For most people, a laptop offers the perfect blend of portability and power for their daily computer needs. However, as creative professionals, we tend to think that we need the most powerful computer available, which has a solid upgrade path, and therefore a laptop may seem to be a compromised choice compared to a desktop.
But laptops today have become incredibly powerful thanks to integrating the new generation of Graphics Cards (GPU) into the motherboards of notebooks. Some laptop vendors, Apple, for example, have started to implement the whole 'System on a Chip' (SoC), which effectively integrates a graphics card and a Processor (CPU) onto a single 'chip', which has had a transformative impact on what can be done with a laptop.
This guide will look at a range of laptop GPUs, some in the laptops themselves or some new to the market, and those that should be watched out for in upcoming laptop models – as chosen by experts in the field. We've gone on personal experience with the GPUs, as well as reviews and industry reputation. Our links will take you to the laptops that house the guides.
Want a more general guide? See our best graphics cards post.
As most content creators are Mac or PC rather than both - we will split our results to reflect that. While Mac laptops offer excellent build quality, good battery life and excellent screens, they are also expensive, potentially limited in some creative workflows due to lack of available software and 'meh' for gaming. However, the release from Apple of the 'Gaming Portal Toolkit' may change that in the future.
Right now, for a creator looking to buy a Mac offering the best all-around GPU experience, we recommend the M2 Pro; it compares well to the previous M1 Pro with a 40% speed improvement over the M1 Pro. Also, it exhibits little signs of power throttling when on battery power.
We recommend going for the 19 Core GPU as that allows more headroom for Apple's highly efficient unified architecture without having to leap up to the M2 Max. We would also recommend at least 32GB of RAM to accompany to make the most of Apple's unified memory system.
While based on the 12th gen Intel CPU, the Intel Iris G7 can offer a little bit of oomph for creators on a budget, as it can be found in machines such as Dell's excellent Dell XPS 13 and the Huawei MateBook D 14. While integrated into the CPU, the Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 80EUs does allow 3D acceleration both on and off the battery and will offer enough power for most 'normal' tasks and even some light gaming and content creation while not obliterating the battery
Obviously, there are better options, but those cost more, and with machines that offer passive cooling, a laptop equipped with an Intel Xe Graphics G7 80EUs will be easy on the ears, the lap and the wallet.
With boost speeds up to 1350mhz and offering the best power to price calculation compared to the 'upgrade' 96EUs. Even though it may be starting to show its age, this would be our budget choice.
We will use an integrated GPU for our current AMD graphic card choice. They offer excellent content creation capabilities when integrated into a Chip like the AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 6850U and placed in a Lenovo ThinkPad P16s or the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 (our link leads to this).
AMD has long excelled at components for workstation laptops, and the Lenovo ThinkPad is optimised to work with AMD chips. This means under light loads, this big laptop is practically silent. The AMD Radeon 680M also consumes little power. While no one expects excellent battery life on a mobile workstation, there should be enough to get through a morning of meetings.
We recommend getting the biggest battery and power brick you can when ordering. We cannot think of a better combination for those who want a laptop system for Pro and CAD work.
One of the paradoxes of Nvidia's laptop GPU naming system is that while in some respects the underlying architecture of an identically named GPU for a desktop and a laptop may be the same, their performance most definitely not.
This is because the power drawn for the laptop GPU has to be lower than its desktop equivalent, making the card less powerful, and also, the maximum amount of energy available to the GPU varies from laptop to laptop based on the manufacturer's specification.
So for our Nvidia pick of a solid GPU performer, we have gone for the RTX 4070 with 70W, such as that found in the Dell XPS 17 9730; while more powerful Nvidia's GPU's do exist, we feel that the 70W variant offers a good balance of power and mobility for most content creators needs. Being the latest generation of Nvidia's Ada Lovelace platform also means that features such as DLSS 3 are ready to make the most of the RTX 4070.
Right now, the Nvidia RTX 4090 is the king of laptop GPUs on raw specifications alone; however, as with the Nvidia RTX 4070 previously mentioned, the laptop variant of the RTX 4090 is not the same as its desktop equivalent.
The memory is diminished with 16GB of Ram rather than 24GB, but there is a respectable 304 Tensor cores. In real-world performance, the mobile RTX 4090 is roughly equivalent to a desktop RTX 4080, which is still pretty awesome.
However, the RTX 4090 runs best in machines like the enormous Alienware m18 laptop, which is a proper desktop replacement. Under load, the RTX 4090 needs a lot of cooling, and therefore, fan noise can be obtrusive; running on the battery throttles the GPU performance and running on the battery when working can be counted in minutes rather than hours.
For the best laptop gaming GPU, we are going for the latest generation of AMD Discrete laptop GPU the AMD Radeon RX 7700S. With 32 compute units at 2200Mhz, this next generation card does pack quite a punch, What however, takes the impressive technology of the AMD GPU is the fact they are willing to work with laptop manufacturers such as Framework, who make upgradeable laptops and create a version of the RX 7700S that can be replaced later in the laptops lifetime ready for the next generation of AMD card, for the next generation of games.
While we have seen upgradeable laptops before, the fact that the Framework uses a brand new high-end gaming GPU that supports the latest in tech, such as Hardware H265 decode and encode, 8GB of GDDR 6 memory makes any laptop that is equipped with an RX 7700S a compelling option. In the Framework 16, there is no other laptop like it.
While we listed the M2 Pro as our best choice for a Mac. Suppose it's specific video editing that is the primary function of the laptop, over it being a day-to-day laptop. In that case, we recommend spending the not-insignificant price bump on getting the M2 Max MacBook Pro.
With the M2 Max, battery life is lost. Still, video performance is definitely improved with a High Power mode and two video encode and ProRes engines compared to the M2 Pro's one of each.
This, coupled with a near-perfect screen, makes the M2 Max MacBook Pro a perfect portable edit station. But to make them genuinely portable requires a significant upfront investment as there is no way to upgrade these machines when bought. So load it with as much Ram and SSD as possible, as Apple's integrated architecture will use all of it. Which is great in use but for the price of a proper desktop workstation.
Which Graphics card is best for a laptop?
There is no more personal computer than a laptop, so the question is, what do I want my computer to do as the GPU is now integrated into the CPU as a unified system in most laptops? However, look for options that give a good balance of battery life, with the power of the GPU being throttled as little as possible when on battery. This makes a good laptop a fabulous everywhere computer.
Can I put a better graphics card in a laptop?
Upgrading the components of a laptop has always been nearly impossible due to how laptop GPUs are integrated. However, even though companies like Alienware have had particular laptops with upgradeable GPUs, it always felt like a secondary option; that is why we are very excited about the Framework 16 laptop (see our Framework review) and its upgradeable AMD GPU.
Is a laptop with a powerful GPU worth it compared to a desktop?
Having a laptop with a good GPU can be a good way of replacing a desktop system, especially if space at home is limited. But they aren't portable. A desktop system can be made to have few compromises; a laptop is all about making the right kind of compromises.