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NVIDIA brings desktop-class graphics to laptops

The new mobile GeForce GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 chips keep pace with full-sized cards.
Graphics 10/10, typing comfort 0/10.

With the GeForce GTX 1080, NVIDIA pushed the boundaries of what a $600 graphics card can do. That flagship card was joined by the GTX 1070 and GTX 1060, two lower-power cards based on the same 16nm Pascal architecture at a much more affordable price. Now, it's bringing mobile versions of those cards that match their desktop counterparts in almost every area -- including being VR ready.

That's not hyperbole. The top-of-the-line laptop 1080 has 2,560 CUDA cores and 8GB of 10Gbps GDDR5x memory. The desktop chip has the same. The only difference is clock speed: it's set at 1,556MHz, while the desktop version is 1,607MHz. The two do share the same boost clock (1,733MHz) though, and both have access to all the new technology introduced for the Pascal architecture. That means simultaneous multi-projection, VRWorks, Ansel and the rest.

If you want an idea what those specs translate to in real-world performance, how's this: when paired with an i7-6700HQ (a quad-core 2.6GHz chip with 3.5GHz turbo), Mirror's Edge Catalyst, 126; Overwatch, 147; Doom, 145; Metro Last Light, 130; Rise of the Tomb Raider, 125. Those are the 1080M's FPS figures when playing at 1080p with "ultra" settings at 120Hz. NVIDIA is really pushing 120Hz gaming, and many of the first crop of Pascal laptops will have 120Hz G-Sync displays.

4K gaming, too, is more than possible. At 4K with "high" settings the same setup can push 89FPS on Overwatch, 70FPS with Doom, and 62FPS with Metro Last Light (according to NVIDIA). Only Mirror's Edge Catalyst and Rise of the Tomb Raider fall short of 60FPS, both clocking in at a very playable 52FPS. At the chip's UK unveil, NVIDIA showed the new Gears of War playing in 4K in real-time, and there were absolutely no visible frame drops. With figures like that, it goes without saying that VR will be no problem for the 1080. The desktop GTX 980 is the benchmark for both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and the 1080 blows it away. If you're looking for more performance, the 1080 supports overclocking of course -- NVIDIA suggests as high as 300MHz -- and you can expect laptops sporting two in an SLI configuration soon.

The major drawback for the 1080 is power. We don't know its exact TDP yet, but given the near-identical desktop version runs at 180W, you'd imagine it's got to be at least 150W. NVIDIA has tech that counters that heavy power load when you're not plugged in, of course. Chief among these is BatteryBoost, which allows you to set a framerate (i.e. 30FPS), and downclocks the GPU appropriately to save power -- if your card is capable of pushing 147FPS plugged in, that's going to be a fair amount of power saved. Whatever the battery savings possible, though, it won't change the fact that the 1080M is only going to slide into big laptops.

That's fine for those already used to carrying around behemoths on the go, but plenty of gamers prefer something more portable. Enter the 1070. NVIDIA says this chip will fit into any chassis that currently handles the 980M, which covers a lot of laptops.

Just like the 1080, the 1070 matches its desktop sibling in many ways. You've actually got slightly more in the way of CUDA cores -- 2,048 vs. the desktop's 1,920, but again they're clocked slower (1,442MHz vs. 1,506MHz). Memory is the same -- 8GB 8Gbps GDDR5 -- and it too benefits from both the Pascal architecture itself and the new software features that come with it.

GTX 1080 GTX 1080(M) GTX 1070 GTX 1070(M)
CUDA cores 2,560 2,560 1,920 2,048
Base clock 1,607MHz 1,556MHz 1,506MHz 1,442MHz
Boost clock 1,733MHz 1,733MHz 1,683MHz 1,645MHz
Memory speed 10Gbps 10Gbps 8Gbps 8Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 320GB/sec 320GB/sec 256GB/sec 256GB/sec

When faced off against the desktop 1070, the 1070 holds its own. In nearly every test we saw, it got within a couple of percentiles of the desktop card. We're talking 77FPS in The Witcher 3 (1080p maxed settings, no HairWorks) vs. 79.7FPS on the 1070; 76.2FPS in The Division (1080p ultra) vs. 76.6FPS; and 64.4FPS in Crysis 3 (1080p very high) vs. 66.4FPS. The one outlier was Grand Theft Auto V, which dropped down to 65.3FPS vs. 73.7FPS on the desktop 1070. 4K gaming is a stretch on the desktop 1070, and that carries over here, but this card is more-than VR ready. NVIDIA says that it'll support factory overclocking on the 1070 soon, so you may see laptops offering a little more grunt "in a couple of months."

Rounding off the lineup is the 1060, the mobile version of NVIDIA's $249 "budget" VR-ready card. It's something of the exception to the rule here. Yes, it offers 1,280 CUDA cores and 6GB 8Gbps GDDR5 memory, which is equal to the desktop 1060. But at the lower end of the range the fact that they're clocked lower (1,404MHz vs. 1,506MHz) hurts performance quite a bit more. In side-by-side comparisons, NVIDIA's benchmarks suggest you'll get within ten percent or so of the desktop card. That's not to say that the 1060 is a slouch. For traditional gaming, you're not going to hit 60FPS at 1080P in every game without thinking about settings, but if you can play it on a desktop GTX 980, it's probably a safe bet that the 1060 can handle it. That's insanely impressive when you consider that the 1060 will fit into the same chassis as the 970M -- think "ultra portable" gaming laptops.

GTX 1060(M) GTX 1060 GTX 980
CUDA cores 1,280 1,280 2,048
Base clock 1,404MHz 1,506MHz 1,126MHz
Boost clock 1,670MHz 1,708MHz 1,216MHz
Memory speed 8Gbps 8Gbps 7Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 192GB/sec 192GB/sec 224GB/sec
*Up to

In reality, the 10-percent gap between the 1060 and the 1060M probably makes it slightly slower than the GTX 980, but the difference is almost negligible. I wasn't able to push the 1060M too hard on the "VR ready" promise -- you can read about the demo and why the 1060M matters in a separate article -- but the demo I had was solid. And really, being able to plug an Oculus into something as slim as a Razer Blade was unthinkable a few months ago, so it's probably best not to complain.

Acer, Alienware, Asus, Clevo, EVGA, HP, Gigabyte, Lenovo, MSI, Origin, Razer, Sager and XMG are just some of the OEMs signed up to make laptops with the new Pascal chips. Many will announce updated and all-new models today, while some might hold off a while. But expect lots of super-powerful, VR-ready gaming laptops very soon.

Aaron writes about design, technology, video games, and whatever 'culture' is supposed to be. After cutting his teeth at The Verge, he joined Engadget as a Senior Editor in 2014. In his spare time he enjoys scouring the world for beautiful furniture, taking long walks on the beach, training orphaned dolphins, and making up facts about himself.

Ethics: Aaron's partner is an employee of a video game publisher. She also writes various games, comics and other fiction. Aaron will never have input on coverage related to that work.

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