Pascal Goes Mobile; GTX 1070 Notebook Review
Another week and there’s another launch from NVIDIA. While the TITAN X, GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 have made headlines for their ability to move the gaming goalposts forward in every segment. However, despite all of those achievements today’s announcement is arguably the one I’m most excited about since it represents the culmination of everything NVIDIA’s Pascal architecture has set out to achieve. Today, not one but three distinct graphics cards are being introduced into the notebook market, a true triple salvo into a space where there’s an already dominating GeForce GPU presence.
While it may have taken just over two months for NVIDIA to roll out their first four desktop GPUs, on the notebook side they’re ripping off the band-aid in one shot. In an effort to hit as many price points as possible right before the key back to school shopping season, mobile versions of the GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 will all be available in notebooks at various price points in the coming weeks.
The quick launch of these notebook parts so soon after their desktop counterparts is interesting but not surprising in any way; the Pascal architecture is literally a perfect fit for both markets. From its low heat output to high overall efficiency, the duality of this core design is incredible.
One thing you will notice right off the bat is a lack of the distinctive –M moniker at the end of these cards’ names and there’s good reason for that. Unlike previous generations where bits and pieces had to be locked away to meet stringent efficiency guidelines absolutely none of these cards is being cut down from their desktop counterparts. For example, the GTX 980M may have been near the pinnacle of last year’s lineup but it actually used the GM206 core from the mainstream GTX 960 graphics card. While there was a late-bloomer in the form of a mobile version of NVIDIA’s full GTX 980, it proved to be quite late, supremely expensive and quite power hungry even for high end gaming laptops.
As you can see in the chart above, while every one of these notebook-bound cards’ baseline specs align with the non-mobile versions, there are some very minor sacrifices in clock speeds. This was likely done to reduce the amount of core voltage which also minimizes heat output and power consumption, two key factors when determining notebook compatibility. The sole stand out however is the GTX 1070; in its notebook form it has an additional SM unlocked, pushing it to 2048 cores and and 128 texture units. This is an interesting development considering the desktop GTX 1070 could now fall behind its mobile sibling.
Another interesting addition to the lineup is a 3GB version of the GTX 1060. While this was initially rumored to be a desktop SKU, it looks like NVIDIA is first announcing it here. Don’t take it to be a notebook-exclusive product though since we may just see an iteration of it as an add-in-card sometime down the line.
Throughout every single review of NVIDIA’s Pascal architecture, I’ve always talked about the relative performance of these new cards in comparison to their predecessors. The GTX 1080 was between 60% and 90% faster than the GTX 980, the gap between the GTX 1070 and GTX 970 was about the same while the GTX 1060 also featured massive intergenerational framerate uplifts. The notebook GPUs are looking to continue that trend and also extend their performance envelope into 4K territory, which used to be a domain solely reserved for extremely high end desktop cards.
It also goes without saying that performance like this coupled with Pascal’s inherent efficiency will open up a whole new range of options for gaming laptops. NVIDIA’s marketing slides call it a “quantum leap” and I tend to agree. 120Hz GSYNC displays, significantly longer battery life, ultrathin options that can offer awesome in-game framerates and more are all now possible and will likely see the light of day in very short order. Indeed, some companies like Gigabyte and Razer are announcing today that their sub-20mm notebooks weighing as little as 4lbs will house some of NVIDIA’s newest mobile GPUs like the GTX 1060.
Overclocking is also playing a surprisingly large role in this launch for both system integrators and end-users and that’s something which runs contrary to history in notebook segments. While mobile Maxwell GPUs did offer a range of limited options for boosting their clock speeds (typically a few presets within a manufacturer’s control panel), this generation will feature direct compatibility with some of today’s most popular overclocking tools like EVGA’s Precision and MSI’s AfterBurner. Provided the included thermal solution has been deemed sufficient, it’s very possible we could see clock speed boosts of 300MHz or more on some products.
From the manufacturer’s side of this coin, NVIDIA has supposedly been quite conservative with their reference clocks on the GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 for notebooks. As a result and like we’ve continually seen from add-in board partners, some gaming laptops could come pre-overclocked out of the box. The ASUS G752 OC Edition I’m reviewing in this article overclocks the GPU’s core and memory by 50MHz and 100MHz respectively when in its present Extreme mode. Now this may not offer much in the way of real-world performance improvements but as they say; something is better than nothing.
Despite the inherent efficiency of these new Pascal-based graphics cores, NVIDIA has still looked towards improving some of their unique software-based technologies in an effort to increase battery longevity without killing performance. One key weapon in the battery life versus performance war is BatteryBoost which essentially allows a user to set in-game framerate targets and then modules the GPU’s output to hit those targets. As a result efficiency is improved since, in theory, the GPU shouldn’t have to utilize its full amount of horsepower to hit the highest framerates possible.
Now BatteryBoost is receiving a bit of a makeover. Instead of fluctuating performance it should achieve much smoother framerate output while also attaining better battery life. How much better? Well, when combined with the advancements made within the Pascal architecture, according to NVIDIA we can expect 30% longer runtimes with these new GPUs.
With the GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 for notebooks, it looks like NVIDIA is simply attempting to bury their competition under an avalanche of high level launches. Truth be told, it is becoming increasingly obvious that NVIDIA doesn’t even consider AMD much of a competitor anymore and as a result they’re marching to the beat of their own drummer. This launch isn’t a reaction to anything from the Radeon lineup since notebook-destined AMD cards at the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080’s performance level could be more than a year away. Unfortunately this leaves us with something of a monopoly and I don’t doubt for a second pricing of these new notebooks will very much reflect that.
The only potential competition comes in the form of AMD’s RX 480 against the notebook GTX 1060 but judging from Polaris 10’s high TDP values, actually integrating it into some lower-cost, slim and light chassis may prove to be challenging.
Where this leaves us is in an unfortunate situation where NVIDIA has a long running stranglehold on a segment that’s virtually begging for some competition. I also have to wonder how, given the very real challenges of maintaining stock of these cards’ desktop alternatives on retailers’ shelves, there’s any hope of seeing more than a smattering of notebook GTX 1080’s, GTX 1070’s and GTX 1060’s. If suddenly we start seeing widespread availability of Pascal-based notebooks before the inventory situation on the desktop side resolves itself, NVIDIA will need to answer some very challenging questions.
There is a ton to cover in this article but even though every one of these new notebooks GPUs looks enticing, only so much could be done before the veil lifted on this particular launch. As such, the first review unit I got my hands on is featured here: ASUS’ Republic of Gamers G752VS OC Edition. I’m not complaining though since this thing is absolutely awesome and if its performance is any indication, we have a whole lot to look forward to from NVIDIA’s notebook Pascal lineup.
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