Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q Overview

Nvidia introduced RTX laptops in early 2019 and the first models with GPUs are just coming onto the market. Today we are testing Nvidia's new GeForce RTX GPUs for laptops, starting with the RTX 2070. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to do a full performance breakdown for every RTX laptop offering, but we have to start somewhere, and thanks for Gigabyte we will start with that RTX 2070 Max-Q variant in the middle of the package.

Of course, the Desktop RTX 2070 has been available for a while and we know exactly how it works. However, the laptop version of the chip is not an identical copy of the desktop card, which can lead to confusion considering how different Pascal (GTX 10 series) and now the GeForce 20 series are on the mobile front.

Pascal had three main offerings: the GTX 1060, the GTX 1070 and the GTX 1080. Without the Max-Q variants, the regular main laptop versions were for a moment very similar to their desktop counterparts. For example, the GTX 1060 had the same number of CUDA cores and the base clock was slightly lower, but the boost clock was only 38 MHz lower than the desktop card. In a good laptop design, the mobile GTX 1060 largely behaved like a desktop GTX 1060.

Then there was the GTX 1080, again the same number of CUDA cores and even the same boost clock. The GTX 1070 was somewhat different in that the laptop variant showed a slight increase in the CUDA cores and a slight decrease in the clocks. The end result, however, was that a laptop GTX 1070 ran around the brand of a desktop GTX 1070. The times were easy.

Then Nvidia introduced Max-Q variants, which were overclocked versions of the same GPUs that could be integrated into thin and light systems that might not have the cooling functions of the usual bulky gaming laptops. Many didn't like Max-Q, but in a practical sense it allowed more performance in leaner designs, which we approve of. It wasn't quite the full performance of the labeled GPU, but better than the tier below. Given that most laptops with Max-Q GPUs were marketed as such, there wasn't much confusion.

With the GeForce 20 series, Nvidia has gone one step further.

We still have Max-Q laptops, but the regular non-Max-Q GPUs have also got significant clock speed savings compared to the desktop versions. We won't go through every variant, but if we focus on the RTX 2070, we can see where the cuts were made.

The 2070 GPU has the same CUDA core number of 2304 cores, which is why Nvidia can call this the RTX 2070. It's the same physical GPU. However, the clock rates are significantly lower. The desktop card has a 1410 MHz base and a 1620 MHz boost, which is up to 1710 MHz for the Founders Edition card. Compare that to the laptop variant, which receives a base of 1215 MHz and a maximum boost clock of 1440 MHz. And that's the full mobile version.

The 2070 Max-Q model has an 885 MHz base clock and an 1185 MHz boost clock. Max-Q watches have always been lower than the non-Max-Q models, but now the gap has widened significantly compared to recent years.

All of this has a reason and relates to the TDP. Not many people are interested in this metric for desktop cards, but for laptops it is a crucial number because the laptop manufacturer has to develop a cooler that can handle the GPU's TDP in a small space. With Pascal we had the GTX 1070 with 150 W on the desktop and 115 W for full laptops. But with the RTX 2070 this is now a 175 W part, but still only 115 W for laptops. The only way to achieve this TDP with the same GPU is to put it on a leash and lower the clocks.

This also applies to the relocation of Nvidia's product levels. The GTX 1060 used to be 120 W, but with the RTX 2060 it is now 160 W that takes up the space where the GTX 1070 used to sit. The RTX 2070 has 175 W, which is more like a GTX 1080. And then comes the RTX 2080 with 215 W, a place where laptops never used to be.

With this situation, Nvidia could have gone two ways: you could have turned RTX laptop GPUs into RTX desktop GPUs, which would have meant that the RTX 2070 replaced the GTX 1080 in designs that could handle this TDP. The RTX 2060 would then replace the GTX 1070 and the RTX 2080 could not be used. But Nvidia didn't want that.

Instead, they chose option two: clocking down the GPUs so that an RTX 2070 can replace a GTX 1070, creating a simple exchange in generations. Even if the laptop versions are very different from the desktop chips.

We've probably spent too much time talking about all of this, but our last point on this matter is that when choosing the downclocking route, Nvidia believes that using the RTX 2070 name for the RTX 2070 laptop is not is more correct and we believe that this series should have an M at the end of the label as we have seen it in previous generations. So this should be the RTX 2070M.

Just a few more notes worth adding. Like the desktop card, the RTX 2070 for laptops uses 8 GB GDDR6 with "up to 14 Gbit / s" according to the Nvidia specifications. That means 14 Gbit / s for the full version and 12 Gbit / s for Max-Q. Same 256-bit bus. The RTX functionality is also retained, so that the tensor and RT cores are available. However, since the GPU runs slower, the performance is not the same. Nvidia names up to 38T RTX OPS and 5 gigarays per second for the laptop RTX 2070, compared to 42T RTX OPS and 6 gigarays for the reference RTX 2070 desktop card.

The focus of today's test is the Max-Q variant of the RTX 2070, which belongs to the first RTX laptop that we got our hands on. Obviously, Max-Q GPUs are the most popular in the category of ultra-portable thin and light / gaming laptops. These Max-Q laptops come with a fixed power limit and cannot be overclocked to the level of a full RTX 2070. You can do some basic core and memory clock overclocking, but power limitation is the main limitation here.

Many thanks to Gigabyte for sending in the brand new Aero 15 X9, which contains the RTX 2070 Max-Q. We also have the previous generation Aero 15X with the GTX 1070 Max-Q inside so we can do some comparisons between apples. Since both laptops use the same design, largely the same hardware and the same cooler, comparing the RTX 2070 with the GTX 1070 is pretty easy.

The Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 contains the Intel Core i7-8750H with six cores, the first choice for gaming laptops, which in our comparison are also used for most other laptops. Our test device was equipped with 32 GB two-channel DDR4, the same configuration as the Aero 15X with the GTX 1070. The test focused on 1080p games.

It is also important to note that the Aero 15 X9 has been tested with the fan mode set to "Gaming". This provides significantly better performance than the quieter "balanced" mode. Both laptops were as loud as the others, which again cuts out another variable when comparing the RTX 2070 with the GTX 1070.

While the RTX 2070 Max-Q has a nominal boost clock of only 1185 MHz thanks to Nvidia's GPU boost, the actual clock speeds in games were between 1250 and 1350 MHz. Usually at least 100 MHz lower than the boost clock of the full-fledged RTX 2070 laptop, although the full version also delivers a higher boost. This is basically the same behavior as the GTX 1070 Max-Q, which has a nominal boost of 1379 MHz, but is more between 1500 and 1600 MHz in games.

You should expect these results from any laptop with decent cooling, but those with poor cooling designs will clock down more aggressively and lead to poorer performance. The memory clocks do not change, and here the GDDR6 with the Max-Q variant is stuck at 12 Gbit / s.

Benchmarks

We'll start things with a look at Battlefield 1. This has been replaced by Battlefield V these days, but a lot of our existing data was for BF1, so let's start with it. Here the RTX 2070 Max-Q only clocks 7% faster than the GTX 1070 Max-Q and at the same time offers a slight increase in performance compared to the non-Max-Q variant. This is a decent start, but ideally you want to make bigger profits here.

We know that Wolfenstein II is one of the cheapest games for Nvidia's new Turing architecture, at least compared to Pascal. Here the RTX 2070 Max-Q has a decent performance advantage of 15% compared to the GTX 1070 Max-Q. However, the game is also one that for some reason strongly favors full-fledged GPUs, so the regular old GTX 1070 is still faster at average performance.

Far Cry 5 is a well-optimized title that we like to compare extensively with. In this game, you can expect the RTX 2070 to have a 9 percent performance advantage over the GTX 1070 when comparing the Max-Q versions. However, this increases to 15% advantage at 1% lows, which is nice to see. When comparing the Max-Q 2070 with the full GTX 1070, the performance is approximately the same.

In Star Wars Battlefront II, the RTX 2070 is around 10 percent faster than the GTX 1070 and again compares the Max-Q versions. The newer Turing GPU also has a slight advantage over the full GTX 1070, which seems to be typical of this new Max-Q model. We've only played four games so far, but in these games the usual result is that the Max-Q 2070 delivers the same performance as the non-Max-Q 1070, with the same design constraints, the same cooler

Dirt 4 is one of the cheapest games for the RTX 2070 Max-Q. The new GPU is 18 percent faster on average and 11 percent faster than the GTX 1070 Max-Q at 1% lows. It's also a small amount faster than the standard GTX 1070.

However, not every game you play on a laptop is limited to the GPU. A good example of this is Prey at 1080p, which runs on modern laptops at around 100 FPS, but there's no big difference between most high-end GPUs. The RTX 2070 Max-Q is only 3 percent faster than the GTX 1070 Max-Q and with 16 percent holds one of the smallest margins compared to the GTX 1060 6GB. We believe that this is a memory bandwidth issue rather than a CPU bottleneck.

Middle-earth Shadow of War is another game that is cheap for Turing. Here, the RTX 2070 is 16% faster on average than the GTX 1070 when you look at the Max-Q variants. It's also 6% faster than the regular GTX 1070, one of the bigger margins for this GPU.

Watch Dogs 2 is in a similar situation to Prey because the game places very high demands on the CPU. When comparing the RTX 2070 Max-Q with the GTX 1070 Max-Q, we saw an average 4% increase in performance, but no 1% increase in performance. Unlike desktops, where you might pair the RTX 2070 with a much more powerful CPU, the 45W CPUs you work with in most laptops can limit the GPU, especially at 1080p.

A few more games that we wanted to focus on here. Deus Ex Mankind Divided is an older title, but still very GPU limited. The RTX 2070 Max-Q is 18 percent faster than the GTX 1070 Max-Q, a big win for Nvidia's new Turing architecture. Compared to the average result, this is an outlier, but still impressive.

Finally we have a game that not many people liked, Mass Effect Andromeda. A decent performance increase for the RTX 2070 Max-Q, which is 13% faster than the GTX 1070 Max-Q. It is also 7% faster than the full GTX 1070.

Put everything together

In the performance overview, we see in 18 games that the RTX 2070 Max-Q is on average 10 percent faster than the GTX 1070 Max-Q, which it replaces. You can discover some newer games, such as Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which performs poorly on laptop hardware, as well as another largely CPU-limited game in Hitman 2, as well as two other new titles that are good wins in Battlefield V and Resident Evil 2 achieve.

In general, however, you can expect performance increases of up to 18 percent, but only 3-4 percent for games without a GPU limitation. And when it comes to laptops, there are more cases where you encounter bottlenecks than a typical gaming desktop build. This is an important consideration when comparing desktop and laptop GPUs …

The comparison of the RTX 2070 Max-Q with the regular GTX 1070 is a bit mixed. This new Max-Q GPU now offers the performance of the full-fledged model of the last generation, but in smaller, thinner and lighter systems with weaker cooling solutions. While this wasn't always the case, GTX 1070 laptops tended to be at the larger end of the scale. With the RTX 2070 Max-Q, however, we can expect this GPU to be found in really thin and light slot machines.

What is less positive is that the desktop RTX 2070 is 27% faster on average than the GTX 1070. So it is pretty obvious how far behind the RTX 2070 Max-Q for laptops is compared to the desktop equivalent.

We expect the full non-Max-Q model to be faster, but it won't fully close this gap. The margin from Max-Q to Max-Q was 10%. We therefore expect the full versions to have a similar margin of 10%, not the 27% that we saw on desktop cards.

A few more comparisons: We have the RTX 2070 Max-Q compared to the GTX 1060 6 GB, a very popular laptop GPU and a GPU that used to be the maximum for thin and light laptops. The RTX 2070 Max-Q is 35% faster on average, which shows the progress made with this portable form factor.

Of course, RTX 2070 Max-Q laptops are much more expensive, but from a purely technical point of view, it is impressive to see this performance increase in the same space available for cooling and power supply.

The RTX 2070 Max-Q is still ~ 6% slower than the GTX 1080 Max-Q. The GTX 1080 Max-Q is the next step over the GTX 1070. Since the RTX 2070 Max-Q works at the GTX 1070 level, the GTX 1080 Max-Q is still faster.

Of course, you will be wondering how ray tracing behaves with the RTX 2070 Max-Q. And the good news is that … it works. Because of the TDP restrictions, we didn't expect any ray tracing function in the laptop versions, but it is also available in the Max-Q variants. However, the 2070 Max-Q is only designed for 4 gigarays per second and is therefore lower than the desktop RTX 2060, so of course it is not so well suited for the ray tracing function.

In our standard Battlefield V benchmark run with reflective surfaces that activate the game's DXR reflections, using low-ray tracing mode resulted in a significant drop in performance. Without DXR, we achieved an average of 86 FPS during the run. Turning DXR on low dropped this value to 54 FPS. So we're talking about an experience of under 60 FPS at 1080p. Set RTX to Ultra and … yes, that drops even further to only 44 FPS. We don't think many people want to play a game like BFV with less than 60 FPS, but we're also waiting to see how true Nvidia's DLSS claims are.

Close thoughts

While Nvidia's RTX line was largely disappointing on the desktop, laptops are a whole different story with different prices, categories and considerations.

We want to divide this into several sections. First, the naming scheme is not good enough. Since Nvidia is clocking down all RTX GPUs for laptops, they are no longer directly comparable to their desktop counterparts, and we want them to use different names, even if they are minor, to avoid confusion.

In terms of performance, we get 10% more with the RTX 2070 Max-Q than with the GTX 1070 Max-Q. For the same product category – that is, the same type of laptop with a similar design, size, weight and cooler – we can expect a modest increase of 10%. That's okay. It's good. It's nothing amazing, but it's faster in the same category.

The good news is that laptops also have roughly the same price. Comparing launch prices, portable GTX 1070 Max-Q laptops ranging from $ 2,200 to $ 2,400 were launched. RTX 2070 Max-Q laptops with similar hardware configurations were launched there. If you're looking for new laptop options, you'll also find GTX 1070 Max-Q laptops, which are reduced in price compared to newer RTX 2070 models, so you can save $ 100 to $ 300 depending on the model .

For some people, RTX GPUs like the RTX 2070 Max-Q offer additional benefits like ray tracing and DLSS, depending on how much material you put on their importance. No technologies are currently widespread either, and in our opinion, this is not worth considering when making your purchase.

While desktop is all about raw power and money, laptops have the extra power factor per watt or how much you can get out of a particular cooler design. Since Turing is built on 12 nm compared to 16 nm for Pascal, there was no significant increase in this department, so realistically we would never see a big leap in performance within the same form factor.

The upgrade cycles for laptops also differ from the desktop. Most people who buy an RTX laptop not only get a new GPU, but are also likely to update the CPU, memory, storage, display, and design, which can add value to a purchase. While the generation gains of the RTX 2070 Max-Q account for only about 10% of the raw performance, a large number of buyers will get a much higher actual profit with their upgrade if you take other components and the total system performance into account.

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