Nvidia unveils notebooks with desktop GTX 980 GPUs

September 22, 2015 | 13:58

Tags: #gameworks-vr #gaming-notebook #gtx-980 #maxwell #overclocking

Companies: #aorus #asus #msi #nvidia

Nvidia is today taking the wraps off of a new class of notebooks. It's calling them enthusiast notebooks, and it considers them to be above and beyond a gaming notebook. The primary reason for this is that they will feature GTX 980 GPUs.

In case you're wondering, that's not a typo. It was just over a year ago when the GTX 980 launched, and now Nvidia is taking that same GPU and finding a home for it notebook form factors – it has the exact number of cores and exactly the same clock speeds as the desktop card.

In case you need a reminder, a stock GX 980 has a base clock of 1,126MHz (1,216MHz boost). The base clock is the guaranteed minimum speed at which the GPU will run, but Nvidia has said to expect boosting on par with a desktop model. The 7Gbps GDDR5 speed is also maintained, and this is a first for notebooks – the GTX 980M's memory runs at 5Gbps. Speaking of the GTX 980M, these enthusiast notebooks are said to offer around 35 percent more performance than the flagship mobile part. Naturally, they are designed as desktop replacements but can still operate off of the mains. Nvidia's Battery Boost technology will kick in as usual in such cases and users can then expect GTX 980M levels of performance. Lastly, the reference design sports 4GB of GDDR5 but up to 8GB is supported.

Nvidia unveils notebooks with desktop GTX 980 GPUs
Click to enlarge

Reaching these guaranteed clocks in an environment as thermally constrained as a notebook is tough – the GTX 980 is a 165W part, after all. Nonetheless, to help make it possible, Nvidia has been binning GTX 980s and is using specifically selected ones for notebook use. The exact binning process has not been detailed but Nvidia is keen to emphasise that they're not massively different to standard desktop ones. The likelihood is that the selected parts just offer above average thermal characteristics.

Nvidia unveils notebooks with desktop GTX 980 GPUs
Click to enlarge

Of course, the main burden of keeping everything running and cool rests on the shoulders of Nvidia's OEM partners. It requires a significant increase in power and cooling compared to what's gone before. The new laptops will implement anywhere between four and eight power phases (GTX 980M uses two or three) depending on the OEM, providing higher levels of power and cleaner power too. The new notebooks will also offer up to 50 percent higher peak current. As for cooling, there aren't yet details on the various partners' cooling solutions, but it will be interesting to see the new designs.

As if sticking a once flagship desktop part into a notebook wasn't enough, Nvidia is upping the ante further by enabling overclocking of both the core and memory of the GPU. Further, the mobile CPU parts will also be overclockable through the BIOS. This is another key feature Nvidia is using to distinguish enthusiast class notebooks from gaming ones.

Nvidia unveils notebooks with desktop GTX 980 GPUs
Click to enlarge

Each OEM will develop a notebook-specific GPU overclocking tool with core and memory clock sliders, although at present the power limit, temperature limit and voltages will not be user accessible or modifiable. The reason being that, unlike when you buy a discrete graphics card, with a notebook the OEMs are responsible for keeping the entire system running safely, not just that one part, and tweaking these settings in a notebook can place added stress on the various other components since the cooling solution is designed holistically. For OEMs, this equates to liability, returns and lost revenue. Nvidia says it's working hard to get its OEMs to relinquish control of these settings, but for now users will only be able to control fan speeds to a certain degree. OEMs will set a baseline fan curve, with users then able to increase (not decrease) cooling power by up to 2x via offset controls.

Nvidia unveils notebooks with desktop GTX 980 GPUs
Click to enlarge

Emphasising the GTX 980's power, Nvidia highlights that the new notebooks will be capable of driving an Nvidia Surround set-up of three 1080p panels at ultra settings. More notably, the GPU makes these the world's first notebooks suitable for virtual reality; Oculus, for example, has pre-qualified the GTX 980 as a VR GPU. Furthermore, all of Nvidia's Gameworks VR technology will be available on the mobile platform.

Nvidia unveils notebooks with desktop GTX 980 GPUs
Click to enlarge

Aorus, Clevo, MSI and Asus are the OEMs you can expect to see GTX 980 notebooks from, with models starting to become available early next month. Most of the models will feature 17in 1080p panels (17in 4K panels are due next year too) and all of them will feature G-Sync. There is even a water-cooled model coming from Asus sometime in November - this is the previously announced GX700. At the time, it was said to be using a "GTX 990M", which now appears to have just been code for a GTX 980. There's also a monstrous SLI notebook courtesy of MSI. There is as yet no word on pricing or other specifications.
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