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Gaming, laptop battery life improve with Nvidia's new mobile GPUs

Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 860M, 870M and 880M bring 4K video, up to 2x battery life to laptops

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Laptops will get console-like gaming and up to two times the battery life with Nvidia's new GeForce GTX mobile graphics processors, unveiled on Wednesday.

The GeForce GTX 860M, 850M, 840M and 830M GPUs are up to 60 percent faster than their predecessors released a year ago, Nvidia claimed. Built on the new Maxwell architecture, the GPUs will go into laptops that are under 22 millimeters thick.

Nvidia also shipped the GTX 870M and 880M high-end graphics processors, which are based on the older Kepler architecture but have been clocked up for bulkier enthusiast laptops. The company decided to put Maxwell in lower-end GPUs because those products sell in larger volumes, said Kaustubh Sanghani, general manager of the mobile PC business unit at Nvidia.

The company has already shipped desktop GPUs based on Maxwell, which will also be used in Linux-based gaming desktops called Steam Machines due to ship later this year.

Most laptops today are sold with integrated graphics processors, which are good enough for casual gaming. The GTX mobile GPUs are embedded on a motherboard and will let laptop users play some of the latest gaming titles, which are heavy on graphics and special effects, Sanghani said.

PC makers will put the new GPUs in laptops, though it is not clear when the systems will ship. The fastest GTX 880M will go into MSI's GT70, Dell's Alienware 17 and Asustek's G750, which have 17.3-inch screens. The GTX 870M will be in Razer's Blade laptop, while Lenovo's Y50 and Gigabyte's P34 will have the Maxwell-based 860M GPU. Prices for the laptops were not immediately available.

Gaming PC maker Falcon Northwest will be updating its laptops to include the new GTX 800M series chips. CEO Kelt Reeves hasn't tested the GPUs yet, but has high expectations.

"We'll be revving our laptop lines from 700 to 800 series though, and don't expect any significant price changes. Hopefully the massive performance-per-watt increases the first Maxwell desktop cards have shown will be as good on the mobile side," Reeves said.

Games like Assassin's Creed IV, Black Flag and Arkham Origins can be played at a 1080p resolution with the 850M and 860M, and at more frame rates per second with 870M and 880M, Nvidia said. The 860M, 870M and 880M can render graphics at a 4K resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, but laptops with 4K displays are not available yet.

Nvidia measured 2 hours and 11 minutes of gameplay time for Borderlands 2 at 30 frames per second and a 1080p screen resolution on a laptop with an 860M, almost twice the battery mileage compared to predecessors, Sanghani said.

The power efficiency comes partly from a new feature called Battery Boost, which can adjust GPU operations depending on a game's requirements. Battery Boost balances performance and power consumption by assessing characteristics of each game, and the adjustments kick in once a game starts.

As on the PS4, laptops with the GPUs will be able to record gameplay through a feature called ShadowPlay. The recorded gameplay can be broadcast live or uploaded to the Twitch.tv interactive gaming website. Games could also be streamed wirelessly over a home network to Nvidia's Shield handheld gaming console, which has an HDMI port and can connect to an HDTV.

The 850M has 640 cores and is 60 percent faster than its predecessor, the 750M, which shipped around the same time last year, according to Nvidia. The 860M has 1152 cores and is 40 percent faster than the older 760M. The Kepler-based 870M has 1344 cores and is 30 percent faster than the 770M, while the fastest performing 880M has 1536 cores and is 15 percent faster than the 780M. The clock speeds can be boosted depending on the performance needed.

Nvidia's graphics business was strong in the most recent quarter, driven by desktop GPU sales, with overall GeForce GTX graphics processors growing by around 50 percent year-over-year. However, notebook GPU revenue declined slightly, which the company said was in line with the overall decline in laptop shipments.

But Sanghani is expecting growth as the PC gaming market grows with the new chips and gaming titles coming out.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com



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