Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?

Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?
15 min read
08 May 2022

Is 4K gaming on a laptop actually possible,  and if it is, is it worth spending more money   on a 4K high refresh screen and  higher tier GPU to actually run games? This is the first 4K high refresh 144Hz screen  I’ve ever had in a laptop, so we’ve tested it   in 10 different games at 4K, 1440p and 1080p  resolutions to find out what it’s capable of!

Razer Blade 15 Specs

Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?We’re testing Razer’s maxed out  Blade 15 gaming laptop here.   This one has an Intel 12th gen Core i9 processor,   Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti graphics, 32 gigs of DDR5  memory and of course a 15.6” 4K 144Hz screen.

Honestly when it comes to even having a chance of  running games at 4K on a laptop, I think it makes   the most sense to go with Nvidia’s RTX 3080 Ti.

GPU Power Limits Matter

There’s more to it than just the actual GPU   though. Actual performance in games also  depends on the power limit of the GPU. According to Nvidia’s spec sheet, the laptop RTX  3080 Ti has a power range of 80 to 150 watts.   Basically this means that the performance of a  laptop will vary depending on its power limit. With Nvidia’s dynamic boost, the RTX 3080 Ti  in Razer’s Blade 15 maxes out at 110 watts, and   when the CPU is also active, like when actually  running a game, the GPU power limit lowers down   to 90 watts. So it actually ends up being on the  lower side of the 3080 Ti’s power limit range. Honestly this isn’t unexpected,  as the Blade 15 is meant to be   a thinner and lighter gaming laptop. 

More power generally equals more heat,   so in order to have a higher GPU power  limit we’d be looking at a thicker machine,   and of course there absolutely are more  powerful thicker 3080 Ti laptops out there. The highest I’ve seen so far is up to 175 watts  from MSI’s GE76, and while I would of course   expect those higher power limit thicker machines  to have a better shot of actually playing games at   4K, I wanted to see if a more reasonably sized  15 inch gaming laptop actually has a chance. Otherwise why are Razer even  selling it with a 4K 144Hz screen?

Low vs High Wattage RTX 3080 Ti

Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?Just to give you an idea of the sort of difference  the power limit makes, in Cyberpunk 2077 at 1440p,   MSI’s GE76 with higher wattage 3080 Ti was  able to get us a 23% higher average FPS.  

Unfortunately we did not test the GE76 at 4K,  so this 1440p comparison is the best I’ve got. Other games like Control had an even larger  difference with the higher GPU power limit.   MSI’s GE76 was reaching a 30% higher average  frame rate in this one. Even the 1% low from   the GE76 was ahead of the average FPS coming  out of the far smaller Razer Blade 15.

Why 4K is Hard to Run

And 4K is going to be even  harder than this to run, but why? Well, it comes down to how many pixels  are being displayed on the screen. A game running at 4K means each frame  produced consists of over 8 million pixels,   which is exactly 4 times the  amount when compared to 1080p. The difference in total pixel point is far smaller  between 1080p and 1440p compared to 1440p and 4K.   4K is quite a big step up which also  means that it needs more GPU power to run.

4K 144Hz Laptop Screen Good For Gaming?

Just before we get into the game benchmarks,   is a 4K high refresh screen  actually any good for gaming? Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?Surprisingly, the average grey-to-grey screen  response time on the panel that Razer are using   in the Blade 15 was actually quite good, and  below the 6.9ms needed for transitions to occur   within the 144Hz refresh window.

I haven’t  tested a whole lot of 4K panels in the past,   but just comparing it to the 60Hz screen  down the bottom is a big difference. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?A faster screen response time helps the Blade  15 have a lower total system latency too,   one of the better results in fact.  This is the total amount of time   between a mouse click and gun shot fire  actually appears on the screen in CS:GO,   and again it’s faster compared  to our other 4K screen results.

How Game Testing Was Done (MUX & Settings)

Alright let’s get into the game benchmarks.  We’ve tested 10 different games at 4K,   1440p and 1080p resolutions to  show you all the differences. We’ve also tested all available setting presets  in each game, as I thought that this would give   us a better representation of the current state  of 4K gaming. There’s not really any point just   testing every single game at high or ultra  settings. If some games can’t actually run   at those higher settings then it’s important to  see what levels are needed to run the game well.

This year’s Blade 15 has a MUX switch, but the 4K  144Hz panel doesn’t have advanced optimus support. This means that we’ve got the option of  disabling the laptop’s integrated graphics   to boost the performance of games, so all games  have been tested this way for best results.

We’ve also tested with the Razer Synapse software  in custom mode with the CPU set to boost and GPU   set to high, as this is the best performing  mode it has, Ok let’s get into the results!

10 Games Tested (4K / 1440p / 1080p)

Let’s start out with Red Dead Redemption 2. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible? I’ve got the 4K results shown by the green bars,   1440p shown by the red bars, and  1080p shown by the purple bars,   as well as all available game setting  presets with the lowest down the bottom   moving to the highest up the top. DLSS  was also enabled with quality mode,   as it’s just a good feature to use in supported  games at higher resolutions. 4K medium settings   was still above 60 FPS in this game, while  high settings wasn’t too far behind. To reach   more than 60 FPS at max settings though you’re  looking at either 1440p or 1080p resolutions.   The max settings are by no means a solid  requirement to have a good gaming experience.

God of War also has DLSS available, so it was  tested with quality mode. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?High settings was still   able to get us above 60 FPS at 4K which is a great  result, the game should definitely be playable   like this. It’s worth mentioning that while we  could also lower the DLSS settings further to   boost the frame rate even higher, quality mode is  generally recommended to, well, keep the quality.   Lower resolutions were hitting much higher frame  rates, but 4K still went alright in this one.

Far Cry 6 on the other hand has FSR rather than  DLSS, but this is still a feature that can be used   by Nvidia graphics. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?The performance drop at 4K  wasn’t quite as large here, even the highest ultra   setting preset was above 60 FPS for the 1% low, so  definitely playable at the higher 4K resolution.

Microsoft Flight Simulator doesn’t  exactly need a high frame rate to enjoy,Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?   and while you definitely could get away with  playing this one at 4K with lower settings,   there’s no ignoring the significantly higher FPS  that’s possible from even 1440p in the red bars.   At a 15 inch screen size, honestly I think  1440p is plenty of pixels for most people,   not to mention easier to run which means you  don’t have to spend as much money on higher specs.

We’ve also tested Fortnite to see how an actual  eSports title runs at these different resolutions. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?  Max settings 4K is definitely playable at  above 60 FPS with DLSS on quality mode,   but we can more than double the frame rate with  low settings. A game like this if you’re playing   competitively would likely benefit more  from higher frame rates than more pixels,   so 1440p or 1080p would probably  offer a better experience.

Rainbow Six Siege can hit even higher frame rates. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?  Low settings at 4K is the only time out of  all 10 games tested where the average FPS was   actually higher than the screen’s 144Hz refresh  rate. Max settings weren’t a whole lot higher,   but yeah even the 1% lows from 1440p were  significantly higher than what was possible at 4K.   While you can definitely play less demanding  titles like this at higher settings 4K,   the question is, would you want to? Or would you  prefer the higher frames if playing competitively?

Forza Horizon 5 can also hit  fairly high frame rates at 4K,   at least at the lower setting presets. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?Ultra  settings was still sitting around 60 FPS,   which isn’t bad at all considering  this game doesn’t have DLSS or FSR.

Dying Light 2 was capable of reaching  60 FPS at low settings with 4K,   even with DLSS on quality mode. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?Again we could  lower the DLSS mode to further increase FPS,   but I didn’t want to sacrifice quality, and based  on the comments I got from the last time we tested   DLSS in balanced mode, most of you aren’t either.  Ray tracing enabled is pretty much a no go at 4K,   even with DLSS, however 1440p with  ray tracing and DLSS wasn’t too bad,   while 1080p was significantly higher,  surpassing 60 FPS at max settings.

Speaking of ray tracing, Cyberpunk 2077  also has a few RT presets built in.Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible? 4K   wasn’t doing well here either, even with DLSS on  quality mode again. Medium settings weren’t too   far off 60 FPS, but honestly based on these  results, 1440p is a much better sweet spot,   the FPS on offer is just much higher compared  to 4K in this fairly resource intensive game.

We’ve also tested Control with ray tracing  enabled, as this game has a great implementation   of DLSS which boosts performance a lot. Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?Even  with that advantage though, the 4K results   aren’t looking good in this game. 1440p was much  more usable, even at max settings. If we instead   turn off ray tracing, well 4K high settings was  close to 60 FPS, with more FPS then possible at   lower setting levels. 1440p and 1080p were  performing much better, but 4K with good   settings and DLSS is at least playable, as long as  you’re not looking at high ray tracing settings.

How Fast is 1440p Compared to 4K?

Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?On average over all 10 games tested, if  we run the games at 1440p instead of 4K,   we’re looking at a 63% higher average  FPS at the lower 1440p resolution.  

Now running 1440p on a 4K screen doesn’t look  the best as it doesn’t perfectly scale down,   the point is more so that picking a  gaming laptop with a 1440p screen from   the start is probably going to be better  in most cases, especially at 15 inches.

How Fast is 1080p Compared to 4K?

Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?Honestly, I think 1080p doesn’t make sense once  you’re looking at top of the line hardware, such   as our RTX 3080 Ti, however this lower resolution  is able to offer much higher performance. The FPS   at 1080p was more than 100% faster on average  compared to 4K, so basically more than double,   though as we can see it does depend on the  specific game. Unlike 1440p, 1080p does at least   scale well on a 4K screen, so running at 1080p  on a 4K screen looks alright, meaning lowering   the resolution from 4K down to 1080p in the  most intense games could be a good strategy.

How Fast is 1080p Compared to 1440p?

Is 4K Gaming on a Thin Laptop Actually Possible?1080p was only able to offer us a 27% higher  average frame rate when compared to 1440p,   a much smaller difference compared to  the gains that are possible going from 4K   to either 1080p or 1440p, and that’s just because   4K is a much heavier workload due to the  higher pixel count, as noted earlier.

Can a Thin 3080 Ti Laptop Game at 4K?

All things considered, Nvidia’s RTX  3080 Ti graphics in the Razer Blade 15   was definitely capable of running modern games  at good settings 4K, and that’s despite the GPU   in this thinner machine being on the lower side  compared to what’s possible from the 3080 Ti. This is definitely being helped  out by features like DLSS and FSR,   and you’re absolutely going to want to  leverage these features when playing at 4K.   Of course some games did better than  others, and even with features like   FSR or DLSS some titles like Cyberpunk  2077 still didn’t really work out at 4K. Unless you’re running at like minimum settings,   and that’s putting ray tracing completely to the  side.

Running 1080p games on a 4K Screen

Honestly on a smaller 15” screen like this,   you could definitely get away playing games at the  lower 1080p resolution. I don’t know about you,   but for me personally I’d prefer to  run a game like Cyberpunk at 1080p with   high maybe even ultra settings and get a  little RT in there compared to 4K low settings.

Best Resolution for your Screen Size

I think higher resolutions are more worthwhile  once you start going up to larger screen sizes.   If I’ve got a 17 inch 1080p screen for instance,   I can see those pixels. And even at the larger  17 inch size, I think 1440p is a great sweet   spot. Both in terms of price because you don’t  have to buy as higher tier specs to run 1440p,   and performance because as we’ve seen,  it’s going to give you better FPS.

Of course you’ve also got the option of connecting  an even larger screen to your gaming laptop,   and I think that once you start  getting above 27 inches or so   then 4K starting becoming quite attractive.  Though it is of course personal preference.  

Boost Game FPS with External Monitor

Not to mention if your gaming laptop does not have  a MUX switch, then connecting an external screen   might give you an FPS boost in games.

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Kevin 717
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