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These Nvidia graphics chips will make your laptop fast without melting it

Above: Laptop with Nvidia Maxwell-based graphics

Image Credit: Nvidia

Graphics chip maker Nvidia is taking visual computing to a new level with a line of products that will turn notebook computers into fast gaming machines, letting you kill digital baddies without killing your battery life.

Nvidia is introducing new graphics chips that deliver the same performance of previous generation graphics chips but at half of the power consumption. The new GeForce GTX 800M series of graphics chips include models that are based on Maxwell, a next-generation graphics architecture that will power entire families of Nvidia products. This will enable manufacturers deliver machines that run high-quality PC games without draining battery life at a time when sales of gaming laptops are actually growing.

Gaming notebooks are still growing.

Above: Gaming notebooks are still growing.

Image Credit: Nvidia

“We chose to target the meat of the market in the middle of the notebook market,” said Kaustubh Sanghani, general manager of the mobile PC business unit at Nvidia in Santa Clara, Calif., said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re delivering the best game performance on thin notebooks.”

Normally, Nvidia and rivals introduce a new chip at the highest performance possible and high prices. But with Maxwell-based graphics chips, Nvidia is launching its first chips at the middle of the market, with midrange performance, medium costs, and good power efficiency. Users appreciate this balance of features now, whereas in the past they used to care only about maximum graphics performance, Sanghani said.

Gaming notebooks are still growing, and these chips will give the market further momentum, Sanghani said. This kind of news comes just in time to draw new attention to PC gaming, as the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft have been stealing most of the thunder lately.

Industry data shows that PC gaming is a $25 billion industry, compared to the worldwide movie box office of $24 billion, according to DFC Intelligence. And while the PC as a whole is starting to lose market share to tablets, gaming PCs are thriving. And within that category, gaming notebooks are growing the fastest, with a 2.5 times increase in the past two years. Gamer PCs are still a small piece of the overall PC market, accounting for less than 10 percent of the market and less than 10 million units a year. But such machines represent the cutting edge of performance and offer higher profit margins for computer makers.

The reason is that there’s more variety, with four times as many models being offered. And the notebooks are a lot thinner and quieter than past models that were both bulky and noisy. In 2011, a laptop with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 580M chip was 55 millimeters thick. The new laptops with the GeForce GTX 850M are just 21 millimeters thick. They’re also 30 percent faster than the 2011 chips and more affordable.

Nvidia 800 series performance beats the last generation.

Above: Nvidia 800 series performance beats the last generation.

Image Credit: Nvidia

These notebook computers based on Nvidia’s new chips will be able to run all of the top 30 triple-A PC games at 1080p high-definition resolution, and they won’t burn a hole in your jeans when you put the machine on your lap.

Within the GeForce GTX 800 series, Nvidia will have four models: the 850 and 860, based on Maxwell architecture, and the 870 and the 880 are based on the earlier Kepler architecture. The 850 is 60 percent faster than the equivalent chip from last year, based on performance in games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, an open-world title with gorgeous artwork that can tax machines.

The GeForce 840M can run Skyrim at 30 frames per second at 1080p resolution. By comparison, a laptop with Intel’s Iris Pro integrated graphics runs at 19 frames per second, while Intel’s HD 4400 integrated graphics runs at 10 frames per second.

That means gamers don’t have to make compromises when choosing between performance, size, and power efficiency.

“Gaming notebooks now offer the best of both worlds, and we expect this trend to accelerate,” said Sanghani.

Sanghani said Nvidia is also launching a new GeForce Experience for laptop computers, making it easy to optimize games for mobile usage. If you’re plugged into an outlet, it will set the game for maximum performance. But if you’re unplugged, it will conserve battery life.

Maxwell enables thinner notebooks.

Above: Maxwell enables thinner notebooks.

Image Credit: Nvidia

Nvidia will also offer here-to-fore desktop-only technologies on gaming notebooks. These include ShadowPlay PC game capture software and Gamestream technology that lets you stream gameplay from your computer to another device like an Nvidia Shield or your TV.

Nvidia is also offering Battery Boost, which doubles your laptops battery life. Battery boost looks at the whole PC and optimizes it for the application at hand. With Battery Boost, a laptop running Borderlands 2 can last for two hours and 11 minutes. With Battery Boost turned off, the laptop only lasts for 1 hour and 26 minutes.

“It’s like a car that uses less gas and is more fuel-efficient,” Sanghani said.

New systems coming including models from MSI, Gigabyte, Lenovo, Alienware, Asus, Maingear, Origin PC, and Razer.

Maxwell differs from Kepler because Nvidia was able to put more control logic among the cores within the chip for more fine-grained control of power consumption. Maxwell has twice the performance per watt as Kepler and 135 percent more performance per core. Compared to Fermi, which debuted four years ago, Maxwell is four times more efficient. Maxwell-based chips are built with the same 28-nanometer manufacturing process used to build Kepler-based chips. That means that a Maxwell-based GPU consumes only 60 watts, compared to 116 watts for a Fermi-based GPU.

Kaustubh Sanghani of Nvidia with gamer laptops that use Nvidia m800 series chips.

Above: Kaustubh Sanghani of Nvidia with gamer laptops that use Nvidia m800 series chips.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
More about the companies and people from this article:

Nvidia specializes in the manufacture of graphics-processor technologies for workstations, desktop computers, and mobile devices. The company, based in Santa Clara, California, is a major supplier of integrated circuits used for person... read more »

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