Boy, that mobile GeForce GTX 1070 is something, ain’t it? The power-efficient puissance of Nvidia’s Pascal architecture has certainly brought portable performance to a new plateau. It might not match the desktop GTX 1070 blow-for-blow, but it truly is faster than the GTX 1060 6GB—an impressively fast graphics card in its own right.
The thing is, did you see that on-battery test in our review of Gigabyte’s P57X v6? For those who skipped our earlier review, the relevant frametime graph is reproduced above. Long-time TR readers will already know as much, but for those who are just joining us, those frame times would make for a miserable experience. Even though the FPS average of those frames works out to 30 FPS, that plot indicates an intolerably jerky experience all the way through, at least in that test. Folks who want to game on the go are buying machines that really need to be plugged in to produce the best performance.
Moving between power outlets and truly being on the move is the difference between “portable” and “mobile” in a nutshell. Some folks really do want proper mobile performance, though. The laptop version of the GTX 1060 is a better compromise than the mobile GTX 1070, but the GTX 1060’s GP106 chip is still pretty thirsty for today’s slim & light laptops. Drawing upwards of 100W from a battery means that even the largest laptop batteries probably won’t survive much past an hour or so.
Folks who have wanted real PC-gaming-on-the-go until now have had to settle for the GTX 960M. That chip is based on the now-venerable GM107 part we first saw in the GTX 750 Ti almost three years ago. As impressive as it was then, it’s time for an update. So just as the GTX 750 Ti was replaced in the sub-75W, no-PCIe-power-connector-required space by the GTX 1050 Ti, the 960M is now being replaced by the dynamic duo of the GTX 1050 and the GTX 1050 Ti.
Yes, just like with the higher-powered Pascals, the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti are headed into laptops in more or less unaltered form. I say “more or less” because there have been some changes, of course. Contrary to what you might expect, though, the changes are mostly in favor of higher performance. Check out this fancy chart full of specs:
|Base clock speed||Boost clock speed||Memory
|Memory transfer rate|
|GTX 1050||32||40||640||1354 MHz||1455 MHz||128-bit||7 GT/sec|
|GTX 1050 (mobile)||16||40||640||1354 MHz||1493 MHz||128-bit||7 GT/sec|
|GTX 1050 Ti||32||48||768||1290 MHz||1392 MHz||128-bit||7 GT/sec|
|GTX 1050 Ti (mobile)||32||48||768||1493 MHz||1620 MHz||128-bit||7 GT/sec|
|GTX 960M||16||40||640||1097 MHz||1176 MHz||128-bit||5 GT/sec|
The items of particular note above are the core clock rates. While the laptop GTX 1050 hews fairly close to its desktop counterpart, the 1050 Ti takes a leap forward, with a 200 MHz bump to its base clock and a 220 MHz increase in its boost clock range. That’s a big jump, and an unusual move for a mobile version of a desktop GPU.
Curiously, Nvidia’s documentation also lists the laptop GTX 1050 as having just 16 ROP units—half that of the desktop card. At a glance, that change seems pretty major. We’ll have to see if we can get our hands on a laptop equipped with one of these chips and put it to the test against the desktop GTX 1050 to see whether there’s a major difference in performance for real-world use. Despite the halved ROP count, the mobile GTX 1050 retains a 128-bit path to memory.
Besides the clock rates, the laptop GTX 1050 will apparently be available in a configuration with 4GB of local memory. That’s in contrast to the desktop part, which is only available with 2GB. Both laptop cards will be using the same 128-bit path to 7 GT/sec GDDR5 memory as their desktop counterparts.
BatteryBoost learns new frame-pacing tricks
As we saw from the frame-time chart at the beginning of this piece, smooth frame delivery is a major obstacle to enjoying a game on battery power. To ensure smooth frame delivery while saving battery power through lower frame rates, the mobile GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti will be the first chips to benefit from a major update to Nvidia’s BatteryBoost technology.
BatteryBoost isn’t actually new, of course. The tech debuted with the mobile GeForce 800M-series. Nvidia says the version integrated into the new mobile Pascal chips is vastly improved over the original, though. The new version doesn’t just limit frame rates with a user-defined cap—it paces frames in hardware to ensure a smooth experience.
We know from our original Inside the Second investigations that Nvidia has been integrating some form of frame-pacing technology in its GPUs for several generations now. That technology has obviously had the most attention (and probably the biggest impact) when applied to multi-GPU micro-stutter.
The new BatteryBoost puts this tech to work in a novel way. Nvidia says the frame-metering done to limit the frame rate with BatteryBoost is done “right in the GPU.” Specifically, the company says BatteryBoost can “control frame rate variance directly at flip time.” We suspect it makes use of the same secret sauce the company uses to smooth the hills and valleys of SLI frame times. According to the green team, the hardware-based nature of the new BatteryBoost algorithm means smoother gameplay compared to software-based framerate limiters.
The goal of BatteryBoost is mainly to achieve longer playtime while on battery power. By default, BatteryBoost will limit frame rates to 30 FPS. That may seem like a bad time waiting to happen, but long-time TR readers will know that consistent frame times and a smooth gaming experience are just as important as a high average frame rate.
Games might not be especially fluid-looking at 30 FPS, but if they’re as smooth-running as Nvidia promises, the experience could still prove immersive and undistracting. Given the current state of affairs with gaming on battery, we’re happy for the improvement. Folks who are willing to trade battery life for fluidity will be able to set higher caps, as well. To further reduce GPU load, GeForce Experience also has a new option to use different visual settings in games when running on battery power.
The combination of the two features should result in a pretty significant drop in power consumption while gaming. That, in turn, should definitely allow laptops to run significantly longer on battery. Nvidia surprisingly doesn’t make any bombastic claims about BatteryBoost this time around—the original release claimed double the runtime compared to laptops without the feature—but it does say that Pascal-powered laptops should be able to run 30% longer than Maxwell-equipped models.
A quick look at performance expectations
Of course, running longer is all fine and well as long as you’re having a good time. Fortunately, the new GeForces should be able to do a decent job with whatever games you want to throw at them. Unfortunately, because we don’t have a laptop handy with one of the new graphics chips on board, we’ll have to make do with some numbers provided by the green team. All of the benchmarks were performed at a 1920×1080 screen resolution. Our apologies for the watermarked stats tables.
According to Nvidia’s numbers, the laptop versions of the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti run strikingly close to the desktop cards’ performance. The company claims Grand Theft Auto V‘s built-in benchmark reports 70 FPS on the GTX 1050 and 87 FPS on the GTX 1050 Ti. That’s in on “very high” settings, albeit with MSAA disabled. The Division‘s built-in benchmark is more demanding, but the new cards still pulled out 36 FPS on the GTX 1050 and 46 FPS on the GTX 1050 Ti with the “high” preset.
Things shake out the same way in basically all of the company’s tests—including Fallout 4, Crysis 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry 4, Hitman, and The Witcher 3. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is the major exception. Nvidia tested the open-world title on its “high” preset, and it strongly favored the GTX 1050 Ti. The faster card put out 74 average FPS, versus 43 on the GTX 1050. All in all, a strong showing for both of the petite Pascals.
Of course, these are Nvidia’s numbers, and we haven’t verified them ourselves. Also, all of the company’s numbers are just average FPS measurements, so they don’t tell us much about the smoothness of the gameplay experience. Moreover, beyond the model names (MSI GP62 and GE62), Nvidia didn’t actually specify exactly what hardware was in the laptops it used for testing. MSI has used those names for many, many laptops with a dizzying array of hardware configurations, so it’s difficult to really put these numbers in context.
I think it’s also worth noting that you won’t see this kind of performance if you want to make good on those extended battery life claims. To stop sucking power and start sipping juice, users will need to enable BatteryBoost, and that means lower framerates. Whether that trade-off is worth it is up to the individual user, of course, but we’re eager to give the next generation of BatteryBoost a try to see whether the guaranteed smoothness outweighs those lower frame rates.
Nvidia says “every major laptop manufacturer” will have laptops available with the GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti inside soon. As mainstream graphics parts, the 1050 and 1050 Ti are sure to be found in gaming laptops of every size and shape. While the performance of the GTX 1060, GTX 1070, and GTX 1080 is very impressive, most folks gaming on laptops probably aren’t so hardcore. Paired with a G-Sync laptop display, the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti could let you get in a couple satisfying rounds of Overwatch or time with other demanding titles on your lunch break. Stay tuned to our news page if you’re looking for a laptop with one of these inside—we’re sure to see plenty of products during CES.