We've tested many a gaming laptop here at Expert Reviews, but almost every one of them has involved some sort of compromise. They not only require a lot of power, limiting the time you can keep playing away from the mains, but the chips inside them also need plenty of room to work their magic, forcing you to put up with huge, bulky chassis that aren't easy to carry around. What's more, the GPUs themselves often don't come close to matching the performance of their desktop counterparts, as several laptops have to make do with special "M" or mobile variants of their respective graphics cards.
Well, that's all about to change, as Nvidia has just announced that its new 10-series of GTX desktop graphics cards, such as the monstrously powerful GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060, are all coming to laptops without that dreaded "M" suffix. Yes, you read that correctly. This year's crop of gaming laptops will be able to reap the full benefit of Nvidia's new 16nm FinFET Pascal architecture, offering proper 4K powerhouses that are all completely VR-ready. So what does that mean for you?
1) 4K gaming on the go is finally here
To put the power of the GTX 10-series into perspective, Nvidia says it should offer up to a 76% increase in performance in your typical AAA game at 4K compared to its outgoing Maxwell-based cards, such as the GTX 970. That means games such as DOOM, Overwatch, Mirror's Edge Catalyst, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Metro Last Light should all be able to hit frame rates of at least 120fps at Full HD resolutions on maximum settings, and near or above 60fps at 4K on max settings.
Indeed, you could probably achieve much higher frame rates given the 10-series' easy-to-use overclocking tools, which will all come preinstalled on new devices. Using MSI's Afterburner overclocking software, for instance, I was shown (admittedly after a few false starts) a demo of DOOM running on Ultra settings at a 2GHz overclock and delivering a frame rate between 120fps and 170fps. That's impressive stuff for a gaming laptop, and it was all achieved by setting a simple offset of 225MHz in Afterburner.
Indeed, my initial benchmarking results speak for themselves, as I was able to achieve an overall frame rate of 92fps in Rise of the Tomb Raider, at Full HD with every setting maxed out on the GTX 1070-powered MSI GT62. That rose to 138fps on the GTX 1080-based Clevo P775 at the same resolution and graphics settings, and I was even able to achieve an impressive 51fps at 4K, again with all the settings at their highest. That's an incredible amount of power for a laptop, and bodes extremely well for both Full HD and 4K gaming.
2) You won't need an external monitor to get the best out of your machine
Of course, all these figures are meaningless when you're stuck with a regular 60Hz laptop screen that only has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080: you simply won't see that benefit unless you hook your laptop up to an external monitor with a larger resolution or higher refresh rate. Not so with the GTX 10-series laptops.
Having worked directly with panel manufacturers to pull this off, you'll be able to buy 10-series laptops with proper 4K displays, refresh rates that go all the way up to 120Hz and G-Sync support. Some will even have all three, offering 4K gaming at up to 120fps with G-Sync enabled. Expect to pay a pretty penny for the privilege, of course, but when such things have been staple components of desktop gaming for years, it's great to see them finally make their way to laptops.
3) Some GTX 10-series laptops will actually be properly portable
The most astonishing thing about the laptops I saw at Nvidia's press launch, though, is that some of them are actually pretty damn slim, with the thinnest reaching a phenomenal 18mm. What's more, the lightest device in the current launch lineup will weigh as little as 1.8kg. That's more than twice as light and over half the thickness of the monstrous Asus ROG G752VY we reviewed a few months ago.
Of course, even these figures don't come anywhere close to proper ultraportable standards, but again, it's a very welcome step in the right direction, and it means that several gaming laptops won't require you to have regularly lift weights just to heave them to your next LAN party.
4) Gaming away from the mains won't instantly kill your battery
With Pascal's increased efficiency, you'll be able to keep gaming for longer when you're away from the mains. Nvidia wouldn't talk specific numbers, but it expects you should be able to get around 30% more battery life on a Pascal machine compared to Maxwell-based laptops on a typical AAA title. That may not sound like much, but it might just be enough to tide you over on a short flight or long train journey, for instance. Every little helps, and all that. Nvidia's Battery Boost technology will also make an appearance on 10-series laptops, allowing you to automatically downgrade graphical fidelity or overall performance in order to increase battery life.
5) Nvidia's new Ansel tech will make everyone in-game photographers
Ever seen an incredible vista in a game and wished you could get rid of the game hub so you could capture it in all its glorious detail? Well, now you can, thanks to Nvidia's new Ansel software. Built into all Pascal notebooks, Ansel lets you capture in-game screenshots using its free camera, filter and resolution tools.
The Witcher III will be the first game to receive support for Ansel, but more are sure to follow in the coming months. It's incredibly easy to use, and in my demo I was able to move the camera wherever I pleased to find the perfect shot. I could even increase the resolution up to 32 times the resolution of what was currently onscreen – albeit at the expense of 30GB file sizes – and make 360-degree shots that I could upload to Facebook straight away without ever leaving the game. The latter also lends itself extremely well to virtual reality. Just put the file on your smartphone and you can easily look at it on headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR (or HTC Vive if it's on your PC), so budding in-game photographers will definitely want to check this out when they get a chance.
6) It will, however, cost an absolute fortune
Of course, the question on everyone's lips is how much is all this phenomenal cosmic power going to cost? As expected, Nvidia was keeping tight-lipped on exact prices, but it did say entry-level GTX 1060 machines will likely start from around $1,300 – around £1,200 once you add in VAT.
Admittedly, that's not that bad: we've seen plenty of gaming laptops in recent months that reach well past £2,000, with most costing around £1,000. More powerful laptops with all the 120Hz and G-Sync bells and whistles will naturally cost much more, but for now at least, it looks as though a good portion of 10-series laptops will be within reach of current prices.
We'll be reviewing individual laptops as and when they become available, but if what you've just read sounds right up your alley, then you better get saving – the gaming laptop revolution has well and truly arrived.