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.