Mobile Maxwell: NVIDIA Outs GeForce GTX 980M, 970M

Battery Boost, Availability

Six months ago, we discussed NVIDIA's Battery Boost technology and how, in some cases, it can significantly extend battery runtime and playability on modern games. The company isn't formally launching a new iteration of the product (the GTX 980 uses Battery Boost just like earlier versions did), but NVIDIA has informed us that it's made upgrades and improvements to the capability.

According to NV, the revised BB system will allow for a higher number of playable games on battery, the governor software has been enhanced to better balance visuals and battery life, and games can now be individually customized for battery use. Players also have the option of a one-click "Optimize for battery" button that was previously hidden behind other menus.

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Hopefully these improvements have created a system with fewer side effects than the first iterations. When we tested Battery Boost on the MSI Dominator Pro, the system functioned somewhat erratically. BioShock Infinite suffered from screen tearing, Diablo 3 couldn't pull down to the 30 fps target (topping out instead above 60 fps) and Metro Last Light benefited but only improved battery life by 17% or about 8 minutes.

From our MSI Dominator Pro review.

NVIDIA's Reviewer's Guide actually makes some reference to this when it recommend against using Last Light to test Battery Boost. The game is sufficiently difficult to run at high detail levels that even the most modern GPUs may have trouble maintaining frame rates above 40 fps at higher difficulty settings and resolutions. This, in turn, means that there's less room for BB to work -- if the GPU is running all-out to render the game at just 30 fps, there's no headroom to cut out.

NVIDIA is recommending Battery Boost as a solution for games with less demanding graphics, including games like League of Legends -- one of the most popular titles in the world, and a game that's relatively easy to render on a GPU like the GTX 980. Games like Tomb Raider or the older GRID 2 may also work well -- and Diablo 3 should also see improvements.

The key to Battery Boost is to remember that it's not a magic button. If your GPU is struggling to render the title and you want better battery life, turn resolution and detail levels down (thereby allowing your chip to run the game faster) and then engage Battery Boost. Even Metro Last Light can be configured to run in excess of 60 fps at 1080p -- which means BB can then kick in and save you more performance.

Availability, 4K performance: 

According to NVIDIA, Asus, MSI and Gigabyte are all announcing laptops today featuring the 980M and 970M in 15-17 inch form factors. Laptop manufacturer Clevo, which builds systems for a number of the boutique manufacturers, is also announcing its own designs -- which means you'll see rigs coming down from a number of the high-end builders in the none-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, with laptop manufacturers beginning to push mobile resolutions up to and above 1080p for high-end systems, the question is inevitably going to come up -- how much horsepower do you need to run at 3K or 4K resolutions? The honest answer, if you want to play at the highest detail levels, is still going to be more than one GeForce GTX 980M. Some games, like BioShock Infinite, will likely still run above 30 fps -- but others, like Crysis 3, will require compromise.

No hard data yet but if the desktop GTX 980 can't push acceptable 4K frame rates, the 980M won't either.

For all its improvements, the GTX 980M is still going to be slower in 4K gaming than the GTX 980 -- and as this graph shows, even the desktop version of the GPU is still strapped in most titles. That doesn't mean you can't play above 1080p on a high-end mobile system, but you may have to turn detail levels down if you want to push the resolution envelope.

One criticism of Maxwell levied by some desktop gamers is that the GTX 980 isn't much faster than the GTX 780 Ti. While we don't have hard figures yet, that should not be the case between the GTX 780M and the GTX 980M. The two chips have the same number of cores, but Maxwell is more efficient and clocked nearly 200MHz higher. Gamers who recently bought systems built around the GTX 880M may not see a large upgrade between that GPU and the new Maxwell solutions -- the 880M is clocked less than 100MHz below the new chips -- but everyone else should see significant improvements.

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