.
Gaming laptops range from roughly $800 to more than $3000, in the case of the mechanical keyboard-equipped GT80 Titan. High-performance laptops are the worst of all worlds: Small size is expensive, high performing mobile components are expensive, battery life is expensive.
Judging by our content traffic trends, there's an express user interest in external graphics solutions as employed by laptops. These solutions allow desktop-quality graphics output without restricting the laptop in non-gaming tasks; that is, the GPU is connected via docking station, granting full mobility of the portable when used for usual commuting or work tasks.
Among the final pieces of our coverage from MSI, the GS30 Shadow laptop and its accompanying docking system remind us of a SilverStone/ASUS creation from last year: The XG02 external video card enclosure for laptops.
MSI's GS30 Shadow 13.3" gaming laptop includes a PCI-e enabled dock for external graphics card hardware, supporting AMD & nVidia devices. The GS30 can fit everything up to a Titan Black, hosts a 3.5" HDD bay for games storage, and pushes all video content to an external display once docked. This means that the external video card does not re-pipe the graphics back into the 13.3" screen, instead requiring a peripheral monitor. It's a normal docking station in this fashion, it just includes external GPU support for high-end gaming at home.
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