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Notebook GPU Battle - GTX 1070 vs. GTX 980M

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: October 8, 2016
Product Name: GTX 1070 Notebook / GTX 980M
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When NVIDIA’s Pascal architecture was first launched I hypothesized that due to its inherent efficiency benefits over previous generations, the typical cadence between notebook and desktop components would be quite short. That statement proved to be prophetic when just over a month ago notebook versions of the GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 were announced. They proved to be near-exact replicas of their desktop brethren and have the capability to offer never before seen gaming performance in the portable space.

Our initial overview of these new GPUs included an ASUS G752VS decked out with a GTX 1070 alongside a list of bells and whistles that would make many larger gaming systems envious. However, that article highlighted one of the shortcomings of reviewing notebook graphics cards: since they are linked to a complete prebuilt “system”, actually achieving any form of consistent competitive analysis is difficult, if not impossible. You see, the wildly varying specifications from one notebook to another introduce a set of variables that we avoid when using the exact same system to benchmark desktop GPUs.


In an effort to overcome these hurdles, we’ve teamed up with Eurocom since they offer a broad range of drop-in GPU upgrade options for many of their notebook lineups. Provided the mounts are the same and the cooling system compatible, this allows customers to bring their slightly older notebooks up to a more current set of expectations for a fraction of the cost of buying a brand new computer. This also grants us the unique opportunity to test some mobile GPUs in a direct head to head comparison on identical systems.

In this case I’m using Eurocom’s 15.6” Tornado F5 chassis which is quite a bit more compact than the ASUS monster and weighs in at 6.5lbs. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in portability and features. Our sample, which rings in at just under $2100USD, includes an i7-6700K, 16GB of memory, a 256GB M.2 SSD and a 1080P 60Hz G-SYNC display even when equipped with a GTX 1070. All told, that’s a pretty good price considering we’ve already seen very similar notebooks run for hundreds more.


While those specs are certainly something to drool over regardless of whether you are a desktop or notebook user, this system is also compatible with a good number of GPUs due to its MXM 3.0 interface. Right now it’s compatible with the GTX 1070, GTX 1060, GTX 980M, GTX 970M along with no fewer than four different Quadro cards for the professional users out there. Essentially the cooling and power systems of this notebook allow for GPUs of up to 120W TDP to be installed.

For the purposed of this article, I’ll be testing two different cards, both of which are quite similar in a number of ways. The GTX 980M was arguably the mobile flagship of NVIDIA’s Maxwell lineup up until they launched the –for the time- beastly desktop / notebook hybrid GTX 980 into the mix. Its TDP of between 100W and 125W (depending upon its configuration) reaches the Tornado F5’s upper range. Meanwhile, from the Pascal lineup I’ve chosen the GTX 1070 which also hits the 125W mark in this configuration so if anything this comparison should truly show how far NVIDIA’s new architecture has come in the performance per watt department.


While there are certainly similarities between these two notebook graphics cards in the TDP department, comparing their on-paper specs is like night and day. It really does highlight what NVIDIA has been able to achieve with their new highly efficient 18nm manufacturing process; whereas core power consumption and temperature output hasn’t changed, substantially more transistors can be jammed into a confined space. The end result is a Pascal architecture that is able to outstrip its predecessors by leaps and bounds.

No better example of this can be found than the disparity between the GTX 1070 notebook and GTX 980M. The newer architecture has more CUDA cores and TMUs, features 8GB of GDDR5 memory operating at 8GHz and also operates at substantially higher Boost and Base speeds. For the record, I don’t expect the performance metrics between these two cards to be close in the least but that just goes to show how far we’ve come in about 20 months.

The generational uplift in performance will likely be eye-opening but one element of notebooks –that being battery life- won’t be impacted by the move to Pascal. While the same amount of performance can now be wrung out of substantially more efficient silicon, due to their very similar power envelopes there likely won’t me any battery life differences between the GTX 1070 and GTX 980M. With that being said, the Pascal lineup currently doesn’t include any GPU that’s analogous to the GTX 980M’s middling performance and if there was a comparable product it would likely sip down between 65W and 75W.

This article actually represents the tip of a very large iceberg since for all intents and purposes the Tornado F5 chassis should also be compatible with AMD’s mobile RX 480 when it’s finally released sometime in the next few months. Once that happens I’m hoping for a true head to head, apples to apples comparison but until then, this highly adaptable laptop will provide a suitable testing ground for this proof-concept article. Ok, enough about all that, let’s get to the meat of this thing!
 
 
 

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