GPU Performance

It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time to see the smaller Pascal cards come to notebooks. The larger GTX 1080, 1070, and 1060, all debuted almost a year ago, but it wasn’t until CES this year that the smaller GTX 1050 was made available to notebook manufacturers.

There’s a lot of upgrades from the outgoing GTX 960M available in the previous XPS 15 thanks to the new Pascal architecture. GP107 offers the same 640 CUDA cores, 40 Texture Units, and 16 ROPs as the GTX 960M, but it offers much higher core, boost, and memory clocks. Dell outfitted the XPS 15 with the 2 GB GTX 960M on the last generation, but they’ve equipped the latest model with the 4 GB model as well. For a full breakdown on the changes, check out our launch article for the GTX 1050 for notebooks.

While the GTX 960M was adequate for light gaming, the GTX 1050 should offer much better performance around the 1920x1080 resolution, but to see the difference, the laptop was run through our full gaming tests. The performance comparisons are against the same systems as the previous tests for system performance. The Razer Blade Pro is outfitted with a GTX 1080 GPU, and the ASUS GL502VS features a GTX 1070, so both of those, being gaming systems, are going to have an advantage, but they are included just to see how big the delta is.

First up, the synthetics:

3DMark

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike

Futuremark 3DMark Sky Diver

Futuremark 3DMark Cloud Gate

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited - Graphics

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited - Physics

The latest version of 3DMark continues to evolve with new tests, in order to keep it current with systems of today. Fire Strike is the most graphically demanding test in our results, followed by Sky Diver, Cloud Gate, and then the mobile focused Ice Storm Extreme. It’s clear the GTX 1050 is a step ahead of the GTX 960M when looking at these tests, with the new XPS 15 showing a substantial improvement over the outgoing model. Yes, it’s a long way from the bigger GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 notebooks, but the new Pascal card outperforms the Maxwell version by 39.9% on Fire Strike, 33.8% on Sky Diver, 20.7% on Cloud Gate, and 17.9% on Ice Storm Extreme. The more demanding the task, the bigger the gain is as well.

Dota 2 Reborn

Dota 2 Reborn - Enthusiast

Valve’s online battle arena game is one that’s well suited to even low-end systems, so it’s not surprising to see the XPS 15 be CPU bound even at our enthusiast settings. Since this laptop has a UHD display, trying to run Dota 2 at 3840x2160 at max settings only allows for 31.3 FPS, so the card is perfect for 1080p gaming, but doesn’t have the muscle to power UHD games even if they are less demanding.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider - Mainstream

Tomb Raider - Enthusiast

Although several years old now, the original Tomb Raider is still a very demanding game for notebooks, especially when all of the settings are cranked up and TressFX is enabled. At low to mid-settings, the GTX 1050 can easily power this game to multiples of the 60 Hz refresh rate, but at maximum settings, it can’t quite get to the 60 FPS mark. The improvement over the previous generation is an impressive 53.2% increase in performance at the Enthusiast settings.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider - Value

Rise of the Tomb Raider - Mainstream

Rise of the Tomb Raider - Enthusiast

The latest version of Tomb Raider is even more demanding, and the XPS 15 can only manage to be playable at the mainstream settings.

Civilization VI

Civilization VI Value

Civilization VI Mainstream

Civilization VI Enthusiast

The latest version of Civilization is as demanding on the CPU as it is fun to play – which means it’s very demanding. Graphics generally takes a back seat here, but with all of the settings maxed out, the performance impact can be substantial. Here we see the GTX 1050 struggle at Enthusiast levels, although on a game like this, 30 FPS is likely adequate.

Bioshock

Bioshock Infinite - Value

Bioshock Infinite - Mainstream

Bioshock Infinite - Enthusiast

Another legacy game, it’s kept in our tests since we have such a large amount of data to compare this against. At high settings levels, it can still be punishing for notebooks, although the GTX 1050 is the first mid-level notebook GPU to be able to crack the 60 FPS barrier.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Value

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Mainstream

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Enthusiast

This RPG offers immense worlds, with long sight lines, which can be very taxing on GPUs. The GTX 1050 definitely offers strong performance here compared to the outgoing model, but it still can’t quite handle max settings at 1080p.

Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor - Value

Shadow of Mordor - Mainstream

Shadow of Mordor - Enthusiast

Again, we can see that the GTX 1050 is really a mid-tier card, for light 1080p gaming, or at that resolution with some settings turned down. It’s generally not quite enough to handle this resolution on the more demanding titles.

GPU Conclusion

Switching to Pascal in the XPS 15 has brought with it some very strong improvements in performance. It is common to see it 40-50% faster than the outgoing GTX 960M, but with a similar TDP. NVIDIA doesn’t release official TDP values for its notebook cards, but since Dell hasn’t increased the weight or noise with the new XPS 15, it’s very likely the GTX 1050 is very close to the GTX 960M’s power requirements. We’re likely not to see this kind of jump in performance for a while again, but it’s still fascinating to see just what an increase in performance NVIDIA was able to achieve by moving from an old 28 nm process for Maxwell, to the 14nm process used for GP107.

System Performance Display Analysis
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  • James5mith - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    I gotta say, I'm loving my 9560. First thing I did was swap out the 16GB of RAM for 32GB of DDR4-2400, and swap out the Killer NIC for an Intel 8265.

    I'll gladly take more stable wifi over slightly faster wifi any day.
    Reply
  • notR1CH - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    I thought the Killer networking junk was only found in ELITE PRO GAMER products. Very disappointing to see it creeping into more mainstream systems. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    When wireless is your primary means of connecting with the world outside of your local machine, the last thing you need is something like a Killer NIC. Wifi should be something you simply don't have to think about as an end user. It ought to fall into the "it just works" realm and I don't think any Killer adapter has been able to deliver on that in a long time. Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    It looks like Killer is now going for being the cheaper option in mainstream systems, rather than just a gaming option. Reply
  • wolrah - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    A-freaking-men. A "Killer" network card of any kind is an immediate negative mark against a product in my book.

    As far as onboard wired networking goes I consider Intel gigabit ethernet to be my baseline. Anything gigabit but non-Intel is a negative. Anything NBASE-T or 10G is a positive.

    For WiFi anything truly onboard, as in built in to the motherboard, is a negative to me. WiFi technology moves too fast. My gigabit ethernet card from 2004 is still just as useful today as it was then, but my 802.11g card from the same time is pretty much a relic by modern standards. My laptops have all lived through multiple generations of wireless networking, so the ability to upgrade is key.

    Along those same lines, vendors that lock down their firmwares to only boot with approved cards can suck a big fat one.

    I still consider an Intel WiFi card to be a plus and Killer to be a small minus. Plain old Broadcom or Atheros is the neutral position.
    Reply
  • petteyg359 - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    Killer it's just a brand name for Broadcom to sell their products under. If you don't bother to install the software QoS service, it's just like any other network chipset. Would you rather have Realtek or Broadcom? Or hell, they could give us crap from Marvell like their "MADDOG" 802.11n chipset. Reply
  • petteyg359 - Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - link

    And by Broadcom I obviously meant Atheros. Brain was lacking. Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Friday, August 4, 2017 - link

    WiFi in computers has to be Intel or Broadcom. For routers Atheros, Broadcom or Ralink is acceptable. Anything else is just crap. Reply
  • coolhardware - Monday, July 31, 2017 - link

    Yes, it is a bummer than Lenovo has a whitelist for wifi cards on some of their models. Makes it a real pain to upgrade/replace :-( Reply
  • skavi - Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - link

    Lots of Lenovo products have modded bioses with removed whitelists. Reply

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