Laptop Options when you care about 3D video card performance

So, the company offers you a choice of laptops - the ultra portable, the standard issue and the "portable workstation" - and you wonder just how much bang in terms of 3D virtual world capability do you get when you make your choice.
Well, I decided to run a few tests and put it to some cold hard numbers.
- For the ultra-portable, we have the IBM X32 laptop with an integrated Intel video solution.
- For the standard issue business PC, we have the Dell D610 (X300, 64mg card)
- In the sort-of higher end range we have the Dell 810 with an ATI X600 (128mg) video solution.
Each of these machines were tested using FutureMark's 3D2001, 3D2003 and 3D2005 benchmark. I compared these to the posted scores of other mobile solutions (PCMag, MaximumPC, Game Developer, etc.) as well as to a few desktop PCs - both my own tests and reported scores.
Not every test would run on every computer and reported cores didn't use every benchmark. So, I plotted the results on a chart against multiple Y scales.
The results aren't that surprising but I hope you find my rules of thumb below informative.
Since the basic business laptop is the most common choice, I reconciled the results for the Dell D610 and gave it a score of "1" so that the other options could be compared relative to that system.
The IBM X31 may have great battery life but the video is weak - compared to the Dell 610 basic business laptop the ultra-portable but ultra-wimpy IBM X31 only as about .25 to .3 the video capabilities.
Calling the Dell 810 a "portable workstation" may be a bit of a stretch but for all the extra weight you have to carry around you do get more video processing capability - about 2x what the Dell 610 can do.
Comparing these choices to others in the marketplace, laptops with the Nvidia Go 6600 chip (very popular) do about the same as the Dell 610.
The bump is when you go to something like the Nvidia Go 6800 Ultra (like what is available in a Dell XPS laptop) - that gets you about 3x the performance of the Dell 610 (X600, 64mg) or other basic business laptops.
If you can afford the Go 7800 GTX laptop (an option on the Dell XPS and boutique solutions), you get another nice boost in performance - to about 4x of what is in the basic business Dell 610.
How does this compare to desktop performance?
Your basic Nvidia 6800 or ATI x800 video card is going to give you 2-3x the Dell 610 laptop. Nice but nothing special since you get the same thing in higher-end portable solutions and still not be bound to a desktop PC.
You get a more noticeable jump, outside the realm of laptops, when you equip your PC with higher end cards like a 7800 GTX, ATI X850 PE, or ATI 1800 XL... all will give you 4-5x of a Dell 610. If you go the SLI route, with pairs of 6800-series will get you 6-7x a Dell 610 laptop. At this point, the performance difference (if you need it) makes that big, stationary, PC start to look attractive again relative to a laptop.
What about the highest end (for now)? Well, if you have $$$$$ available, you can SLI two of the fastest PC video cards available - the 7800GTX or 7800GTX OC. This puts you into 8-9x the performance of a basic business laptop like the Dell 610.
In summary:
.5 Ultra-portables like the IBM X3x series
1x Basic business laptops like the Dell D610
2x Higher end but still mainstream laptops like the Dell D810
3x The Dell XPS with a Go 6800 Ultra GPU and some boutique laptops
4x The Dell XPS with a Go 7800 GTX GPU or similar boutique laptops - as fast as you can go with a laptop
4-5x Desktop version of the 7800 and ATI X850 or 1800 XL
6-7x Desktop with dual (SLI) 6800 cards
8-9x Desktop with dual (SLI) 7800 cards
Put another way...
Start with a basic business laptop...
...you get double performance with a higher end business laptop...
...you get another double with the highest end (gaming) laptops - or by switching to a higher desktop PC
...you get another double (or more) with dual video card PC
As I've noted in earlier posts, going into the truly mobile workstation products (with ISV support for OpenGL) may or may not get you very much. The most popular 3D engines these days favor DirectX (measured in the benchmarks used above) so a high-end OpenGL card may not do much for you and could be really disappointing in running your worlds. However, many tools use OpenGL (check with your vendor) so you may get some benefit while in design using your tool if it favors OpenGL.


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