The laptop GPU vs desktop GPU debate is one that has been raging for many years now. This article will break down the pros and cons of each type of system, as well as provide some advice on which might be best for you.
- laptop gpu vs desktop gpu: differences
- How much more performance do you really get?
- Is there any point in buying a laptop with a dedicated GPU?
- What is a GPU?
- Why would you want to use a desktop GPU instead of a laptop one?
- pros and cons of using a laptop vs desktop GPU
laptop gpu vs desktop gpu: differences
As you might expect, there are quite a few factors that separate laptop graphics cards from their desktop counterparts. While all of these factors won’t apply to everyone, here is an overview of what separates the two:
Size and power consumption
This is one of the biggest factors in choosing which GPU to get. Laptops never have the raw power of a desktop PC, and this is because of the strict size restrictions that they have to work within. This means that if you want a top of the line GPU in your laptop, chances are it will be under-clocked so as to fit inside your system without overheating or running at too high a voltage. The amount the GPU is under-clocked will depend on the laptop you buy. In general, laptops with smaller frames (13″ screens and under) have less room for a GPU and as such they may be more likely to use lower clock speeds.
The second big factor in choosing between a laptop GPU and a desktop one is heat output. Laptops are restricted by their size which means they can’t allow any hot air escape from within the case(thereby limiting clock speeds). This means that if a laptop GPU did run at full speed, it would cause your system to overheat very quickly. Some desktop GPUs have this problem too, but in general they are larger and have more vents or other ways to get rid of the excess heat. Desktop GPUs also have the luxury of space to have better cooling systems inside them allowing for higher clock speeds without overheating.
The third big factor is price. Laptop GPUs will always be more expensive than their desktop counterparts because of their smaller size which will cause manufacturers to pay more for components (smaller silicon dies cost more). This isn’t always the case though; some desktop GPUs can end up costing just as much if their is limited due to low demand.
Availability is another important factor. Desktop cards are easier to get hold of as there is a very large market for them, whereas laptop GPUs can be pretty rare depending on which one you want. In the past this has meant having to wait months sometimes after a new GPU is released before it becomes available in laptops. This isn’t always the case though and with the recent trend of using desktop components in laptops there is a decent selection of laptops that have desktop class graphics cards instead of laptop ones.
This is one area where laptop GPUs do excel over their desktop counterparts, but not all manufacturers allow for customisation with their systems so your mileage may vary here. Nvidia’s latest mobile GPUs (the 800M series) are all based on the latest desktop architecture meaning that laptop manufacturers can choose which specific parts they want to use in their laptops. This means you can have a very powerful desktop GPU but without the gimped power usage of it being inside a laptop case.
Here is where things get tricky, not only does everything mentioned above affect performance, but different games are optimized for different architectures so what will run better will vary from game to game depending on whether it was designed for desktops or laptops. Generally though laptop GPUs trade blows with their desktop counterparts in terms of raw performance, mainly because they both have to abide by strict size and power requirements. Anandtechs recent review of an Nvidia GTX 980m shows that it competes well with its desktop counterpart. This isn’t always the case though and laptops do have the ability to lower clock speeds due to their power requirements making it possible for them to lag behind.
How much more performance do you really get?
As I’ve said before laptop GPUs are almost always under-clocked versions of their desktop counterparts; this can provide anywhere from 5% – 50% less performance than it’s desktop counterpart depending on which specific GPU you choose. To show how big a difference this actually makes, Anand did some extensive benchmarks comparing an Nvidia GTX 980 to its laptop counterpart. I’ve included the link below for reference, but in summary he found that the 980M performed around 50% less than the desktop version consistently over many games. This means you are getting half of your games performance if you have a 980m compared to having a 980 at the same clock speed.
Is there any point in buying a laptop with a dedicated GPU?
If you are looking purely for gaming performance then no, they aren’t worth it… But laptops with good GPUs start at around $1500 with only 10-20% more performance when compared to their price equivalent when put side by side (I’m not talking about one super high end model like an alienware or something, just average models that are aimed at gamers). You are better off putting that money towards a decent desktop with something like an i5 and overclocking the crap out of it.
What is a GPU?
A graphics processing unit (GPU) is a specialized electronic circuit designed to rapidly manipulate and alter memory to accelerate the creation of images in a frame buffer intended for output to a display. Modern GPUs are very efficient at manipulating computer graphics and their highly parallel structure makes them more effective than general-purpose CPUs for algorithms where processing of large blocks of data is done in parallel.
Why would you want to use a desktop GPU instead of a laptop one?
If you want raw unadulterated performance, then a desktop GPU is the way to go. Laptop GPUs trade blows with their Desktop counterparts in terms of performance and both abide by strict size and power requirements making it almost impossible for them to perform as well as their desktop counterparts.
Another thing to keep in mind is that laptops are more portable than desktops but if you need to move your laptop around often using a separate graphics card will make this much easier. If all things are equal though there is no point in buying a desktop GPU… But they aren’t always equal so depending on what you do might change my opinion on having one or not. I’m mainly talking about gaming here since pretty much everything else uses the integrated graphics card.
pros and cons of using a laptop vs desktop GPU
+Easier to upgrade (if your laptop allows it)
-Lower performance than desktop equivalent
-Can’t be used when the laptop is plugged in so you need a second GPU if you don’t want to drain your battery.
Laptops are getting better at including high end GPUs in their systems meaning that there is less of a reason to buy a full desktop system, especially when you take into account weight, size, heat output and price. There are lots of reasons why you would want either laptop or desktop graphics card though depending on your needs so it is really down to preference! What GPU do you prefer? Do you prefer things inside your computer being powerful but small or massive yet weaker? Let us know below!