Given the ongoing saga of GPU availability and the insane prices gamers face when they want a new graphics card, we've often heard that if you want a new PC for gaming, it's better to have a gaming laptop . The reason for this is because laptops are more common, are not ridiculously expensive in some cases, and performance has improved a lot over the past few years.
Today we're putting that claim to the test by comparing the new Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage laptop with a similarly-featured desktop PC to see if this Asus all-AMD laptop is the cheaper buy for gaming.
We specifically picked the Strix G15 because we think it's one of the most affordable laptops you can get, offering the Ryzen 9 5900HX and Radeon RX 6800M in a decent package for under $ 1,700. Well this won't be a super high end gaming experience, but for the price, it's usually what you would pay for a mid to high end gaming desktop PC so it will be interesting to see how it works compares.
The Strix G15 laptop is the same one we tested in our Radeon 6800M benchmark test a few weeks ago, with an MSRP of $ 1550. After replacing the RAM with higher quality stuff, you will have to spend a total of $ 1,650 to improve performance.
On the desktop side, we still have a Ryzen 7 5800X 8-core processor, 16 GB DDR4-3200 memory, 512 GB SSD, etc. in the GPU. Now, we haven't listed the absolute cheapest configuration for this PC, but this is a pretty standard gaming build to consider with reasonable components.
Of course, in normal times this desktop PC would be pretty good business compared to the laptop. You could get a Radeon RX 6700 XT in there for less than $ 500, and the total cost of the system is about $ 1500. That would make it cheaper than the equivalent laptop model.
But that's not the case today – the 6700 XT costs anywhere from $ 800 to $ 900 instead if you want one now, either on the scalpers market or retailed with custom AIB models. This means that this desktop PC costs between $ 1,800 and $ 1,900, which is around 15% more expensive than the Asus Strix G15 laptop. The question then is, does it deliver 10 to 15% more power?
And before you yell in the comments and argue that this or that configuration would be cheaper, Intel would be better today, all that stuff – keep your horses, because that's what we'll get into at the end. This test is primarily intended to show how the most similar desktop and laptop configurations can be compared.
Testing these systems also gives us other valuable information that may be of interest to you. How does AMD's desktop Ryzen 7 5800X compare to its mobile Ryzen 9 5900HX? Both pack 8 CPU cores, but the desktop version offers a chiplet design with more cache, higher frequencies and the headroom for higher power consumption.
The mobile version is monolithic and limited by laptop form factors, but continues to be built with AMD's efficient Zen 3 design on top of TSMC's 7nm process node. This review gives you the best insight into Zen 3 on the desktop compared to the laptop so far.
We'll also see how close AMD has come to its desktop GPUs with the new Radeon RX 6800M. The 6800M is a Navi 22 design with 40 compute units, the same core layout as the 6700 XT desktop GPU, which is why we selected it for comparison today. The only difference is that the 6800M has a lower clock rate – 2300 MHz vs. 2424 MHz – and has a lower power limit of around 160 W for the Strix G15 versus up to 230 W for the desktop card.
All of these questions are pretty interesting. Is it Cheaper to Buy the Strix G15 Today? Does the desktop benefit significantly from its separate performance limits for CPU and GPU, while the laptop has to use SmartShift to make up for everything for its much weaker cooler? How efficient is AMD's Navi 22 design for laptop form factors? Should get a lot of answers today.
The test environments again, on the laptop side we have the Asus Strix G15 Advantage Edition with the 5900HX, 16 GB dual-channel DDR4-3200 and the 6800M. SmartShift is on and we're running the G15 in turbo mode as fast as possible, we haven't limited anything to 45W for apple-to-apple comparisons, this is best versus best.
Our desktop test system is configured with the Ryzen 7 5800X on an MSI X570 Tomahawk motherboard, 16 GB DDR4-3200 memory (like the laptop, but with better CL16 timings) and an RX 6700 XT Gaming X from MSI.
Both the desktop and the laptop were tested with an external 1440p monitor connected directly to the separate GPU. I think if you buy a laptop as a desktop replacement, you probably won't want to play on the small internal 1080p display, so again this gives us a head-to-head comparison with the best that this hardware can achieve.
Starting with the game results, Shadow of the Tomb Raider runs at 1440p and high settings. There isn't much of a difference between the desktop with the 6700XT and the laptop with the 6800M in this title; both deliver a very playable high frame rate experience of around 120 FPS.
The desktop system ended up being a few percent faster, but the laptop is really impressive in terms of the performance it can get.
In Metro Exodus, that's a whole different story. This game is very GPU demanding at Ultra settings, and in this title the 6700 XT desktop easily beats the Strix G15, offering 16 percent better performance at 1440p, and that margin is preserved whether we're doing average FPS or 1% lows consider. To some extent, this is to be expected given the much higher performance limits of the desktop card.
Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order is an interesting mix of CPU demands, especially for a single thread, and GPU demands at 1440p. This is another game where the desktop comes out on top, especially at 1% depths which are 18% higher with the 5800X CPU configuration over the laptop's 5900HX. The average frame rates are also higher in favor of the desktop, but with a lower margin of 9 percent.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is pretty simple. The desktop PC ends up being 6 percent faster than the all-AMD laptop, which is better performance, but we're only talking about a 5 FPS margin so the 6800M comes close to what the 6700 XT does on the desktop can.
Like the Shadow of the Tomb Raider outcome, this suggests an efficient GPU design that scales well to mobile form factors.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a classic title that hits both the CPU and the GPU depending on the exact configuration you have. Here it is a clear win for the desktop platform, which offers 17 to 20 percent better performance thanks to higher performance limits when using the Very High preset.
Crucially, the 6700 XT can deliver over 60 FPS most of the time, which the 6800M can't.
Cyberpunk 2077 is extremely GPU demanding when using the ultra preset at 1440p, so the CPU difference between desktop and laptop becomes a bit irrelevant. Compared to the desktop configuration, the Strix G15 from Asus does remarkably well: The desktop is only 7 percent faster, which shows that the 6800M can do almost as well as the 6700 XT with an enormous reduction in performance. Typically, in these GPU-heavy scenarios, we saw that the 6700 XT consumes 50 W more power, as measured in HWInfo.
Horizon Zero Dawn is another pretty typical result. The 6700 XT desktop system was 12% faster than the 6800M laptop at average frame rates, which is definitely a noticeable difference. The desktop platform can get close to the 100 FPS mark, although the laptop doesn't fare badly by any means, especially given the form factor.
Death Stranding penalizes the mobile system and again lands on one of the larger margins in our tests. The desktop with Ryzen 7 5800X and Radeon RX 6700 XT was 16% faster than the Asus Strix G15 laptop. Both deliver a 100 FPS + experience, but the desktop is closer to taking advantage of a 144Hz display if you have one.
The Hitman 3 Dartmoor benchmark results are really interesting. I was expecting that in this game, which can hit the GPU and CPU pretty hard, the desktop would be way ahead. But that's not really the case. In terms of the 1% lows, the desktop and laptop are basically on par, so in the CPU-heavy sections of the benchmark pass it doesn't make much difference whether you have a 5800X or 5900HX. On average, however, the desktop can pull itself back and offers a modest performance advantage of 9 percent.
For those interested in competitive titles like Rainbow Six Siege, which are rather CPU limited even at 1440p, there isn't much of an advantage to the desktop platform here either, at least with modern hardware. The 5800X delivers 8 percent faster frame rates on average, but we're talking about the difference between 283 and 305 FPS. So unless you're extremely sensitive to latency, either system will give great results.
What about the productivity results? Again, it's worth taking a look as the difference in performance between laptop and desktop varies depending on the exact workload.
In something like Cinebench R20 multi-threading, the 5800X is 9 percent faster than the 5900HX, which in the Strix G15 can withstand up to 90 W on the CPU in the strongest pure CPU workloads. The 5800X in our test system was consuming around 140W, which was enough to maintain slightly higher clocks and perform better.
The single-thread results were also higher on the desktop platform, but only slightly higher; we're talking about a 6 percent advantage over the 5800X in Cinebench R20. This is due to the 5800X's higher maximum boost frequency of 4.7 GHz versus 4.6 GHz for the laptop, in addition to other benefits such as a larger cache for the desktop model.
For some longer workloads like Handbrake, the desktop has a more significant performance advantage over the laptop. Here the 5800X was over 20 percent faster, which makes a big difference to video coding. Blender was around 13 percent faster in favor of the Ryzen 7 desktop processor.
Our other CPU-constrained productivity workloads were a bit mixed. Our Microsoft Excel test, for example, was an edge case where the 5800X absolutely smokes the 5900HX thanks to twice the amount of L3 cache – 32MB on the desktop versus 16MB in AMD's mobile CPUs.
But with something like 7-Zip decompression, we only see a small advantage for the 5800X of around 5%, so the mobile 5900HX essentially gives you decompression performance that is on par with AMD's 8-core desktop CPU.
Then we have benchmarks like MATLAB, which is a mixture of everything, single-thread claim, multi-thread claim, memory bandwidth, cache, etc. Even with this workload, the desktop configuration has a decent performance advantage, being 19% faster. If you need a system for important, high-performance work, a desktop is probably the way to go.
Quite a similar story in Photoshop, while the 5900HX is a decent processor overall, it just can't compete with the desktop 5800X, which uses a different configuration of its Zen 3 CPU cores. In this benchmark, the desktop was 21 percent faster and easily beats the laptop's playing field.
Compared to the desktop configuration we tested, the Asus Strix G15 is a pretty solid choice as a DaVinci Resolve laptop. The desktop model is around 4% faster and tends to be mostly GPU-limited, so we're seeing a result that is in line with some of our gaming results shown earlier.
However, Nvidia GPUs generally seem superior for this application, so this can come into play when you are actually buying a system that is specifically used for DaVinci.
Adobe Premiere, on the other hand, is a huge win for the desktop platform. In the Puget export test, the desktop system was a whopping 40% faster than the Asus Strix G15, and the G15 is a really solid performer among laptops.
What is the reason for that? Combined CPU and GPU workloads are a worst-case scenario for laptops. Even with SmartShift, only a total of 180 W of power is available, divided between the CPU and GPU. There is no such restriction on the desktop platform, so the CPU and GPU can take off with a combined power of 350W if they want. Premiere hits both components hard, takes advantage of this on a desktop, but suffers in comparison on a laptop.
In games, we don't often see situations where the CPU and GPU are both maxed out to 100%, especially with a decent 8-core processor, which is why we don't really see this problem even with some heavy games. Light on laptops.
Because of this, gaming laptops can still be very effective even with relatively small and limited coolers. But for productivity workloads where every component is fully loaded, you'll be much better off with a desktop.
Put everything together
Looking at a head-to-head comparison of productivity workloads, the desktop system is faster, but how much faster depends on the specific workload.
In general multi-thread or single-thread tests, the desktop is typically less than 10 percent faster, which is a great result for the laptop and the Ryzen 9 5900HX, given all the limitations that come with it.
However, there are edge cases where the 5800X is significantly faster, usually due to its larger cache, and there are occasional workloads like Premiere where the desktop's higher power budget translates into better overall performance.
In games, as we've seen, the desktop system is faster – it has a higher CPU and GPU power budget so it can sustain higher clock speeds for longer. However, the average of our 18 gaming tests, the desktop was only 10 percent faster, making the Zen 3 and Navi 22 combination remarkably efficient for gaming in a laptop form factor.
This is a lower margin than I expected and shows that today's high-end laptops are pretty competitive with mid- to high-end gaming desktops.
What we learned
Overall, I think no one would be shocked to learn that the desktop is faster if you specify a desktop with a very similar configuration to a gaming laptop.
We've seen this countless times before, whether you're comparing similar hardware on paper or comparing similar product levels or names, it tends to be even cheaper on the desktop. This is just the reality of testing a largely unconstrained platform versus a constrained platform with limitations on cooling and power output.
But what surprised me in this test is how close AMD's mobile hardware with a similar core configuration comes to its desktop hardware. Most of the time, the Asus ROG Strix G15 is within 10 percent of the desktop we tested today, whether it's productivity or gaming.
So what are the practical implications for buying a PC in 2021? First, you can buy a powerful laptop that suits both your performance needs and a desktop – and it's not just true for massive 17-inch beasts. Regular 15-inch gaming notebooks come very close to today's mid- to high-end mainstream desktops.
It's just real high-end components that laptops can't replicate: things like 12- or 16-core Ryzen processors, flagship GPUs, thread rippers … everything below is achievable.
This is great news for those of you who need portability but may be concerned that your laptop is running out of power. A performance-oriented notebook can be a real desktop replacement. I mean, this Strix G15 easily outperforms desktops based on CPUs like the Ryzen 5 5600X, Ryzen 7 3700X, and Core i9-9900K on many productivity tasks. That's pretty impressive.
The value equation is a more difficult and ambiguous calculation. With this review, I wanted to see if a gaming laptop could really be a cheaper choice than a similar desktop in the current market.
What I found out in the end was that the desktop configuration cost about 10 percent more and provided about 10 percent more gaming performance. That's a very favorable result for laptops than ever before – desktops are almost always much better value for money – but it's not a huge win for the laptop form factor.
And that's because, with price parity, I'd still expect most people interested in a desktop to just buy the desktop. Laptops are far less flexible as a platform, with limited upgradeability – usually no CPU or GPU upgradeability – less extensive I / O, louder coolers, and so on.
When you sit the laptop on your desk, plug in an external display and peripherals, and never move the laptop, all of the extra little features that the desktop offers make it at the forefront. Realistically, you'd want the laptop to be about 20% more value to be considered a desktop replacement, rather than just the same value for money.
This is without taking into account that desktops also give you far greater flexibility in customizing a system to suit your specific needs. In this test, I specifically compared the 5900HX with AMD's Ryzen 7 5800X, but the 5800X isn't particularly good value for money.
If you swap out the AMD processor for Intel's Core i7-10700 and swap the motherboard for an Intel compatible one, you get very similar gaming performance at a lower price, as Intel currently offers great value for money. Suddenly that value equation is back in favor of desktops.
On the other hand, value parity for similar components is good news for those who need portability. You basically get the performance of a desktop, plus an included display, keyboard, trackpad, and battery so you can use it anywhere. Usually these are things that you are effectively paying for in the higher price of the laptop compared to the desktop, but in the current market they are all basically a bonus. And that's pretty neat for laptop buyers.
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