So, Nvidia is launching a new series of notebook GPUs today by the name of the GeForce 800M series, which includes the full lineup of GPUs ranging from the GT 840M up to the GTX 880M. However, the top two 800 series GPUs are actually refreshes of the older Kepler series GPUs with a set of newer features. While the GTX 880M and GTX 870M are not Maxwell-based GPUs, they are still the fastest Nvidia has to offer and faster than the previous GeForce 700M series of GPUs. Furthermore, the GTX 860, GTX 850, GT 840 and GT 830 are all Maxwell-based GPUs and their power to performance clearly indicates how significant of an improvement Maxwell really is. Personally, I didn’t expect to see Maxwell GPUs in laptops nearly this soon after Nvidia launched Maxwell in the GTX 750 Ti.
What’s more amazing is that Nvidia has really outdone themselves in terms of performance per watt and enabling thinner laptops. The real truth of the matter is that true gaming laptops have been thick and bulky laptops that were easily identifiable as gaming behemoths. The primary reason for this was the GPU’s need to consume lots of power and generate lots of heat, two things that I believe Nvidia has done a pretty good job of figuring out. In fact, the GeForce GTX 850M enables a laptop half the thickness of an Alienware with a GTX 580M from two generations ago (technically 3 if you count the number series and not architectures).
In addition to not only being cooler and more power efficient, the GTX 850M is also 30% faster than 2 generations ago (and a few process nodes). Nvidia is really showing us what Maxwell brings to the table here alone when you consider how significant of an improvement the Maxwell architecture has proven to be even without a process node shrink.
Nvidia even claims that their efficiency is unmatched, even by integrated graphics. They claim to deliver 4x the frames per watt as their competition, while consuming about the same or less watts as their competition. Keeping in mind, that the fairer comparison is between the 840M with the Intel 4210U and the HD 4400 IGP and the 4210U because the Iris Pro GPU comes with a vastly more power hungry CPU.
Even so, the GT 840M shows an FPS of 30, which is barely the acceptable frame rate on a video game while the others simply are unacceptable. Do note, that this is playing Skyrim at 1080P and medium settings, not necessarily the most strenuous of games, but none of the GPUs listed above are really intended to be used for hardcore gaming to begin with, that’s why the other GPU SKUs exist. But even taking this into account, the GT 840M should deliver a fairly good level of performance for gamers looking to play games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends at lower settings.
So, those are the performance differences and we’ll be evaluating some of the actual performance claims once we get one of these laptops in our hands. Moving on, the GeForce 800M series as a whole also brings a lot of software features to the GeForce M series that were primarily only desktop features. It also brings some unique power saving features that are designed to extend a gamer’s playable unplugged battery life, still one of the biggest weak spots of most gaming laptops.
Nvidia is doing this by bringing an expanded GeForce Experience to laptops and the GeForce Experience will essentially drive the majority of these new features. Namely, GeForce 800M laptops will now be able to do things like Game Stream to a SHIELD or Tegra Note, Twitch Streaming and Shadow Play. All of these features were available to desktop gaming graphics cards since the GeForce 700 series, but were compatible with all Kepler-based GPUs and newer. Now, we’re seeing these same features finally come to laptops, a welcome improvement as we’ve been finding ourselves doing more and more mobile gaming.
The last but not least feature is Battery Boost, which is Nvidia’s newest and probably most important feature with the introduction of the 800M series. This feature allows gamers to extend their unplugged playable hours of gaming significantly based on adjusting a few features. Gamers can either set a frame target on their GPUs in order to reduce power consumption over the longhaul or they can tell the drivers to optimize based on battery life or performance. These power management settings will work in concert with the laptops already existing power management to further prolong the battery of the laptop, even though, when gaming, the GPU is generally the most power hungry component.
Laptops based on the new GeForce 800 series will be landing in the next few weeks and some of them may even become available shortly for pre-order, including Maingear’s Pulse 14 laptop which will get updated with a GTX 850M, what appears to be Nvdia’s most popular chip for the GeForce 800M series. There will also be laptops from Alienware and Razer, with an updated version of their Blade, Lenovo with their Y50, ASUS with their G750, Gigabyte with their P34 (which will probably never see the US) and MSI with an updated version of their GT70 laptop.
Maingear’s Pulse will start at $1,200 with a GTX 850M, which is what I expect to be the starting price for most of these laptops, as the GTX 850M appears to be the first SKU of the GeForce 800M series that is a more serious gaming GPU. After all, it is a GTX 800 series GPU, right?
I would not expect this short list of laptops that will be available shortly to be the end of it as Nvidia indicated that they expect to see a torrent of new laptops with these new GPUs. And considering the amount of new features that the GeForce 800M series delivers, it will give laptop manufacturers a lot to talk about by ways of improvements over the previous generation. Not to mention, it will allow them to make quieter, cooler, and thinner notebooks while still being able to claim better performance.
It looks like the ball is now in AMD’s court to answer Nvidia’s fairly sudden and strong notebook play with Maxwell, albeit not a full Maxwell line.