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Nvidia GTX 980M brings even greater Maxwell energy savings to gaming laptops

Tom Morgan
7 Oct 2014
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Fastest mobile Nvidia GPUs to date will happily play games at 2,560x1,440, but won't drain your laptop battery

Nvidia has officially announced its latest series of mobile graphics chips, the GeForce GTX 980M and GTX 970M, bringing an updated version of the company's Maxwell GPU technology to laptops and promising to close the performance gap between Desktop PCs. With the massive energy efficiency gains first introduced by Desktop-class Maxwell graphics cards, they should also be able to play significantly longer when on battery power too.

The GM204 GPU inside the GTX 980M and GTX 970M is built on a 28nm process and uses a rebalanced Maxwell architecture from the design seen in last year's 800m series GPUs. This lets is fully utilise all its CUDA cores more often, saving power and improving performance over the outgoing GPUs. It produces 1.4x the performance per core and 2x the performance per watt of the old Kepler architecture, which means you'll be able to play almost all your games at their highest quality settings – regardless of resolution.

The more powerful GTX 980M has 1,536 CUDA cores, a 1,038MHz base GPU clock and 256-bit memory bus, while further down the range the GTX 970M has 1,280 CUDA cores, a 924MHz base GPU clock and a 192-bit memory bus. Both run their respective GDDR5 memory at 2,500MHz and can use Boost to temporarily increase the core clock when thermal limits allow.

Nvidia is so confident in Maxwell's performance that it's calling the GTX 980M the first laptop GPU able to play games at 2,500x1,440 resolution on Ultra settings. It listed major releases including Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, Metro: Last Light, Battlefield 4 and Diablo III as playable, although this is most likely at 30fps. 1080p gaming should be no problem, even for the most demanding titles.

The Maxwell-powered 980M has also been optimised for use on battery power. When plugged in to the mains, it will draw a maximum of 230W for the best possible frame rates in games, but when playing on the move it will be limited to 100W. Even with limited power, it should still manage playable frame rates in major titles; compared to the GeForce GTX 680M, which could only manage 35fps in League of Legends, a GTX 980M will produce silky smooth 150fps gameplay.

With BatteryBoost, gamers will be able to play for longer, too. 2013's Tomb Raider reboot typically lasts 76 minutes on a full charge – up from 49 minutes without BatteryBoost disabled, an improvement of over 55%. A one-click 'Optimise for Battery' setting in the GeForce Experience tool will automatically set up your games for the best possible performance when not connected to the mains.

As well as performance and energy efficiency increases, Nvidia will also be adding several new rendering features with the GTX 980M in a future driver update. Multi-frame sampled anti-aliasing should deliver 4x anti-aliasing quality at 2x AA performance, making it up to 30% faster in games like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Far Cry 3 versus the GTX 680M, while Dynamic Super Resolution will increase graphical fidelity.

The technique, otherwise known as supersampling, forces the graphics card to render a higher resolution image than your screen is capable of displaying, then downscale it to the native resolution. Although more intensive than anti-aliasing, you should end up with a clearer final image. If the game will play smoothly at a higher resolution than your laptop's display, Dynamic Super Resolution will be automatically enabled in Nvidia's GeForce Experience driver software.

Naturally, Nvidia's other GeForce-specific features are all present and correct, including ShadowPlay for recording your gameplay without a major impact on performance, or need to buy expensive video capture software, Twitch integration, and GameStream for playing PC games through a GameStream ready device like the Nvidia Shield handheld or Shield tablet.

Nvidia has yet to release more detailed benchmark figures, but both chips are shaping up to be serious performers. The first laptops equipped with the new GPUs will include the Asus G751, MSI GT72, Gigabyte Aorus X7, which are all expected to launch in the coming months. As these are high-end laptops, expect high-end prices, but it's a price gamers will have to pay if they want the best possible performance from their portable machines.

We can't wait to get one in to see how the new silicon performs.