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Nvidia brings desktop GPUs to laptops for 'VR ready' gaming

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Nvidia first tried its hand at putting desktop-class graphics chips inside a notebook last year, with its Maxwell-based GTX 980. That was a hint at what the US-based technology company was really working on, because Nvidia is actually bringing its GTX 1000 series GPUs to notebooks. This isn't an M series, or "for notebooks," it's the GTX 1060, GTX 1070, and GTX 1080 inside laptops.

"This is something that we've wanted to do for years," explains Nvidia program manager Mark Aevermann, in a media briefing on the new GPUs. Nvidia hasn't been able to in the past, but it's now using the company's more efficient Pascal architecture to bring these powerful desktop graphics chips to notebooks. They're nearly identical to their desktop counterparts, with only a slightly slower base clock speed on the GTX 1060 when it's inside a notebook. To prove it, Nvidia demonstrated Gears of War 4 running on a notebook with a GTX 1080 outputting the game at 4K running at 60fps. "These are very powerful... these are very advanced," says Aevermann.

At the top of the line, the GTX 1080 will run 2,560 CUDA cores at 1733Mhz, with 8GB of GDDR5X memory. The GTX 1070 (designed to replace the 980M) will run 2,048 CUDA cores at 1645Mhz with 8GB of GDDR5 memory, and the GTX 1060 (designed to replace the 970M) will run 1,280 CUDA cores at 1670Mhz with 6GB of GDDR5 memory. Nvidia's own benchmarks show impressive reference performance between the notebook and desktop versions of the GTX 1080, GTX 1070, and GTX 1060, with some tests leaving the notebook version of the GTX 1080 performing better. These latest GPUs provide at least 150 percent more performance than the M chips they're replacing.

Nvidia is betting on gaming notebook sales

It's clear Nvidia has invested heavily in notebook gaming here, and the company is surprisingly bullish on the industry's prospects and Pascal's efficient architecture. During a media event for the new Nvidia processors, Aevermann revealed that gaming notebooks have a 20 million install base, compared to 52 million for PlayStation 4 and 29 million for Xbox One. Nvidia expects gaming notebook sales to increase by 30 percent this year while console sales growth stalls, and its new GTX 1000 series will clearly help boost some of those notebook sales later this year.

Nvidia VR ready laptops

Nvidia's Pascal architecture is known for its impressive power and performance efficiency on the desktop, and that translates over to the notebook world, too. Gamers should get around 30 percent more battery life with these new GPUs, and Nvidia has tweaked its battery boost technology to improve frame variance when you're gaming without AC.

"VR ready" is the big promise

Nvidia's biggest promise with these new GPUs is that they're "VR ready." That's certainly an easy promise to make at the high-end with the GTX 1080, but once you get down to the GTX 1060 things start to get a little more murky. At Nvidia's event I got a chance to try out HTC's Vive with the GTX 1060 running on a laptop, and Nvidia was demonstrating its GTX 1060 VR experience with a rather basic boxing game. At the higher end, the games were a lot more graphically intensive, so the VR ready promise will obviously vary based on the title you want to play on a GTX 1060. Nvidia's VR ready promise is also strictly limited to AC power, since the company can't guarantee it on battery alone.

Either way, this is still an impressive step for Nvidia and notebooks in general. We've been waiting years for mobile to really start catching up, and the Pascal architecture is a big leap forward. Every major OEM and system builder will offer a Pascal-based notebook, including Lenovo, EVGA, Alienware, Asus, MSI, HP, Acer, Razer, and more. What Pascal doesn't mean is the end to giant gaming laptops, but it's certainly bringing a lot more power into a reasonable form factor. Nvidia expects OEMs to create GTX 1060 notebooks that are as thin as 18mm and as light as 4 pounds. That's the perfect form factor for something like a new 15-inch MacBook Pro, but Nvidia didn't drop any hints about Apple or even Microsoft opting for its new chips.

OEMs will also be able to ship notebooks with 120Hz displays thanks to these GTX 1000 series GPUs, and factory overclocking (around 10 percent) will be available immediately on the GTX 1080 and within a couple of months on the GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 models. Laptop makers will also be able to create insane SLI notebooks, with watercooling and in all shapes and sizes. Gaming notebooks with the GTX 1080, GTX 1070, and GTX 1060 will be available today from a variety of OEMs, and expect to see many more updated models in the coming months as notebook makers prepare for the holiday season.