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Today we’re looking at desktop and laptop graphics performance, revisiting a topic we last covered over a year ago when Nvidia launched its first mobile GPU, the GeForce RTX. The original investigation was prompted by Nvidia’s confusing naming scheme, where laptop and desktop GPUs have the same name but must have significantly different performance.
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Using hardware available in early 2019, we found that the desktop RTX 2070 is on average 19% faster than the mobile RTX 2070 chip at 1080p. This difference widened to a whopping 42% when comparing the desktop RTX 2070 to Nvidia’s low-end RTX 2070 Max-Q variant.
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Since then, we’ve seen updates to laptop and desktop hardware. On the graphics front, Nvidia has released the RTX Super series for desktops and more recently laptops. This 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. We’re also seeing new CPU options via 10th Gen Intel and AMD’s return to gaming laptops with the Ryzen 4000.
However, knowing what you’re getting is as confusing as ever. In 2020, you can buy laptops that have an “RTX 2070 Super” GPU, but sometimes you get the Max-Q variant, sometimes you don’t. This continues across the line, from the bottom GTX 1660 Ti to the highest option, the RTX 2080 Super. To some customers who aren’t as familiar with Nvidia’s GPU lineup, at first glance these laptops appear to offer the same GPU and therefore the same performance you’d get from an equivalent gaming desktop. But that is far from the case.
Let’s take the RTX 2070 Super as an example. Although both desktop and laptop variants use the same physical GPU –
The 12nm TU104 die with 2560 CUDA cores does exist – other aspects are very different. The desktop card has a power limit of 215W, which allows the GPU to run at 1770MHz or higher. The notebook variant has a power limit of 80 to 115 W with a boost clock between 1155 and 1380 MHz. This means that based on nominal clock speeds alone, a desktop card can perform at best 28% more and potentially more than 50% more compared to the lowest performing mobile configuration.
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Memory configurations may also vary. The basic design is again similar, both variants bring 8GB of GDDR6 memory on a 256-bit bus. But if you get the Max-Q RTX 2070 Super Low Power mobile variant, you’ll only see 11 Gbps of memory compared to 14 Gbps on the desktop. This reduces memory bandwidth at lower clock speeds.
We could go on with examples in the rest of the report, but you get the idea. Nvidia believes that by using the same physical GPU with the same number of shaders, it can label its laptop GPUs the same way as desktop GPUs. This is despite vastly different performance goals, duty cycles, and ultimately performance.
With that, in today’s review, we’ll break down 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.
Like our previous desktop vs. laptop comparisons, this isn’t designed as a direct GPU comparison, where we’re limiting the desktop platform to the same specs and performance level you’d get from a laptop. No CPU clock throttling or performance limitations, this is designed to be a realistic comparison between desktop and laptop platforms. This means that the desktop PC will also have a more powerful CPU with better cooling and faster memory. This is how these systems are generally configured in the real world, so these results will show you the real difference between a gaming laptop and a desktop, not a gaming laptop and a weird desktop with curved corners.
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That said, we didn’t try to completely destroy gaming laptops with our desktop test system. Our desktop platform for this test was configured with a relatively modest Intel Core i5-10600K, 16GB of dual-channel DDR4-3200 memory with XMP enabled. We’ve chosen these components to roughly match what’s offered in most gaming laptops: you’ll usually get a six-core Intel processor like the Core i7-10750H for the most affordable price, with 16GB of memory also being a common starting point.
On the laptop side, our usual testing notes apply. We’ll configure all of the tested laptops with dual-channel memory, decent airflow to the coolers, and set them to standard power settings. The results you will see in the graphs are the average of several systems with the same configuration. You can see the full list of laptops we tested here.
Let’s start the benchmarks with Red Dead Redemption 2, the first of six games we’ll examine in depth, before presenting a summary of the 18 games we tested for this comparison.
The first thing you’ll notice here is that there are power limits for each CPU and GPU configuration, showing the maximum sustained power consumption we’ve seen for those components. For laptops, the CPU and GPU will generally run up to this limit indefinitely, so this could mean 45W on the CPU and 90W on the GPU. However, on our desktop platform, how close the CPU or GPU gets to the limit will depend on the game and its usage.
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For example, while the RTX 2070 Super is listed here with the desktop variant as 215W, in many games its actual consumption is lower.
Back to Red Dead Redemption 2 running at 1080p on high settings with the Vulkan renderer, you might notice right away that we have three desktop configurations sitting at the top of the charts.
The RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super deliver excellent performance, but even the RTX 2070 is slightly ahead of the fastest laptop configuration we tested in 2020, which features a Core i9-10980HK and a 90W RTX 2080 Super Max-Q. .
Moving down the chart, we have the RTX 2060 desktop configuration in the middle, which provides slightly higher performance than the RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. In this test, the desktop RTX 2060 is only 4 percent ahead of the notebook RTX 2060, which, as we’ll see, is the exception. Meanwhile, the GTX 1660 Ti is about 8 percent ahead of its laptop counterpart.
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Next up is Control, which is one of the most GPU demanding titles in our pack, we’re far from CPU limited here, especially on laptops. Starting at the bottom, you’ll see that the desktop GTX 1660 Ti outperforms the laptop variant by 14 percent, allowing it to outperform lower-powered RTX 2060 configurations as well. So if you get a laptop with an 80W RTX 2060, you’re not quite on par with a desktop GTX 1660 Ti.
One of the desktop highlights is the RTX 2060, which pulls away from the fastest portable configuration of this GPU by up to 13%. 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 delivers performance closer to the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q type and fits right in alongside those GPUs.
Then, when it comes to the high-end stuff, there’s a bit of a bloodbath for laptop variants. Our RTX 2070 desktop GPU is 30 percent faster in this title and pulls ahead significantly with a much higher maximum power limit of 175W versus 115W. Super desktop GPUs compared to their 90W Max-Q notebook equivalents, the margin rises to over 40 percent in favor of the desktop model.
In Metro Exodus, big differences between laptop and desktop GPU variants can also be expected, growing with each passing step. The desktop GTX 1660 Ti is 14% faster than the notebook model. Then for RTX 2060 it is 17% faster. With the RTX 2070, we are up to 31% faster. That’s 41% for the RTX 2070 Super over the RTX 2070 Super Max-Q and 35% for the RTX 2080 Super over the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q.
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These are significant margins in favor of desktops, especially high-end ones. The difference in performance for a card like the RTX 2070 is frankly ridiculous considering they both have the exact same name, minus the Max-Q designation.
The 115W power limit for the notebook GPU doesn’t allow it to come close to the desktop card, and it’s really hard to say that the notebook model delivers real RTX 2070-like performance.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an interesting case in this game
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