An RTX 4090 gaming laptop feels completely unnecessary when a mobile RTX 4080 can actually beat it

Graphics cards are uncomplicated, right? You buy more, you spend more, you get better gaming performance. That’s how it works on desktop, but it’s not necessarily how things work in gaming laptop land. It’s confusing, frustrating, and kind of disingenuous.

I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing next-gen gaming laptops lately and it’s been a journey. So far they’ve all been RTX 4090-based machines that cost over $4,000, you know, that whole ultra-enthusiast schtick I love (opens in new tab). And there was only one I really liked (opens in a new tab), and even then there’s no chance I’d ever consider buying it at this price point.

And now, having tested an RTX 4080-based machine, I can say with absolute, absolute certainty that no one should be doing this.

Somehow there really isn’t much in it. On paper, the RTX 4090 and RTX 4080 are very different from each other, with Nvidia using separate GPUs for each mobile graphics card, but I was surprised at how close the cheaper chip comes to the top of Nvidia’s gaming laptop stack.

Sometimes even hitting.

The mobile RTX 4090 isn’t really an RTX 4090 (opens in new tab) as we know it on desktop; It’s built with the exact same AD103 silicon as the desktop RTX 4080 (opens in a new tab). Which still makes it a potentially very powerful GPU. Then the mobile RTX 4080 uses the same GPU as the RTX 4070 Ti (opens in new tab), but with a slightly different, lower specification.

Instead of 7,680 CUDA cores, you get two SM less with a total of 7,424 CUDA cores. That means you also lose a few RT cores and a few Tensor cores. You’re still getting the full 12GB GDDR6 complementation, and you actually end up with a whole lot of fast graphics processing silicon goodness.

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And that fast silicon means you get gaming performance that rivals that of the $5,300 MSI Titan GT77 (opens in a new tab) in something like the Lenovo Legion Pro 7i (opens in a new tab), which only costs $2,750. Yes, I know that’s still a huge amount of money for a gaming laptop, but again it’s coming at a more reasonably high price. If that makes sense.

1440p gaming performance

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(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)

And it all depends on how different mobile GPU performance can be between systems, so you just can’t get to desktop. Sure, you can get overclocked versions of graphics cards, but the performance differences are minimal, to say the least.

With a laptop, however, you are talking about a completely closed system. And because thermals are so inseparable from GPU performance, the type of cooling your tiny notebook can provide has a huge impact on your frame rates. Whether you’re rocking a 175W RTX 4090 or a 150W RTX 4080 or not.

This is the situation I find myself in here with this Lenovo machine, which is actually sometimes able to beat a Razer Blade 16 (opens in a new tab) that claims to be using the most powerful mobile GPU the world has ever seen Known to mankind, and a fully secondary graphics chip uses.

system speed

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(Image credit: Future)(Image credit: Future)

The Blade 16 is a relatively slim machine, while it’s certainly chunkier than its predecessor, the Blade 15, but it still retains the best of Nvidia’s silicon in it. With an average clock speed, measured in the Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition, of just 1,708 MHz, which is much lower than the potential peak of 2,040 MHz that Nvidia claims in the RTX 4090 spec sheet.

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That’s also a tad lower than the 1,922MHz I measured on average in the even more powerful MSI Titan with the same 175W RTX 4090. But both can rival the clock speed that the 150W RTX 4080 in the Lenovo I’m writing to. This machine outputs an average of 2,361MHz, which is actually higher than Nvidia rates this chip.

That’s not uncommon in desktop terms, but seems out of place here alongside the numbers claiming the best mobile GeForce GPU in one of the most expensive gaming laptops I’ve ever tested.

The combination of higher clock speeds and a slightly thicker chassis than the Blade 16 has allowed the Lenovo Legion Pro 7i to deliver RTX 4090-beating performance from a system that costs nearly $2,000 less than the Blade 16.

4K gaming performance

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(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)(Credit: Future)

However, this is only a 1600p machine and doesn’t have the 4K panel found on the MSI or Razer RTX 4090 laptops. But if you thought that the top card’s 16GB would deliver a bigger performance delta at 4K than the 12GB RTX 4080, you’d be wrong. I’ve built the Lenovo into a 4K display and I still see times where it beats the Blade 16’s RTX 4090.

(Image credit: Future)

There’s one argument you could make, and it’s about professional use. The number of cores on an RTX 4090 versus an RTX 4080 actually makes a difference when it comes to creation tasks like rendering in Blender. But when we talk specifically about gaming laptops, the argument for the more expensive GPU just isn’t there.

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This is absolutely not a situation that you would expect or ever really want to happen. I understand that performance isn’t the only reason you pay more for a high-end laptop, but it’s definitely the reason you would choose an RTX 4090 system over an RTX 4080 system.

But this time, you shouldn’t have to make that choice because I’m guessing you really don’t need an RTX 4090. So, uh… let’s call that a consumer win from Nvidia? Its second tier GPU performs just as well as its top GPU in actual retail units. Great I think.