If you're excited about the prospect of newer, faster GeForce GPUs for notebooks, then you're in for a treat. But don't be fooled: the new GeForce GTX 280M and 260M aren't mobile flavors of Nvidia's desktop GeForce 200-series graphics cards. Rather than tweaking the elephantine GT200 chip for notebook use, Nvidia has simply based these new high-end mobile parts on the 55nm G92b—you know, the same chip that's been powering GeForce 9800 GTX+ cards since last summer.
Be that as it may, the GeForce GTX 200M series does bring some notable improvements. The top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 280M has a full 128 stream processors and 1GB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 950MHz. With peak 585MHz core and 1463MHz shader speeds, this GPU theoretically could achieve 562 gigaFLOPS of floating-point number-crunching power. In real-world testing, Nvidia says those improvements afford frame rate gains of up to 50% over its previous flagship—the GeForce 9800M GTX—which has a 65nm G92 GPU with 112 SPs, slower memory, and a tamer 420 gigaFLOPS rating.
Quite interestingly, Nvidia also claims the GeForce 280M GTX is up to 30% faster than AMD's Mobility Radeon HD 4870—even though the Radeon has a full-blown RV770 GPU with more gigaFLOPS and faster memory. After some probing on our part, Nvidia told us that the mobile 4870 just isn't that fast because AMD had to reduce clock speeds substantially to fit within mobile power envelopes. AMD confirmed that the Mobility Radeon HD 4870 only runs at up to 550MHz, which is 200MHz slower than the desktop version. Nvidia's claim might not be as outlandish as it seems, then, although considering the track record for these companies' in-house competitive benchmarks, we'd rather wait for independent tests before drawing any conclusions.
Back to the new Nvidia products, the GeForce GTX 260M is a slightly stripped-down version of the 280M: it has 112 SPs, a 550MHz core clock speed, a 1375MHz shader speed, and a 462 gigaFLOPS rating. Nvidia pairs it with the same 1GB of 950MHz GDDR3 RAM as the 280M, though, so it should still be rather peppy. According to the firm, the GeForce 260M can outperforms the Mobility Radeon HD 4850 by up to 20%—a comparison that doesn't account for the freshly launched Mobility Radeon HD 4860.
As a side note, Nvidia says the 280M and 260M both have quicker HybridPower switching times than the older GeForce 9800M GTX (less than a second instead of seven seconds). That means you should be able to switch between integrated Nvidia graphics (from a chipset like the GeForce 9400M) and a discrete GeForce 200M GPU in software almost seamlessly.
So, when are these new puppies coming out? Nvidia was a lot less secretive than AMD about its launch schedule, telling us plainly that GeForce GTX 200M-based laptops will come out next month. You can look forward to offerings from all the usual suspects, like Asus, Clevo, MSI, and Sager.