Good news from Nvidia for fans of warm thighs on long trips. From today the graphics card behemoth is planning a renewed assault on the gaming notebook market with its forthcoming range (opens in new tab) of GeForce GTX 800M GPUs, with extended battery life billed as a key feature alongside the (expected) annual performance improvements. PC Gamer recently attended a launch briefing for the 800M series, of which the most powerful variant is the 880M (pictured) which Nvidia claims is the world's fastest notebook GPU. You can expect the chips to begin appearing in notebooks immediately, and among those to include the 880M at launch are the Alienware 17, Asus G750JZ and MSI GT 70.
According to Nvidia, the 880M, and its slightly less powerful sister the 870M, will comfortably run the likes of Metro: Last Light, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Batman: Arkham Origins in 1080p on Ultra settings. Somewhat surprisingly, those two top end GPUs retain the Kepler architecture from the 600 and 700 series. However, further down the range the 860M and 850M models are based on the new, highly power efficient, Maxwell architecture, and consequently show the greatest year-on-year performance increases over their predecessors. Those two GPUs will run the same games listed in the previous paragraph 1080p on high settings. The range is completed by two Maxwell-based mid-level GPUs, in the shape of the 840M and 830M, and the Fermi-based entry-level 820
All the cards feature a suite of proprietary Nvidia whizzbangery, including ShadowPlay (opens in new tab), which aside from referencing the brooding Joy Division track (opens in new tab), enables players to record the last 20 minutes of gameplay at all times. (The exact amount of footage captured, and in what resolution, is configurable – think of it like a PVR for your PC.) From there it's a simple matter of uploading your glorious triumphs/humiliating debacles to YouTube or Twitch. Owners of an Nvidia Shield handheld can also now use the GameStream functionality to stream from their 800M equipped notebooks. Magnanimously, Nvidia is also making ShadowPlay and GamesStream (opens in new tab) available to all owners of 700M cards, as well as the 680M, 675MX, 670MX and GTX 660M models – it'll just be a case of updating your GeForce Experience software to unlock the features.
One piece of functionality which hasn't made the leap from desktop to portable yet is Nvidia's G-Sync (opens in new tab), which is used to align the refresh rate of your desktop monitor with that of the GPU to minimise screen judder and tearing. From the sound of things I wouldn't rule it out appearing eventually, but there are clearly issues still to be solved in terms of the sheer diversity of notebook screens. However, the 800M series does boast its own bespoke feature in the form of Battery Boost (opens in new tab), which it's claimed can double the playing time of your notebook. It does this by targeting a specific frame rate, which is configurable on a per game basis, and then running the CPU, GPU and memory in the most efficient manner to achieve the chosen FPS number. So, obviously that means a visual performance trade-off. But then that begs a bigger existential question about notebook GPUs: who actually wants to play Crysis 3 on the move anyway?
Which of course isn't to say there aren't scenarios where you'd want a kickass gaming notebook. Perhaps as a second screen in a room in which your partner is using the main TV, or maybe you travel a lot and want to be able to take a stellar gaming experience wherever you go. But in both those examples, you're going to have a power outlet easily to hand. Or to put it another way: it's a bold gamer who busts out a notebook on the bus and tries to get a Titanfall session going. More feasible is the idea of playing slightly more considered gaming experiences, say The Banner Saga or Banished, while on a long haul flight – and in that scenario the extra battery life would be welcome and the reduced frame rate hardly a problem. Put another way: having a better battery is hardly bad news.
As ever, we'll be putting these GPUs through their paces in the PC Gamer lab, and it's worth waiting for the verdict of our brainiacs before deciding how seriously to take Nvidia's yearly uptick in performance numbers – though an initial look at Bioshock Infinite running in maxed out settings proved impressive. There's little doubt that notebook gaming remains a potentially ripe part of the PC gaming universe, and PC gamers on the move will surely want to check out the 880M's chops to see what the new benchmark in mobile gaming looks like.