At CES 2021, Nvidia launched its GeForce RTX 3000 series GPUs for laptops. These are, of course, spearheaded by the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 – a graphics card that’s become the poster child for 4K PC gaming in 2020. and instead went all-in on FHD and QHD panels with higher refresh rates.
And it’s about damn time.
Who actually needs a 4K screen?
If we are talking about a laptop screen of, for example, 15 or even 17 inches, a 4K resolution is not necessary at all. We spend hours looking at laptop screens of all sizes and resolutions, and there are only a few devices that we have ever been able to look at and say “this is a 4K screen” when it is not a full-size monitor.
For example, if you’re looking at a 27-inch 4K Gaming Monitor you’re looking at a pixel density of 163 PPI, and that’s basically considered the gold standard. Then if you’re looking at a 15-inch laptop, but cut the screen resolution down to 2K, or 2560 x 1440, it’s actually Lake pixel denser than the 27-inch 4K screen, with 195.81 PPI. So essentially you have a more pixel-dense screen on the laptop, without needing the extra horsepower that a 4K display requires.
In addition, in recent years, as laptop manufacturers realized that many creative professionals were buying gaming laptops to work on, new options have emerged. This is pretty much why Gigabyte, for example, edged its Aero line of laptops to focus more on creatives who want to game during their downtime, rather than going all-in on gaming. It’s no wonder the Gigabyte Aorus 17G is primarily a 1080p laptop with a high refresh rate, while the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED has a luscious 4K OLED panel.
This split in the gaming laptop market between gaming devices and creative devices – even if the latter have much the same internal hardware – results in products that make more sense for their respective audiences, and no one has to pay for features they don’t need.
So it looks like the 4K gaming laptop is disappearing from the market, which is excellent news. Not only does a 120Hz display make more sense for a game-only device, but the level of hardware needed to make 4K gaming a universally positive experience just isn’t there yet.
There is an RTX 3080 now, but only a little
When we reviewed the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, we found that it was more than capable of handling just about any game under the sun at 4K with minimal hassle. And now that you can buy a gaming laptop with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, you might think you can just run a game at 4K and crank up the settings at high frame rates.
There are certainly some games that you can do that without any hassle, but keep in mind that desktop and mobile graphics aren’t exactly the same. Nvidia doesn’t have the full specifications listed on its website, however Anandtech has a handy table that we can refer to until we get one of these laptops to test.
According to Anandtech’s specifications, the mobile RTX 3080 has 6,144 CUDA cores, with a boost clock between 1,245 and 1,710 MHz (configurable by laptop manufacturers). In comparison, the desktop-class RTX 3080 has 8704 CUDA cores with a 1.71 GHz boost clock.
That’s a pretty big difference, and it means the mobile-class RTX 3080 is unlikely to be the 4K powerhouse its desktop sibling is. Now there is a good reason that the mobile version of the graphics card is so limited to the desktop version. It just doesn’t make sense to put such a power-hungry graphics card in a mobile form. Not only would the battery life be absolutely dire, but you should also have the laptop so thick it would look like it came straight from 2004.
Since the mobile-class RTX 3080 is closer to a desktop-class RTX 3070 in specs, it makes sense that even Nvidia sets it up as a 1440p GPU. There were many last-generation gaming laptops trying to market 4K versions of their laptops, but it only resulted in people having to manually lower their resolution in-game to get a playable frame rate.
That’s certainly just part of PC gaming, but it’s still not a great experience, especially for someone new to the platform who just wants a functioning product. All of the gaming laptops announced at CES 2021 have super-fast refresh rates, which can be just as difficult to take full advantage of as a 4K display. However, getting 60fps on a 1080p 360Hz screen is a much less awful experience than getting 20fps on a 4K screen.
So we say come on with the faster laptop screens.