Buying a laptop? GPU TDP is an important specification, and here’s why

Laptop on fire and swallowed up by fire.
Ben Romalis /

A laptop GPU often has a “TDP” or thermal design power A number buried in its specifications measured in watts. It’s easy to cover up, but TDP can be a key performance number that you’re ignoring at your own risk.

What is TDP?

Thermal design strength (or sometimes profile account) It is basically the processor’s thermal budget. It is designed to generate up to that amount and nothing more. TDP is completely different from the amount of power a processor like a GPU uses, but it’s in that ballpark.

What TDP is really about is cooling, if a GPU has a TDP of 100 watts, it needs a cooling solution that can handle 100 watts of thermal power and get it out of the system fast enough to prevent GPU throttling or even shutdown In emergency cases.

What does TDP mean in a laptop?

Laptops have to be energy efficient, all their components are squeezed into an incredibly tight space, and they don’t have much room for cooling systems. This means that a cooling system that fits into a particular laptop chassis puts a limit on the TDP that a CPU or GPU can reach.

The higher the TDP of a component, the faster it can run, the longer it will run under heavy loads, and the more power it can use to do so. In other words, if you have two GPUs that are 100% identical, but one has a TDP of 65W and the other 130W, there could be a huge difference between them when it comes to performance.

The problem with recent GPU ratings for laptops

Knowing your laptop’s GPU TDP is important now more than ever. why? It’s about how GPU makers, notably NVIDIA, name their portable GPUs. In the past, you could have had different names for the low TDP and high TDP variants of a GPU. For example, the GTX 1080 Max-Q runs around 10-15% slower from the normal form.

With the latest generation of NVIDIA GPUs, the difference in names has disappeared. Alternatively, each GPU can be set by the laptop manufacturer to a specific TDP. The RTX 3060 mobile GPU range is between 80W to 115W With eight TDP levels in total. An 80W card has a GPU clock range of 900-1425MHz, and a 115W variant has a GPU clock range of 1387-1702MHz. This is a huge difference in clock speed, without any indication in the name that this difference is.

The good news is that NVIDIA now requires TDP numbers to be published In the gaming laptop spec sheets. However, if you don’t know the meaning of the number or you should pay attention to it, you’re not really any better off.

Look at the standards

The best way to approach buying a laptop with a modern GPU is to look at the laptop’s spec sheet and find out what TDP the GPU is rated for as well as the clock speed range. Next, you should compare it to the range of potential TDPs for that GPU and see where the GPU would likely fall into the stack.

However, the most important thing is to look for benchmarks between the different TDP levels for a given GPU. If possible, you should find criteria for the specific laptop model you are looking to buy. Buying a high-performance laptop is a big investment and you don’t want to know that your low-performance TDP variant falls short of great performance.

Of course, if you prefer a cooler-running laptop with longer battery life, you might as well do it Wants Low TDP variant of this movie processor. The important thing is to get the hardware you actually want.

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