Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q Evaluate

After reporting on Nvidia's RTX GPUs for laptops, we've looked at the GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q and RTX 2060 for laptops. Today we're testing the RTX 2080 Max-Q, which is said to be a decent amount faster than the GPUs we've looked at so far.

As a "RTX 2080" part, this discrete GPU uses a Turing chip with 2944 CUDA cores, 368 tensor cores and 46 ray tracing cores. This is where the similarities between the RTX 2080 Max-Q and the desktop RTX 2080 end. In order to bring the normally 215 W GPU into the 80 W range for slim and light laptops, Nvidia had to overclock the GPU significantly. The base clock is now only 735 MHz compared to 1515 MHz, while the boost clock reaches 1095 MHz.

We talked about how the naming scheme of Nvidia's laptop GPU for the GeForce 20 series can be a little misleading. Although Nvidia distinguished this part from the regular desktop card by name and struck Max-Q in the end to let you know that this is optimized for smaller laptop cooling designs, we think it is a bit much, even assuming that it is an RTX 2080. Class GPU.

The clock delta between the RTX 2080 desktop and the RTX 2080 Max-Q is the largest that we have seen so far with the Turing products from Nvidia. While the desktop card normally reaches 1900 MHz, the RTX 2080 Max-Q only reaches 1200 MHz. So this GPU does not work near a desktop with RTX 2080, especially if other typical laptop bottlenecks are taken into account.

There is additional confusion with this GPU, as there appear to be two variants on the market: a standard 80 W standard version that we've talked about so far, and a higher clocked 90 W variant. The 90 W model has a base clock of 990 MHz and a boost of 1230 MHz, which represents a significant leap. This increase typically occurs as a typical GPU clock around 1400 MHz.

Both versions have the same memory configuration: 8 GB GDDR6 with 12 Gbit / s on a 256-bit bus, which leads to a bandwidth of 384 GB / s. This is another area where the RTX 2080 Max-Q is underclocked in memory compared to the 14 Gbit / s desktop card.

We have both variants on hand for testing. The regular RTX 2080 Max-Q is in the MSI GS75 Stealth 8SG, a slim and light 17-inch notebook. This laptop offers an "overclocked" mode in the settings, which increases the clock rate by 100 MHz and enables it to lie between the 80 W and 90 W versions. For today's test, however, we leave the laptop on its standard RTX 2080 Max-Q watches. In the full test of the GS75 we will describe in detail how it works in OC mode.

The 90 W variant of the RTX 2080 Max-Q is in the Alienware m15, another slim and light system, but this time it is 15 inches tall. This laptop has difficulty using the 90W RTX 2080 Max-Q due to a limited cooler solution. We'll look at this issue in more detail in our upcoming Alienware m15 review. However, we found that lifting the laptop a few inches made it possible. The GPU works at maximum performance without overclocking. That is why we did this for this test.

Otherwise, the two systems are very similar. Both use Intel's 6-core gaming laptop CPU, the Core i7-8750H. Both have dual-channel memory, which is very important to get the best performance in games. In some games, performance can be reduced by more than 10% when running in one channel. We therefore do not recommend this.


Let us examine the results, starting with Far Cry 5. We decided to take a slightly different approach to displaying this data than in the past. Instead of showing how our RTX 2080 Max-Q test laptops can be compared to other single laptop units, this data is an average of several laptops that we tested with the GPUs listed. To keep things from apple to apple as possible, the average only includes laptops with the same CPU and the same two-channel memory configuration. For example, our data for the GTX 1070 Max-Q contains an average of three laptops, which should be more representative of a "typical" laptop that uses this GPU.

Far Cry 5 is a title that is a fairly typical representation of most modern games. The RTX 2080 Max-Q is at the top of this table, although we don't have up-to-date, useful data for the older GTX 1080 or GTX 1080 Max-Q.

The basic RTX 2080 Max-Q sneaks in front of the GTX 1070, but only by 2 percent. It's also only five percent ahead of the RTX 2070 Max-Q and less than 10 percent faster than the RTX 2060. However, the situation is better for the 90 W variant, which is an additional 6 percent over the 80 W RTX 2080 Max -Q delivers.

Battlefield V is slightly cheaper for the new RTX 2080 Max-Q. However, with this GPU, which is 5% ahead of the GTX 1070, the 90 W variant is only 3 percent faster than the 80 W variant. With the basic RTX 2080 Max-Q you get 9 percent more power than with the RTX 2070 Max-Q.

Metro Exodus is the newest title in our test suite and offers one of the biggest advantages between the two RTX 2080 Max-Q models: a performance increase of 17%. While the standard variant is only 1% faster than a GTX 1070, the 90W variant is 18% faster. This is a game in which you really want the higher TDP model.

Star Wars Battlefront II is a good result for the RTX 2080 Max-Q: 4% faster than the GTX 1070, 7% faster than the RTX 2070 Max-Q and 10 percent faster than the RTX 2060. The 90 W model delivers also a 10% higher frame rate than the base model, which is decent.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is very cheap for Turing compared to Pascal and has some of the largest edges. The RTX 2080 Max-Q is 16% faster than the GTX 1070, 13% faster than the RTX 2070 Max-Q and 25% faster than the RTX 2060. And despite these large margins, the 90 W model is 10% faster % faster than the 80 W model and offers even better performance.

Watch Dogs 2 is a CPU-demanding game, which is why the 1% low results are somewhat unusual. You won't see much to gain in the upper price range either, since the RTX 2080 Max-Q, the 90 W variant and the GTX 1070 all perform roughly the same. This is a step back to the other GPUs. For example, the RTX 2080 Max-Q is 13% ahead of the RTX 2070 Max-Q.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an older title in our test suite and again some strange 1% low numbers here because some laptops have problems with this title. However, there is a nice cadence between the individual laptop GPUs, since the 90 W RTX 2080 Max-Q offers at least on average a practical performance increase compared to the 80 W model.

Many people still play Grand Theft Auto V, and here the RTX 2080 Max-Q is on par with the GTX 1070, a bit ahead of the 90W 2080 Max-Q. With only 10 FPS difference between the GTX 1070 Max-Q and the top of the table, these results are very mixed up.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the last game in today's test suite and it's another with some inconsistent frame time results depending on the laptop tested. It seems that the GTX 1070 is particularly strong in this game. With this in mind, both RTX 2080 Max-Q models can gain something when looking at the average frame rates.

Individual matchups

RTX 2080 Max-Q against GTX 1070

Now it's time to create a series of advanced comparison tables that show all of the other games we've tested. We start with what we think is the most relevant comparison: the RTX 2080 Max-Q compared to the GTX 1070.

The GTX 1070 was the sweet spot between price and performance for last generation Pascal systems, and most of the laptops they used were not outrageously massive. Here, the RTX 2080 Max-Q in its standard configuration is on average 5% ahead, although it does not win in every game. Quite a modest improvement.

The 90 W variant does slightly better with an average power increase of 12% compared to the GTX 1070, but does not win with every title, especially with games with higher CPU requirements such as Assassins Creed Odyssey.

RTX 2080 Max-Q vs. GTX 1070 Max-Q

Compared to the GTX 1070 Max-Q, the RTX 2080 Max-Q offers a practical performance increase of 23%. So if you upgrade your slim and light laptop while jumping up a performance class, this is the kind of performance margin you can expect. It's a decent upgrade, but it's nowhere near the 50 to 60 percent performance increase you can expect when you upgrade from a desktop GTX 1070 to an RTX 2080.

RTX 2080 Max-Q vs. GTX 2070 Max-Q

If you look at the RTX 2080 Max-Q compared to the RTX 2070 Max-Q, you can choose the faster RTX 2080 model in your ultraportable. The standard version is 10% faster on average and up to 17% faster when comparing the 90 W version with the RTX 2070 Max-Q basic version.

RTX 2080 Max-Q vs. RTX 2060 (laptop)

Decent wins in this matchup. On average, you can expect an increase of 16% and up to 23% when using the 90 W model. RTX 2080 Max-Q laptops are considerably more expensive, but at least also faster.

RTX 2080 Max-Q vs. RTX 2080 Max-Q (90 W)

Finally, we compared the two RTX 2080 Max-Q models. Those who find a 90W variant in a laptop should be treated with around 7% more power, although there are some games where the performance isn't much better.

Put everything together

If you look at all this data, there is a lot to break. So be prepared for an expanded conclusion.

The first positive is that the RTX 2080 Max-Q is faster than the GPUs you would expect. It's also at least 10 percent faster than other ultra-portable-focused GPUs like the RTX 2070 Max-Q and GTX 1070 Max-Q, so you don't pay much more just to get a one-digit upgrade. At 1080p there are gains.

Based on this data, we expect the RTX 2080 Max-Q to be slightly faster than the GTX 1080 Max-Q in its standard configuration, with the 90 W variant delivering a 10% boost. Nothing earth-shattering.

Apart from these positive aspects, we would like to discuss three points: the situation with two variants, the performance margins and the pricing for RTX 2080 Max-Q laptops.

Ultimately, having two GPUs with different clock speeds and performance limits will result in different performance. However, if you give them the same name, confusion arises. It is difficult for consumers to see what they are buying when they see an RTX 2080 Max-Q laptop. Do you get the slower standard version or the faster 90W version? There is no way to know.

A look at the product pages of the two laptops just tested shows the problem. The MSI GS75 Stealth page indicates that you are getting an RTX 2080 Max-Q, but there is no clock rate information. The same on the Alienware m15 site. For a potential buyer looking at these laptops, there is no indication that the Alienware m15 contains the 90W variant and is therefore 7% faster on average. Potential buyers of these laptops are also not normal PC users, but players and enthusiasts who want to get to know their hardware in advance.

Incidentally, this is not a problem with the cooler design or throttling. You typically expect deviations between laptops due to coolers and other hardware. But even if you charge the cooling solution of the GS75, there is no way to bring the GPU to the performance level of the 90 W variant, because it reaches the hard-coded, unchangeable performance limit of its variant before the thermal becomes a problem.

We could go on like this, and there are simple solutions to the problem: different names for each variant, or use the 90 W part everywhere and let it throttle depending on the laptop model.

Of course, Nvidia didn't choose either, which makes us wonder if they're doing it on purpose. That means they generally reveal less information about their mobile line-up and play the brand card because they ultimately have no direct competition in this segment.

We understand the motive behind two variants. With more GPU options, a laptop manufacturer can choose a product that best fits its cooler design. However, there is no reason why the customer should not know this difference. This could even benefit manufacturers who are developing better coolers as they could advertise that their laptops contain the more powerful GPU version. Nvidia, we call you every time you try to get this stuff, be it for desktop cards like the GT 1030 DDR4 or for laptop GPUs. Just stop.

The next topic to be discussed is the performance margin. At first glance, there is not much wrong with how the lineup is structured. In the same thin and light gaming form factor, Turing GPUs offer about 10% more performance than their direct Pascal predecessor, while maintaining a 10% barrier between the Max-Q models RTX 2070 and RTX 2080, as is the case with the GTX 1070 was the case Max-Q and GTX 1080 Max-Q. Given that laptops are severely limited in size and performance, this kind of improvement is not bad, since Turing is only a small increase in efficiency.

The problem is how the laptop ecosystem is compared to the desktop ecosystem, and we've already talked about that. These Turing laptop GPUs don't have nearly the same performance levels as the desktop version, but more importantly, the margins between models aren't the same.

On the desktop, the RTX 2080 is about 20% faster than an RTX 2070. The standard Max-Q models are only 10% faster. On the desktop, the RTX 2080 is 50% faster than a GTX 1070. In the Max-Q models, it is 20 to 30% faster. And you'll find similar situations in practically every other comparison you want to make.

This will certainly confuse consumers as desktop GPUs with completely identical names work much faster. On the other hand, this situation makes ratings like this a must for anyone concerned about performance. So thank you Nvidia, we guess.

When it comes to pricing, laptops with Nvidia's top-end GPUs have never been cheap, especially portable versions with a Max-Q model. But just with the Max-Q 2080 we reach crazy areas.

Take the Alienware m15 as an example. The RTX 2060 variant costs $ 2,000, but you can pay an additional $ 850 for the RTX 2080 Max-Q. That is an increase of 42% for 23% more performance. MSI charges $ 400 or 17% more to switch from an RTX 2070 Max-Q to an RTX 2080 Max-Q, although the upgrade only offers 10% more performance.

High-end products always have a high priority, so we cannot expect price-performance scaling across the entire product stack. But first-class GPUs are certainly very expensive in this generation, especially if Pascal options are still on the market. If a decent GTX 1070 Max-Q laptop only costs $ 1,700 compared to an RTX 2080 Max-Q laptop for $ 2,800 or more, it's really hard to justify that extra money for the Turing option to spend.

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