Nvidia releases GTX 980M and GTX 970M notebook GPUs

October 7, 2014 // 2:57 p.m.

Tags: #directx-12 #dsr #gaming-notebook #gm204 #gtx-970m #maxwell #notebook

Nvidia has revealed its next generation of GPUs for notebooks. Based on the its second generation Maxwell part, the GM204 GPU, the GTX 980M and GTX 970M are Nvidia's most efficient notebook GPUs yet.

We'll get into the specs shortly but given the efficiency of the desktop parts (the GTX 980 and GTX 970) these chips are potentially very exciting for notebook users. For the desktop, efficiency mainly translates to less heat and noise, and maybe a slightly lower power bill in the long term, but ultimately is not a primary concern. However, in the notebook space it's everything. GPUs in particular are incredibly power limited, so any efficiency gains translate into more performance and longer battery life. It's also worth noting that, as promised, this launch brings Nvidia's notebook and desktop parts back into naming alignment.

Sales of gaming notebooks have grown massively in recent years. According to Nvidia, they are up by five times compared to just three years ago. Part of this is due to an increase in the number of competing OEMs, performance categories and configurations that has ultimately resulted in far greater consumer choice. However, another huge reason, at least as Nvidia sees it, is a closing of the gap in performance between notebook GPUs and their desktop counterparts with successive architectural updates.

Fermi was well known for being too hot and inefficient. In 2010, the GTX 480M was enough for playing games at 1080p with high settings but even that was a stretch, as it offered only around 40 percent of the performance of GTX 480. Two years later, Kepler doubled Fermi's efficiency, and the GTX 680M offered closer to 60 percent of the performance of the GTX 680, roughly enough for 1080p with ultra settings. A key part of this efficiency gain was of course the move from a 40nm to a 28nm process.

Nvidia releases GTX 980M and GTX 970M notebook GPUs
Click to enlarge

Maxwell, introduced with the GTX 750 Ti on the desktop and the GTX 800M notebook series and now in its second generation with the GTX 900 series parts managed something amazing by doubling efficiency again without any process shrink. As a result, Nvidia claims it's now able to offer 80 percent of its desktop performance with a notebook GPU, and says this now makes triple A titles playable beyond 1080p.

Two new products are launching today, the flagship GTX 980M and the GTX 970M below it, which replace the GTX 880M and GTX 870M in the product stack respectively. As you can see, the main specifications are quite similar between the newer and older parts; the performance boost (approximately 40 percent in both cases) is mostly a result of the more efficient architecture. Nvidia doesn't reveal exact TDPs for notebook parts but given that GTX 980M offers around double the performance of the GTX 680M and that Maxwell has twice the performance per watt of Kepler, we can surmise that the new chips operate roughly within the same power envelopes as the older ones.

 Nvidia GeForce GTX 980MNvidia GeForce GTX 880MNvidia GeForce GTX 970MNvidia GeForce GTX 870M
ArchitectureMaxwellKeplerMaxwellKepler
Process28nm28nm28nm28nm
Stream Processors1,5361,5361,2801,344
Clock Speed1,038MHz + Boost954MHz + Boost924MHz + Boost941MHz + Boost
MemoryUp to 4GB GDDR5Up to 8GB GDDR5Up to 3GB GDDR5Up to 6GB GDDR5
Memory Clock5GHz effective5GHz effective5GHz effective5GHz effective
Memory Interface256-bit256-bit192-bit192-bit
DirectXDX12DX11DX12DX11

The new rendering technologies and techniques introduced with the second generation Maxwell parts, namely Dynamic Super Resolution, Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing and Voxel Global Illumination are all fully supported by the new notebook parts. We've covered each of these in detail in our GTX 980 review.

Arguably the biggest issue related to gaming notebooks is battery power; both the ability to game while unplugged and the battery life while doing so are crucial. Nvidia gives the example that unplugging can drop the available power from 230W to 100W, a huge reduction that can make previously playable games entirely unplayable given how power-limited performance is. Nvidia's solution is Battery Boost, first introduced with the GTX 800M series parts around six months ago. Engaged automatically when unplugged, Battery Boost's job is to ensure that every available watt is being used to peak efficiency, and that the system is doing only what is necessary to achieve a user-specified target frame rate (30fps default, up to 60fps allowed).

Nvidia releases GTX 980M and GTX 970M notebook GPUs
Click to enlarge

For the GTX 900M series parts, Nvidia has improved Battery Boost's algorithms for greater efficiency. It's now also working with OEMs at the hardware level to improve and optimise notebook power circuitry to make it more effective. Nvidia claims it has been able to achieve performance between five and eight times faster than a GTX 680M, despite the GTX 980M 'only' being twice as fast in terms of hardware, and the end result should be more systems able to achieve playable frame rates when on battery alone, though exact results will vary system to system.

Nvidia releases GTX 980M and GTX 970M notebook GPUs
Click to enlarge

As for battery life, Nvidia also gave examples of battery life improving between 30 and 50 percent with Battery Boost enabled when running triple A games with 1080p ultra settings. However, it's keen to note that if a user specifies a lower target frame rate or lowers detail settings, this improvement will be more. To help out, GeForce Experience is now also able to apply optimised detail settings specifically for when you're running on battery with just one click, saving more novice users the trouble of tweaking them themselves.

Nvidia releases GTX 980M and GTX 970M notebook GPUs
Click to enlarge

Notebooks featuring the two new GPUs should be available imminently, with four major OEMs (ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte and Clevo) and at least a dozen SKUs ready for launch and more to follow. Expect to see single GPU solutions for both the GTX 980M and GTX 970M as well as GTX 970M SLI ones today, and GTX 980M SLI ones in the future.

What do you think of the new notebook GPUs from Nvidia? Are you looking to make your first gaming notebook purchase, or upgrading from a newer model? Let us know your thoughts in the forums!
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