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Nvidia may scrap its high-end mobile GPUs, bring full-size GTX 1080, 1070 to laptops

For decades, companies like AMD and Nvidia have created two sets of products for the desktop and laptop markets. While the relative performance of laptop GPUs compared to desktop cards has varied, both companies have generally recognized the need to build lower-power cards to fit into laptop chassis. Nvidia is reportedly breaking this trend with its GTX 1080 and 1070, which may come to laptops in essentially unchanged form.

This rumor is courtesy of PC Gamer, which cites insider contacts at Computex 2016 for spilling the beans on Nvidia’s plans. PCG reports that Nvidia will bring the full-fat versions of both the 1080 and 1070 to mobile systems, with clock speed tweaks to ensure the GPUs don’t draw more power than the laptop can handle. Nvidia launched a full version of the GTX 980 for laptop configurations last September, but kept the rest of the GTX 9xxM family intact. Now the company is supposedly dumping the “M” label with no plans to revive it.

We’re genuinely uncertain as to whether this is a good idea. On the one hand, it means high-end boutique laptops will be able to advertise their systems as sporting desktop hardware in mobile form factors without worrying that a customer who buys a system will be angry once he realizes that a GTX 980M and a GTX 980 are two entirely different GPUs. It also simplifies Nvidia’s product lines and reduces cost, since the company doesn’t have to build a separate set of mobile chips.

But boutique manufacturers typically aren’t the best stewards of the end-user experience. A company that builds a 15-inch or 17-inch laptop that’s carefully optimized with hardware to ensure heat dissipation is adequate and no throttling occurs is a boutique builder that will be decisively out-advertised by its competitors, most of whom offer laptops with higher specs. That these systems tend to throttle after a few minutes of gaming is of little interest to the marketing and sales teams, who just want to be able to advertise the fastest hardware on the market, whether it makes sense to pack it into a chassis or not. All laptops throttle under some conditions or workloads, but some throttle much more than others — and the ones with the worst throttling problems tend to be the systems that are stuffed with ultra-high-end hardware. One reason I was so taken with the Asus G751JY-DB72, which we reviewed last year, is because the system is well-balanced between high-end performance and very solid cooling.

According to Nvidia’s literature, the GTX 1080 and 1070 have a rated TDP of 180W and 150W respectively. While NV didn’t give exact figures for the GTX 9xxM’s TDP, the typical target for high-end GPUs is 75-100W. Pulling the GTX 1080 and 1070 into this TDP range could require a substantial clock speed sacrifice, and might therefore raise eyebrows from gamers who think they bought a desktop-class GPU and only realized later that thermal limits prevent it from reaching its true potential.

If the boutique laptop builders design their chassis and cooling carefully, this could be a great step forward for gamers and an improvement for the whole industry, which often sells consumers performance they can’t practically use before their system hits thermal trip point. And who knows? Maybe the yields are strong enough on the 1080/1070 that Nvidia can hit most of its TDP targets by binning the mobile GPUs according to power consumption and slowing the chip only modestly to hit the necessary TDP target. As we discussed in our Radeon Nano review, the amount of power required to hit maximum frequency increases at a greater than linear rate as you approach the limit of a GPU’s headroom.

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