Nvidia squeezes desktop graphics into laptops, including Oculus Rift support

The desktop GeForce GTX 980 now fits inside a laptop, allowing for the first wave of mobile PCs that will work with the Oculus Rift VR headset.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
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Dan Ackerman
3 min read


Laptops have been getting better at playing computer games over the past few years, as mobile versions of PC graphics hardware have gradually tightened the performance gap between laptop and desktop graphics.

Now, Nvidia is doing away with at least some of the remaining difference between laptop and desktop graphics cards by coming up with a version of its GeForce GTX 980 desktop GPU (or graphics processing unit) that will work in laptops, as well as with laptop processors, power supplies and motherboards.

Previously, Nvidia had siloed off graphics hardware for laptops into a separate series of products, such as the current GeForce GTX 980M (for "mobile"). Those chips, especially over the past several iterations, have turned in very impressive performance, even playing games at 4K resolutions. The mainstream GeForce 860M is still found in many popular gaming laptops, including the Lenovo Y series and the HP Omen .

But that performance has always paled in comparison to what desktop PCs could do with high-end desktop graphics cards, which are typically packaged with built-in fans and circuit boards and slotted into an empty accessory slot on a desktop's motherboard (which in turn required you to open the desktop's case and fiddle with the components inside).

Nvidia says the new laptop-compatible version of the desktop GeForce GTX 980 should deliver performance close to, or in some cases equal to, a 980 card running in a similarly configured desktop PC. This special version of the 980 card for laptops also surpasses mobile version of GPUs by adding faster 7Gbps onboard memory and up to 8-phase power supplies, which allows for power to be routed to the chip more efficiently, thereby generating less heat.

Since this is nearly identical to the desktop version of the 980, full overclocking is supported, and Nvidia says PC and component makers such as MSI will be able to include the same custom overclocking apps currently found bundled with desktop graphics cards.


But cramming a desktop GeForce GTX 980 graphics card into a laptop is about more than just the bragging rights that come along with a frame-rate boost in new and upcoming PC games. Laptops with the new desktop 980 card will be the first mobile PCs that support the upcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Part of the system requirements for running the consumer version of Oculus Rift expected early in 2015 is a desktop graphics card, which until now ruled laptops out for running the VR headset.

In May, 2015, Oculus said: "Almost no current laptops have the GPU performance for the recommended spec," which ruled out even the powerful GeForce GTX 980M card found in the highest-end laptops.

With the announcement of the new mobile-friendly version of the desktop GTX 980, Nvidia has released a new quote from Oculus VP of Product, Nate Mitchell: "The new GTX 980 notebook offers a great portable option for the Oculus Rift." Oculus is expected to show off one or more of these new laptop models during the Oculus Connect developer conference happening September 23-25 in Los Angeles.

The first wave of laptops that support the desktop GeForce GTX 980 are being made by Asus (including the recently teased GX700 laptop ), MSI, Clevo and Aorus. Many boutique PC makers such as Origin PC and Maingear use off-the-shelf units from Clevo and others as the base of custom laptops, so you can expect new Oculus-compatible gaming laptops from them and others.

There's no precise release date or price for the first laptops to carry the desktop GeForce GTX 980 GPU, but Nvidia says to expect them later this fall.