Is it a good time to purchase your next gaming laptop? At this point, September 2018, it’s hard to recommend buying gaming laptops (more so than regular laptops) and even professional laptops with dedicated GPUs, unless you are going to need it only for a short time.
The reason is that the next generation of GPUs is upon us and it’s merely a small refresh, but a significant improvement which comes after around two years. The new Nvidia Turing architecure will replace the 2 years old and successful Pascal and it brings with it some good improvements. I won’t get deep into this, but in short: (a) as expected, much better power efficiency which is critical for gaming laptop. If not for the battery running times, then for the lower heat and the ability to squeeze a little more power in the TDP and heat limited environment. (b) new tensor functionality. The new RTX NV GPUs come with new processing units alongside the ‘regular” 3D ones. This feature is for developers and will take time to be implemented and felt in actual games (some games have announced upcoming support), which allows for (c) DLSS. This functionality already prepared to be used for DLSS Anti-Aliasing which should be more efficient then current AA methods (if not better looking) and allow higher performance. (d) “Real Time” ray tracing, which should allow for much better or/and faster lighting projection in games and 3D software, making them more realistic on the fly.
As for performance, the already released Nvidia RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti were benchmarked and reviewed (1, 2). The RTX 2080 show anything between 15 to 50% performance advantage when considering GTX 1080 vs the RTX 2080, but performance in future games should be higher when the full feature-set of the RTX GPUs will be utilized (again, DLSS) and game also might look better. Although the cost effectiveness of the RTXs might not even be as good as the old GTX for current game tech for current pricing, I think that in the gaming laptops scene manufacturers will have to improve.
Saying that, considering the specs and performance differences of the GTX vs RTX, we might see good, but not amazing performance jump. The RTX 2080 draws significantly more power compared to the GTX 1080 and even the 1080 Ti under load (even though being more energy efficient when considering all) which means that would be probably the case for laptop GPUs. My guess is that the GPUs we’ll see won’t be as powerful for AI/ML/ray tracing as those full blown RTX GPUs in the $1000 gaming laptops section or we’ll simply have to live with not-that-great performance improvements for games that won’t utilize DLSS. However, for games that will use the new features smartly, performance gains could be as big as with the move from Maxwell I/II to Pascal – easily 50-80% for the same TDP and price range ($1000 GTX 970M vs GTX 1060, for example). So, there is a reason to wait.
AMD should release their Vega based GPUs refresh based on 7nm manufacturing process. The 14nm version is currently not as competitive as Pascal GPUs for laptops, requiring more power to operate fully and thus the performance is more limited for the same TDP, especially in the low and mid range gaming laptops (under $1000). It remains to be seen what AMD could bring to the table with the (quite impressive) 7nm refresh and what else will be improved with it. Since this is a big jump, it could make some of its GPUs more competitive in the laptops scene.
So, I think it’s worth waiting for the new laptop Nvidia GPUs to see what the actual performance in modern 3D heavy games will be. With the right games, you might get 50-80% easily, for the same price. That’s worth it.