GeForce RTX 4090 Laptop vs. Desktop: How Much of a Performance Difference Is Nvidia's Best GPU? (2023)

Built on the "Ada Lovelace" architecture, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 40 series GPUs excel at both (and, at the higher end, expensive)working surfaceilaptopThe top of the range, GeForce RTX 4090, delivers superior graphics frame rates and is more efficient in advanced lighting with ray tracing and DLSS for image sharpening than anything before. You can read oursGeForce RTX 4090 notebook test analysisand oursNVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090Desktop graphics cards test the environment with other GPUs in their areas.

They have a name, but are they really the same thing? how closeAndThe desktop and laptop versions of the RTX 4090 GPU are interconvertible, right? The gap between Nvidia's namesake mainstream GPUs and mobile GPUs has changed over the years, but in almost every generation, it's safe to say that desktop graphics cards have always had a clear edge. They are larger, they are actively cooled, they fit in the case of a desktop computer, they have much more thermal space than the case of a laptop computer and they work at higher power. GPU performance and laptop cooling have come a long way, but ultimately you can't defy thermodynamics.

GeForce RTX 4090 Laptop vs. Desktop: How Much of a Performance Difference Is Nvidia's Best GPU? (1)

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 Founders Edition graphics card (image credit: Michael Justin Allen Sexton)

These obvious fundamental differences don't change the fact that both are based on the same architecture and are sold under the name RTX 4090. It's easy for users to make assumptions about how performance will transfer between form factors or, for the less tech-savvy, to simply ignore the above factors and make assumptions based on names alone.

We usually don't compare our laptop and desktop exactly the same, or compare them against each other on a chart - after all, customers often want to buy a new laptop or upgrade their desktop, rather than choosing between the two.

GeForce RTX 4090 Laptop vs. Desktop: How Much of a Performance Difference Is Nvidia's Best GPU? (2)

2023 MSI Titan GT77 s RTX 4090 GPU-om (autor slike: Joseph Maldonado)

To prove how different two GPUs with the same name will be in 2023, we used a GeForce RTX 4090 Founders Edition GPU together with a GeForce RTX 4090 laptop as disconnected as possible (in a strongMSI Titan GT77) through the same benchmark and compare the results. Let's prepare, look at the differences in their techniques, and then explore the results.

What's in a name? GeForce RTX 4090 review

I mentioned it above, but the most obvious difference is the size. Desktop GPUs, especially high-end models like the RTX 4090, are pretty big physical objects before we look at the technology inside. While desktop chips sit on big, thick cards that today can be a foot or more, mobile GPUs are thin chips that must fit inside a laptop case like a CPU. The RTX 4090 Founders Edition, for example, is 12 inches long and is considered a triple-width GPU — tougher hardware than any laptopanythingIncluded with.

GeForce RTX 4090 Laptop vs. Desktop: How Much of a Performance Difference Is Nvidia's Best GPU? (3)

Representative model of Nvidia laptop GPU (Image: Nvidia)

In this particular case, another important difference emerges: despite the same name, the mobile RTX 4090 actually runs on the same AD103 chip as the desktop RTX 4080 graphics card,YesRTX 4090. Mobile and desktop GPUs share the RTX 4090 brand as the top model in their stacks, but they don't use the same chip. This has a measurable impact on performance. This means that the RTX 4090 laptop has more in common with desktops in terms of hard specsNVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080GPU from the graphic card of the same name.

Here are the big differences in the table below. For desktop graphics cards, these specs are for the RTX 4090 Founders Edition. For the mobile RTX 4090, I used an MSI Titan GT77 as a test laptop. Specs for this GPU on other laptops may vary depending on power, which I'll touch on below.

The big variable here is "motherboard power" as it relates to portable implementations of Nvidia GPUs. Notebook manufacturers can configure mobile versions of the RTX 4090 in seriesfield of applicationPower delivery, depending on the laptop and its thermal limitations. On the desktop, a similar problem concerns individual graphics card manufacturers. Nvidia produces Founders Edition (FE) graphics cards as a "reference" or stock version of the card. Partner manufacturers -- Asus, Gigabyte and MSI, among others -- can take these reference designs and build their own versions of the card based on Nvidia's silicon, often with more fans, higher clock speeds, a more durable and bulkier cooler, or some combination of these. Different cards have different power, performance and price requirements; we only consider Founders Edition cards as a safe base.

The difference is usually greater on the laptop side. You don't need to buy a physical or discrete graphics card because the GPU is always part of the laptop. But laptop manufacturers can implement chips with different thermal limits and power consumption levels. These are largely related to the size and cooling capabilities of the laptop case, so manufacturers offer the same GPU with different watts in different laptops. In other words, an RTX 4090 laptop chip in one laptop doesn't necessarily have the same application as an RTX 4090 chip in another laptop; no connection between laptop and desktop!

Asus, for example, decided to independently develop the RTX 4080ROG Strix Scar 18The laptop is rated at 150W (up to 175W including boost), but another laptop manufacturer might limit it to 125W, limiting its power limit. Nvidia lists the RTX 4090 laptop chip's unamplified power range from 80W to 150W. You'll see this kind of variation in laptop GPUs all the time, so it's important to follow the tests firsthand; The GPU name alone does not indicate exact performance expectations.

GeForce RTX 4090 Test: Desktop vs Laptop RTX 4090

As mentioned, I'll be using the Founders Edition card as my base RTX 4090 desktop, along with the RTX 4090 built into the MSI Titan GT77. Desktop GPUs are tested on stock graphics card testbedsIntel Core i9-12900KCorsair Hydro Series H100X 240 mm liquid-cooled processorASUS ROG Maximus Z690 HeroMotherboard.

The Titan GT77 review unit I tested drove the RTX 4090 at 150W (up to 175W when boosted),CPU Intel Core i9-13980HXand 64 GB of RAM. (Yes, the CPU in the GPU testbed is a generation behind the laptop, as this version of the test was standard when the RTX 4090 was tested and is still the version we use to test desktop GPUs. The impact of any CPU limitation on you should be limited in this case.) The Titan GT77 isn't the best of the RTX 4090 for mobile - there are some bigger 18-inch systems out there and they could bump the framerate even more. But this is generally a representative high-end laptop that offers as much graphics power as possible.

GeForce RTX 4090 Laptop vs. Desktop: How Much of a Performance Difference Is Nvidia's Best GPU? (4)

(Photo: Joseph Maldonado)

We have a lot more to say about the GeForce RTX 4090 Founders Edition and the Lovelace architecture, so I encourage you to read the details instead of repeating them herein that commentIf you want to know more.

However, the exact performance gap between the notebook and desktop variants of the "same" GPU will always be different in each generation of Nvidia's platform. In particular, the introduction of the RTX series, with its advanced ray-tracing lighting technology, has created a new world of potential power requirements, with desktops having much more potential than laptops. This makes them harder to compare, even though laptop GPUs were already close in performance before this. (At the time of the GeForce GTX 10 series, GPUs like the desktop GeForce GTX 1080 and its mobile counterpart, the GTX 1080, were actually very close in performance.)

Now, let's move on to the reference package. For these results, I've also included benchmarks from the GeForce RTX 4080 Founders Edition desktop graphics card. Additionally, if the mobile GeForce RTX 4090 is based on the same chip as the desktop RTX 4080, it's just as interesting to see how the two perform. It's important to see how the RTX 4090 name translates, but the chip shared between the RTX 4080 desktop chip and the RTX 4090 laptop chip will shed light on what's lost in the different form factors.

High resolution and DLSS testing

Much of the strength of the RTX 40 series lies in its DLSS efficiency, which could theoretically dramatically increase frames per second where high resolutions are required. Most GPUs show this, and the results here demonstrate that fact. Here are the multi-resolution results for two modern DLSS-equipped games at maximum settings with DLSS disabled and enabled.

Those games behave differently and are affected differently by DLSS, but you can still see the pattern in those games and GPUs. Unsurprisingly, on average they generally rank as you'd expect -- the desktop RTX 4090 is the fastest, followed by the RTX 4080 and finally the mobile RTX 4090 -- but the degree of variation is interesting.

One exception is the F1 22 with DLSS disabled - the mobile RTX 4090 was faster than the desktop RTX 4080 in all three resolutions tested. However, it couldn't come close to its desktop counterpart above 1080p, lagging behind at 32 frames per second (fps) at 1440p and 17fps at 4K. Enabling DLSS further worsened the situation - the mobile RTX 4090 posted 98fps at 4K and the desktop version 147fps.

In 4K, 98fps is respectable and playable, but still a pretty big difference. The desktop RTX 4080 is somewhere in between at 4K, but the laptop RTX 4090 is actually better at 1440p. This will vary depending on the game. However, in this title the mobile RTX 4090 is much better than the desktop RTX 4080, but well behind its desktop brother.

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The caveat about game-to-game differences is important because you can see the reverse right away in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. The mobile version of the RTX 4090 can't even match the RTX 4080, which is dozens of frames less than the desktop RTX 4090. Again, DLSS makes these games smooth at this GPU's max settings, and these framerates will probably sound good to most mainstream gamers . But for high-end enthusiasts, the RTX 4090's performance in this game isn't quite what you'd expect from a desktop PC with the name "RTX 4090".

AAA playtest

This is a collection of titles that, while not all extremely new, represent a good mix of genres and graphical fidelity in the modern market. We tested them at three different resolutions, all at the maximum setting.

DLSS efficiency may be one of the main features of the RTX 40 series, but if it is removed, you can better see the raw performance here: The RTX 4090 desktop card ismany ofMore powerful than a mobile terminal. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most visually demanding game here, and the difference is especially visible in 4K resolution.

The desktop RTX 4090 is also significantly more powerful than the RTX 4080, but the lack of a mobile RTX 4090 makes it look like a more backwards-facing GPU. In fact, that's what mobile GPUs are really forAndIn terms of performance. These figures show that the name RTX 4090 does not guarantee a certain level of power wherever it appears.

In some cases in these gaming tests, the mobile RTX 4090 was relatively close to the desktop graphics card, but overall, the frame rate was in a completely different class. In some of those games, the difference was as much as 83 fps at 4K, and in some cases as much as 67 fps at 1440p. Not all games have such big changes, but the general picture remains the same. The performance increase isn't as big as the RTX 4080, but the inherent advantage of a desktop card is still there.

To highlight the difference in raw power, I also ran the RTX 4090 Mobile through Futuremark's 3DMark Time Spy Extreme synthetic test...

It scored 10,622 points, compared to the RTX 4090 FE's 19,264 points and the RTX 4080 FE's 17,672 points. There is no competition there.

Bottom line: Power is in the name, but don't mistake an RTX 4090 laptop for a desktop card

Ultimately, this is the reality of these results. Regardless of the GPU name, mobile GPUs are always short on power and heat, and the performance differences you see here are not surprising given the differences I described above. Hopefully this shows exactly what those frame rate changes can look like in practice. The GeForce RTX 4090 Mobile is closer to the graphics card with which it shares its base chip (the RTX 4080) than its name, but even then the mobile chip can't keep up.

That's not to say that naming this mobile GPU as the RTX 4090 is deliberately misleading -- it's the best choice for the GeForce RTX 40 seriesespecially laptops.If you want maximum performance (not necessarily value, as we've seen mobile RTX 4080 systems perform almost as well), this is the GPU. But it's a bit of a misnomer as it's more of a brand consistency name than a hardware or performance guarantee. Laptops with an RTX 4090 GPU are designed for enthusiasts with deep pockets and are sure to deliver smooth framerates at the highest settings—the chip just can't meet the raw performance standards set by more powerful desktops.

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