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Today we’re taking a look at desktop and laptop graphics performance, returning to a topic we last covered over a year ago when Nvidia introduced its first mobile GPU, the GeForce RTX. The original investigation raised Nvidia’s confusing naming scheme, where laptop and desktop GPUs have the exact same name but are sure to deliver vastly different performance.
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Using hardware available in early 2019, we found that the desktop RTX 2070 was on average 19% faster than the mobile RTX 2070 chip at 1080p. This difference increased to a 42% difference when comparing the desktop RTX 2070 to Nvidia’s low-power RTX 2070 Max-Q variant.
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Since then, we’ve seen upgrades in laptop and desktop hardware. On the graphics side, Nvidia has released the RTX Super series for desktops and more recently laptops. The latest wave of gaming laptops for 2020 uses high-end Super GPUs in the form of the RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super, which we’ve already reviewed. With 10th Gen Intel and AMD’s return to Ryzen 4000 gaming laptops, we’re also seeing new CPU options.
However, knowing what you’re getting is as confusing as ever. In 2020, you can buy laptops with an “RTX 2070 Super” GPU, but sometimes you get the Max-Q variant, sometimes you don’t. This continues across the board, from the entry-level GTX 1660 Ti to the top option, the RTX 2080 Super. To some buyers who aren’t as familiar with Nvidia’s GPU offerings, these laptops may appear at first glance to offer the same GPU and therefore the same performance you’d get from a similar desktop gaming PC. But that is far from the case.
Take the RTX 2070 Super for example. While both desktop and laptop versions use the same physical GPU –
The 12nm TU104 die with 2560 CUDA cores is indeed there – other aspects are very different. The desktop card has a power limit of 215W, which allows the GPU to run at a clock frequency of 1770MHz or higher. The notebook version has a power limit of 80 to 115 W and a clock speed of 1155 to 1380 MHz. This means that based on nominal clocks alone, a desktop card can achieve at best 28% and potentially more than 50% higher clocks compared to the lowest power mobile configuration.
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Memory configurations may also vary. The basic design is again similar, both versions deliver 8 GB of GDDR6 memory on a 256-bit bus. But if you get the low-power Max-Q mobile version of the RTX 2070 Super, you’ll only see 11 Gbps of memory compared to the 14 Gbps available on the desktop. This reduces memory bandwidth at lower clock speeds.
We could go on with examples of the rest of the lineup, but you get the idea. Nvidia feels that by using the same physical GPU and the same number of shaders, it is the same brand of laptop GPUs as on desktops. This is despite the fact that the performance goals, tacts and ultimately performance are significantly different.
With that, today’s review reveals the exact performance difference you can expect between Nvidia’s desktop and laptop GPUs of the same name, covering everything from the GTX 1660 Ti to the RTX 2080 Super. Hopefully, this will be a lot clearer the next time you’re shopping for a new gaming system because you’ll know what level of performance you’re getting.
As with previous desktop vs. laptop comparisons, this isn’t a direct GPU comparison, where we’ve locked down the desktop platform to the same specs and performance levels you’d get on a laptop. No CPU limitations or performance limitations, it is designed to provide a realistic comparison between desktop and laptop platforms. This means that yes, the desktop PC will also have a more powerful CPU with better cooling and faster memory. This is how these systems are typically configured in the real world, so these results show the real difference between a gaming laptop and a desktop, not a gaming laptop and a weird-looking desktop.
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That said, we haven’t built our desktop testing system to completely crush gaming laptops. Our desktop platform used for the test has a relatively modest Intel Core i5-10600K, 16 GB of dual-channel DDR4-3200 memory, compatible with XMP. We’ve chosen these components to roughly match what most gaming laptops offer: you’ll usually get a six-core Intel processor like the Core i7-10750H for the cheapest price, with 16GB of memory also being a common starting point.
On the laptop side, our usual testing notes apply. We configure all tested laptops with dual-channel memory, proper airflow to the coolers, and set them to standard performance settings. The results shown in the graphs show the average of several systems with the same configuration. You can see the complete list of laptops we tested here.
Let’s start the benchmarks with Red Dead Redemption 2, the first of six games we’ll be looking at in detail before presenting a summary of the 18 games tested for comparison.
The first thing to note is that each CPU and GPU configuration has performance limits that indicate how much sustained power draw we’ve seen from those components. For laptops, both the CPU and GPU will usually run unlimited up to this limit, so this could mean 45W on the CPU and 90W on the GPU. However, on our desktop platform, how close the CPU or GPU is to reaching the limit depends on the game and its usage.
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For example, while the desktop version of the RTX 2070 Super is listed here as 215W, its actual consumption is lower in many games.
Going back to Red Dead Redemption 2 running at 1080p on high settings with the Vulkan renderer, you may have noticed right away that there are three desktop configurations at the top of the graph.
The RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super deliver excellent performance, but even the RTX 2070 is slightly ahead of the fastest laptop configuration tested in 2020, which runs on the Core i9-10980HK and the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q. at 90W.
In the chart below, in the middle is the RTX 2060 desktop configuration, which offers slightly more performance than the RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. In this test, the desktop RTX 2060 only outperforms the notebook RTX 2060 by 4 percent, which, as we’ll see, is out of the question. Meanwhile, the GTX 1660 Ti outperforms your laptop by about 8 percent.
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Next is Control, which is one of the most GPU-intensive titles in our set, and we don’t hit the CPU limit here either, especially on laptops. Starting at the bottom, you’ll see that the desktop GTX 1660 Ti outperforms the laptop version by 14 percent, allowing it to outperform even lower-power RTX 2060 configurations. So if you get an 80W RTX 2060 in a laptop, it’s still not at the level of a desktop GTX 1660 Ti.
One of the desktop stacks is the RTX 2060 at most, which is 13% behind the fastest laptop configuration of this GPU. The desktop RTX 2060 is significantly faster than the RTX 2070 for laptops, as well as the RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. In fact, the RTX 2060 is closer to RTX 2080 Super Max-Q type performance and directly matches these GPUs.
Then for the high-end stuff, it’s a bit of a bloodbath for the laptop versions. Our RTX 2070 desktop GPU is 30 percent faster in this title, thanks to a much higher maximum power limit of 175W versus 115W. Compared to the equivalent 90W Max-Q notebooks for super desktop GPUs, the margin increases to more than 40 percent in favor of the desktop model.
In Metro Exodus, we can also expect big differences between the laptop and desktop versions of the GPU, which will increase with each passing step. The desktop GTX 1660 Ti is 14% faster than the notebook model. Then, in the case of the RTX 2060, it is 17% faster. In the case of the RTX 2070, we are up to 31% faster. 41% for RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2070 Super Max-Q and 35% for RTX 2080 Super and RTX 2080 Super Max-Q.
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These are significant margins in favor of desktops, especially at the higher end. The difference in performance for a card like the RTX 2070 is frankly ridiculous since they both have the exact same name, minus the Max-Q branding.
The laptop’s GPU power limit of 115W doesn’t allow it to come close to a desktop card, and it’s really hard to say that the laptop model has the same performance as the real RTX 2070.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an interesting case in this game
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