RTX Mobile – Buyer Beware


This Is Not The Performance You Were Looking For

I am what you might consider a connoisseur of powerful laptops. Living a life for the last decade plus of constant travel, being able to take a mobile workstation class laptop around with you has its benefits. I've owned just about every brand and all manners of performance targets. So, as you might have guessed, I was pretty excited for the release of the RTX mobility lineup. I have to say that I am very disappointed.

Lets give a little backstory as to why that is. Over two years ago now, Nvidia released the GTX 10 series mobile laptops. These were 0 compromise laptops that held desktop performance (within 5% in most cases) at the same tier. A mobile 1080 acted like a desktop 1080, same for the 1070 and 1060. Heck, Nvidia even did us mobile guys a solid and gave the 1070 mobile more cores to keep the performance on the same level. They really outdid themselves with the 10 series mobile in my opinion. They were so good that I have owned four different models (for no real good reason at all).

The Specs

So what changed? As you might have guessed from the heading, the specs. A quick glance will leave you confused though. They have the same cores in them, the same memory configuration, how could the specs be different? It starts with clock speeds. In the picture posted below, you will notice the clock speeds are drastically reduced compared to the desktop cards, and even compared to last gens 10 series laptops.

Though this isn't made very clear, as Nvidia is giving you a 'spread' of clock speeds and telling you to pretty much figure it out on your own. Take for instance the RTX 2080. It simply stats 1095-1590 for the boost speed. The difference in this is because of 'Max-Q'. The problem is, there is a spread. Its not simply 1095mhz is max q, and you get 1590mhz for regular. No, That is the lower and upper bounds, what you buy will be somewhere between that (given, these are boost speeds from Nvidia, so expect them to go higher).

The only one without a spread on clock speeds is the 2060. This one baffles me. This GPU is the least power hungry of the chips (but still a power hog being based on the same GPU as the 2070) but it comes in with a massive reduction in clock speeds, which will really hamper its performance. With 2060 laptops being priced at the same point as the 1070 laptops, its going to be very interesting to see how they stack up against each other as it has less cores (FP32) and much lower clock speeds.

The next problem is the memory speeds. Notice in the snippet above, it says 'Up to 14Gbps'. This is another troubling factor. Laptop OEMs are not necessarily known for publishing exact profiles for their GPUs. I know, I just spent 5 hours or so digging trying to find the right one. On most, if not all, of the product pages I looked at from retailers did I get the exact clock speeds for the GPU. Most of the time it simply said RTX 20xx, and in some cases, it said 'Max - Q'. Here are a few examples. I picked the 2080 simply cause it was the most obscure of the bunch.

Asus ROG G703GX - link 1 (newegg) , link 2 (asus product page)

Asus ROG Zephyrus - link 1 (newegg) , link 2 (asus product page) - This one at least says its Max-Q

There are many many more examples of this. On the Zephyrus you can actually find the 'boost' speed of the 2080 if you look hard enough, but its not on the tech spec page, nor the newegg page.

Hardware Configurations

Outside of confusing GPU specs, on the surface these laptops look like real powerhouses when it comes to performance. Well, you might wanna stop and look a little closer. Having bought a few AMD APU based laptops, I have become accustom to checking to see if a laptop comes in dual channel configuration. To my absolute horror (this was the biggest shocker to me), MOST of the RTX laptops are coming in single channel configuration. Not just one or two, MOST. There are even $3000+ laptops on sale that are coming with 8 or 16GB Single channel setups.

This isn't a new practice really. Its a cost saving one, one normally reserved for lower end hardware. Getting a laptop with an i5 8300H, with a 1050ti and single channel at sub $1000 is kinda normal. These aren't low end laptops though. These are $1600+ laptops with high end GPUs in them. Why are they doing this? Cost saving. Thes are trimmed down specs to save money on what I am assuming is a lower margin product than what they are used to. How they plan on getting away with it, is uninformed customers that simply see a number. I assumed at first these were dual channel because they were 16GB, I was very wrong.

Going back to the 10 series laptops, when buying $1500 laptops, you got dual channel memory by default. Every one of the laptops I bought (even my gtx 1050 laptop) had dual channel memory. Now, at the same price points (though lower tier GPUs) you are getting reduced performance. A $1500 laptop from last year just might be faster than your new shiny $1600 laptop with how this is going.

Conclussion - Gsync

One last little note before we go on to the conclusion. G-Sync is mostly missing from these new laptops. Don't think because your laptop has a 144hz panel it has G-Sync. It most likely doesn't. For some reason they moved past having G-Sync on higher end laptops and now its reserved for few models and mostly at the very upper end. Again, most laptops I looked at didn't have G-Sync panels in them (even the one I ended up purchasing).

I imagine that after if you read this far, you can guess my opinion on the new RTX series laptops. The overall impression I am getting from this launch is, you're getting less for more money. A lower tier GPU at the same to higher price point, less features / performance at the same price point (no Gsync, single channel memory), and all of this for what is essentially just the RTX branding. Even if we pretend that RTX is a thing (and it isn't, we have one broken game with it currently), these laptops wont have the performance to really drive them.

As for performance, I don't have mine in hand yet to test yet (wont be here until mid February). My assumption on this is at the same price point as the 10 series, you'll end up getting the same to slightly more performance on the GPU side, but less features or CPU performance. We are essentially paying more for less with the RTX mobility laptops. This is my educated guess at this point, with the only review (and not very thorough) being from PC World (link here). I agree with some of their points but I think they missed some very vital ones (like hardware configurations) that customers need to know about. We do agree on the point that GTX 10 series laptops are just as fast and much cheaper.

All this said, I suggest you wait for serious reviews to come out. I will have mine mid February and I'm sure more and more reviews will be popping up as reviewers get models seeded out to them. Given Nvidias aggressive marketing, I advise caution as I imagine these will be presented in the best light possible to cover up the absolute flounder that they are due to reduced features.

Until next time guys, PC Better.