Nvidia Announces New Mobile GPUs; We Break Out Decoder Rings

Nvidia launched its next-generation of mobile GPUs today at CES, the 500M series, with the pointed lead-in that it expects these products to ship hand-in-hand with Sandy Bridge-equipped notebooks. The 500M series doesn't add any additional features over the 400M cards, but the company's press release stumps over Nvidia's Optimus technology, the company's 3DTV Play initiative, 3DVision, PhysX, and, of course, CUDA.

"GeForce GT 500M GPUs combined with Optimus technology enable the most versatile laptops ever created," said Rene Haas, general manager of notebook business at NVIDIA. "Pairing a great GPU with a strong CPU delivers Optimized notebook performance for consumers."

NV has named Acer, Alienware, Asus, Clevo, Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, MSI, Samsung, and Toshiba as launch partners and claims over 200 design wins for GeForce 500M GPUs.

Secret Magic Decoder Ring:

One of the benefits to the 400M - 500M transition is that there's no difference between the two GPU's feature sets, even where technologies like 3DTV Play are concerned. That's good news for the majority of customers who might want a certain feature like 3D Vision, but aren't sure how to verify the particular capabilities of a given product.

Enthusiasts and power-users looking to find the sweet spot between gaming and power conservation, however, need to pay close attention to some various factors. Since the GF108 GPU drives a number of 400M cards as well as nearly all of the of the 500M cards launched today, we can make an apples-to-apples comparison.

The good news is, NV's new cards drop almost perfectly into place over the 400-series. One major exception is the 520M, which has literally half the cores and half the bandwidth of the 420M. This notable exception aside, a 525M should outperform a 420M, the 540M is a tiny bit faster than the 435M, etc. This lovely ranking system gets confused again, however, when we hit the beginning of the enthusiast segment for both series.

The GT 445M is based on GF106 instead of 108 and therefore packs a much heavier punch than the cards surrounding it. The GT 445M's 16 ROPs flatten the four on the GT 435 and the GT 550M; this is the one case where a lower-numbered card whomps on the cards it sits immediately next to. The GeForce GT 555M, which is also based on GF106, is yet another significant jump above the 445M.

Overall, the two-digit model numbers fit quite well and we suspect pricing could be similarly good. With Sandy Bridge's integrated GPU winning positive reviews, NV will probably price its discrete GPUs to sell. The company's new Denver CPU, unveiled earlier this week, is proof positive that Team Green intends to take the fight to Intel where tablets and handhelds are concerned, but it still depends heavily on discrete GPU revenue in the mobile and desktop markets.