Starting June 27th, leading OEMs such as Clevo, ASUS, and MSI will begin to offer new high-performance Pascal-powered ‘Max-Q’ gaming laptops using GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 GPUs. Max-Q is NVIDIA’s new holistic approach to notebook design, with claims of major thermal and efficiency improvements that result in much thinner and quieter gaming notebooks.

Less than a year ago, I was marvelling at the compact designs of a few VR Ready GTX 1060-equipped notebooks at the launch of Nvidia’s portable Pascal lineup. The machines packing higher-performance 1070 and 1080 GPUs were much chunkier, and until recently, many employed a typically brash ‘gamer’ aesthetic with aggressive lines and vents.

Now, thanks to Nvidia’s new ‘Max-Q’ design spec, we’re about to see a significant reduction in thickness for high-end gaming notebooks, with even GTX 1080-equipped models measuring just 18mm thick—which Nvidia optimistically compares to the MacBook Air (certainly thin, but currently Apple’s thickest laptop). The Max-Q designs are heavier and don’t taper to a thin edge like the Air—a more reasonable size and weight comparison would be a 2015 MacBook Pro—still an impressive step forward for such high-performance components.

Nvidia explains the thinking behind the name and approach:

Max-Q, an integral part of NASA’s mission to launch man into space, is defined as the point at which the aerodynamic stress on a rocket in atmospheric flight is maximized. Thus, the design of the rocket is precision-engineered around Max-Q. NVIDIA has applied a similar philosophy to designing gaming laptops, enabling OEMs to build laptops that are 3x thinner with up to 3x more performance of previous generation products.

This has been achieved with further improvements to the Pascal graphics architecture such as a “low voltage optimised clock curve,” advanced thermal solutions and “next-gen regulator efficiency.” Thankfully the reduction in size hasn’t removed all the ports, so these laptops are very much VR Ready, while being more portable than ever.

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  • Wednaud Ronelus

    I guess we are truly approaching the “Singularity”. I am looking forward to the journey.

  • Get Schwifty!

    The heat load and noise from these will be tremendous… not to mention shorter lifetimes of components. I am all for portability, but the strange obsession with taking gaming hardware with it’s power hungry heat producing components and trying to cram them down to that of a Macbook Air chassis is just just bad and been plaguing the gaming laptop world for about four years now. The untold story on a lot of these thin designs is the high failure rate after a year or so of use, and very hot temperatures to the point of them being uncomfortable on your lap. Plan if nothing else to elevate these to increase air flow. I would expect considerable throttling to be the norm as well with these designs as they try to manage heat load. Coming from an age where lugging a 8-lb laptop around was not uncommon, I find the current cries and hues over a 4-lb laptop to be hysterical to say the least.

    I think the “whisper mode” is a keen way to justify the lowering of performance that will often be needed to make these systems tolerable.

    • Jonas Carlson

      Naah, I have the HP Omen with a built in 1070 and it is very quiet when using VR.

      • Get Schwifty!

        That’s likely because VR is not very power consuming overall currently as most of the games are not that complex, but give it time. Sorry, but your one off report doesn’t change the countless reports of issues with these “ultra book” designs which are well known in gaming laptop enthusiast circles and I doubt you have a system in the form factor they are describing.

        • Philip Klawitter

          Dude… Moore`s law
          things just get smaller and produce less heat due to smaller transistor size.
          You sound like the Amish of technology. Maybe this models are a bit ahead of the curve but “the strange obsession with taking gaming hardware with it’s power hungry heat producing components and trying to cram them down to that of a Macbook Air chassis” is not a trend, is just the common direction of technology.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Yeah right *rolls eyes*… at this stage with these systems and the chips, etc being produced heat is a very real factor. No question technology is headed down in size, the problem here is the fabrication of most of the chips HASN’T changed from what it is today in the thicker notebooks, this is effectively a form-factor change with the the same thermal load, just now in a smaller space than before. The only way to effectively cool these systems will be with serious fan and passive cooling solutions.

            And yes, it is a “strange” obsession now because you have to create systems incapable of handling the heat loads and so we introduce throttling and other lower power maneuvers which means effectively you are buying a crippled system up front. The problem is most buyers don’t realize they will have problems with systems in a relatively short amount of time due to heat breakdown of components and/or have significant drops in performance over time due to all the finagling that has to go on to deal with the thermal load.

          • Philip Klawitter

            Sure they are some models of some brands that will have overheating issues. I get your point, as the original xbox 360 which microsoft throttled the 3 cores all the way up so it could get closer to the performance of the ps3. The industry usually hurts the user by trying to reduce cost.
            But today’s ultrabooks have a sleek aluminium body which acts as dissipator of heat. You can cool down something actively (fan) or passively (great surface to interchange heat with the environment).
            Sure the computer will burn your lap, but it is designed to operate in that temperature range.

            Well, as an user I always wished graphic processors in laptops get better… I’m not satisfied with a low-mid end graphic chip in my work laptop. A gtx1080 sound like a good idea, so maybe i’m just biased for the hype.

          • Get Schwifty!

            I will hazard to say today’s GPU’s are more than sufficient for most tasks, and anything at 1080p (not necessarily VR). A GTX 1060 or even a lowly 1050 Ti is a very capable GPU. WIll you run Assassin’s Creed with all settings at a solid 60 fps with those? No, but you can run most games at mid to high settings with 40+ fps easily and that says something, and that would be at 1440p. VR varies so much due to graphic quality and implementation, but even a GTX 1060 will work for quite a few things…

  • MosBen

    I strongly considered buying a VR capable laptop when I picked up my Rift a few months ago. It would be great to be able to take it over to family or friend gatherings to show off VR. Ultimately, however, I decided that the cost of a decent machine was too great, and the reports of high noise and temperature were too concerning. And ultimately, though it would make VR portable, the headset is still tethered to the machine. I’ll revisit this when the next generation of VR HMDs get released (which I expect to be for holidays 2018). I think that there’s a high likelihood that the next generation of HMDs will either be self-contained (not needing a PC at all) or wireless (connected to a PC without a cord), along with several other improvements. I also expect that there won’t be a huge jump in processing and graphics hardware requirements in going to the next generation.

    • Get Schwifty!

      It’s a trade-off. I use a gaming laptop with an onboard GTX 1060 on the go, which can do basic VR but is not quite good enough for strong titles. In those cases when at home I hook it up to an external enclosure which allows me to use GTX 1080. The noise is nothing in that case as the CPU puts out little heat relatively speaking.

      • MosBen

        Are you using a Razerblade or Alienware? I looked at both of them due to the external enclosure, but the cost ultimately couldn’t be justified since I had a PC that was VR ready outside a graphics card (dropped in a 1070 that’s doing well).

        I’m hopeful that the minimum requirement for the next gen will be in the 1070 range. It would make sense to me that they’d want to avoid the issue this gen where initially the necessary hardware was over $1,000. The 1070 seems like a good compromise that will run most of the software for the next few years and by holiday 2018 will be pretty cheap.

        • Get Schwifty!

          Alienware 13 R3. I’m a sucker for that OLED panel :)

          I can understand your dilemma, as it was I have a circa 2010 desktop running an oc’d 990x with an original Titan card and SSD upgrades over time, but it just couldn’t meet the memory bandwidth needs of VR. I am trying to see if I can live with just the laptop eventually, but I may need to upgrade storage which seems to be the real limiting factor right now for that approach.

          • John

            unless things have changed – I had the last gen alienware with the 980m chipset I tried to use for VR . Obviously under powered , so I bought a graphics amplifier and 980ti and was not happy with that, sold the TI and bought a 1080 when it came out. Not happy with that until I put the 1080 in a desktop rig.. the graphics amplifier just didn’t have near the bandwidth to fully utilize a 980 ti let alone a 1080. No more alienware and gfx amps for me..

          • Get Schwifty!

            it’s only 5% off from a desktop with equivalent CPU power; the real issue is it depends upon what CPU you are running and what gen; only the latest officially support VR and a desktop is going to pump a GPU that much harder in most cases. That being said, I ran a 2015 Alienware 15 with an external enclosure and old Titan card and it ran fine with a Rift setup for front facing, but got a bit squirrel-y with three or four sensors. Like all things in life YMMV depending upon all the factors.

          • John

            Then there was something really wrong with mine lol.. I had the Alienware 15 as well and using the graphics amplifier was only a marginal boost. I would try a new gen AW laptop if I knew for sure I could get close to desktop gfx speeds using the amplifier. I just assumed the bandwidth was just not there.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Are you sure it was actually using the AGA? I have heard of people not having it kick in… you should have seen a serious boost in most cases. For the time being, until the CPUs are no longer “mobile” I think desktops will still offer the most performance. I just have to have a laptop for work and on the go gaming when I travel, so I am trying to see if I can live with just a laptop and AGA.

          • Peter Hansen

            It also depends on whether the thunderbolt chip in the laptop is connected via 2x or 4x PCIe.

          • Get Schwifty!

            True … AW uses Thunderbolt 3 so at least for them that is not an issue AFAIK. Can’t speak about performance on some of the other implementations as I have not read up on them enough. Are many of them limited by a Thunderbolt chip that is 2x PCIe?

          • Peter Hansen

            IIRC, I read a test lately suggesting that even modern TB3 chips sometimes are limited to 2x PCIe. It was a German site. But here it is also discussed:

            Seems that the PCIe traffic part of TB3 (vs. the the DP part) can sometimes be limited to x2 speed.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Thanks for the link. In my testing I seem to be getting the performance I would expect with the CPU and 1080 with the AGA, but I can definitely see where certain implementations would be a problem if x2 was forced, that would truly suck : (

  • Flikr

    How’s the battery life gonna be on these?

    • Get Schwifty!

      Like most gaming systems, “poor” relative to non-gaming laptops, probably averaging 4-5 hours with low brightness and power options set to low. There’s a chance the new setups could eke out more but I wouldn’t expect huge differences myself.

      • My 980m gaming laptop with desktop cpu had one and a half hours of battery use. If you can get 4 or 5 hours on these that will be brilliant.

        • Get Schwifty!

          Heh – you see my point ;)

  • Lord of the flies

    I’m surprised nobody has noticed yet that this is just another successful marketing ploy. There is no new tech behind it. Only a new brand. “As thin as Macboox Air”. Yeah that’s a selling point, comparing it to a decade old product.

  • evo_9

    Nice job finally matching Apple’s MacBook Air – a machine they discontinued in 2015.

    • Sebastien Mathieu

      still… a notebook like this with a 1080 is more powerful than a mac pro…
      yes I really said mac pro….

    • matnojje

      Did they? They have not stopped selling them.