GeForce GTX 900M series brings mobile GPUs closer to desktop perf

— 8:00 AM on October 7, 2014

The GM204 is going mobile. After its debut inside the GeForce GTX 970 and 980 last month, Nvidia's new high-end graphics processor is heading to notebooks aboard the GeForce GTX 970M and 980M. These mobile parts are, obviously, pared down somewhat from their desktop brethren, but Nvidia claims they're closer to desktop-level performance than past offerings.

The key spes are in the table below. Nvidia doesn't disclose Boost clocks, likely because those speeds are bound to vary depending on the thermal solution in each notebook. That's pretty typical for mobile GPUs.

Model Stream
GeForce GTX 980M 1536 1038 Yes up to 4GB GDDR5 2500 256-bit 160
GeForce GTX 970M 1280 924 Yes up to 3GB GDDR5 2500 192-bit 120

Source: Nvidia.

According to the company, the GeForce GTX 980M is about 75% as fast as the desktop GTX 980. That's pretty darned impressive, considering the GTX 980 may well be the fastest single-GPU graphics card on the market today. (The thousand-dollar GTX Titan Black could be faster by a hair, but that's beside the point.) Nvidia tells us the new mobile flagship outdoes its direct predecessor, the GTX 880M, by about 40%, while doubling the performance of the two-year-old GTX 680M—which Nvidia expects folks to be upgrading from right about now.

Those figures apply to notebooks running on AC power. Running on battery power, the GTX 980M delivers an even more impressive performance boost over the GTX 680M. Take a look at the graphic below:

Source: Nvidia.

Part of this generational performance leap comes from the power-efficiency improvements of the Maxwell architecture, which are especially handy in thermally constrained systems like notebooks. Scott covered Maxwell's enhancements at length in his review of the GM107-based GeForce GTX 750 Ti here. The GM204 chip inside the new 900-series cards is larger and more powerful than the GM107, but it shares the same efficiency tweaks. As before, we'll remind readers that Nvidia pulled this off without a process shrink. Maxwell GPUs are fabbed using the same 28-nm TSMC process as their predecessors.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about the GTX 970M, that model is also 40% faster than the previous-gen part—in this case, the GTX 870M. Nvidia cites a 30% performance delta between the GTX 970M and GTX 980M, which means the slower of the two is still quite fast, all things considered.

The GeForce GTX 900M series' high performance opens the door to gaming at resolutions beyond 1080p. Of course, many of the gaming notebooks that will feature these GPUs will also be stuck with 1080p displays. Nvidia's answer to that conundrum is Dynamic Super Resolution, the Maxwell-specific feature that allows games to run at higher resolutions before being sampled down to lower ones. The result, as Scott saw in his testing, is often a marked improvement over what's achievable through conventional antialiasing techniques. DSR may get you as close to 2560x1440 gaming as you can get without springing for a high-PPI notebook.

The GeForce GTX 900M series also supports Battery Boost, the power-saving tech Nvidia introduced with the 800M series in March. Battery Boost allows for more unplugged gaming time by setting a frame rate target (30 FPS by default) and running the GPU only as fast as it needs to hit that target. With the 900M series, Battery Boost purportedly allows for run-time increases of 30% to 55% in games like League of Legends, GRID 2, and Tomb Raider. Nvidia says "much has been improved" in Battery Boost over the past six months, as well. Battery run times have further improved, and the GeForce Experience software now lets folks choose which image-quality settings to use on battery power. Additionally, the GeForce Experience software now includes a "one-click optimize-for-battery button."

Source: Nvidia.

Nvidia expects more than a dozen notebooks based on the GeForce GTX 900M series to be available "immediately." Those systems will be offered by Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, and Clevo, and they'll all feature display sizes in the 15-17" range. One of them, the 17" Gigabyte Aorus X7, will even double up on the new silicon with a pair of GTX 970Ms configured in SLI mode.

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