Upcoming Tech: Nvidia’s “Pascal” Graphics for Notebooks

by Reads (29,659)

NvidiaPascalNvidia recently announced its next generation GPU architecture, dubbed Pascal. The top-end desktop card, the GTX 1080, has already hit reviewers and demonstrated a large improvement in graphics performance over the previous generation “Maxwell” cards. The mobile versions of these cards haven’t been officially announced, but that’s likely to change next week at Computex Taipei 2016.

Mobile Pascal Preview

Details on the mobile Pascal cards have been kept tightly under wraps. ASUS released teaser benchmarks for an in-development gaming notebook without revealing which graphics card(s) are inside. Based on the fact the scores are greater than the current top-dog desktop graphics card, the Nvidia Titan X, the notebook is likely using two existing Nvidia GTX 980 “mobile desktop” graphics cards, or Pascal-based mobile card(s).

ASUS_ROGScore

To top this all off, ASUS says the scores were achieved without overclocking.

GTX1080Reviews of the desktop GTX 1080 have shown it’s up to 1.6 times faster than the outgoing GTX 980. The GTX 1080 is also the first single desktop graphics card generally capable of playing games at a 4K resolution. Mobile Pascal cards won’t have equivalent performance to the desktop versions, though the gap continues to close with each generation. We expect fluid 4K gaming to be possible in SLI-equipped Pascal notebooks with two graphics cards. It remains to be see whether the GTX 1080M, the predicted flagship mobile GPU, will have enough performance to do so on its own.

The naming convention for the mobile Pascal cards will likely follow what Nvidia has done for several years. Our predictions for the GTX-class mobile notebook cards are as follows:

Tier

Existing Maxwell Model

Predicted Replacement Pascal Model

Top-end

GTX 980M

GTX 1080M

Enthusiast

GTX 970M

GTX 1070M

Mid-range

GTX 960M

GTX 1060M

Entry-level

GTX 950M

GTX 1050M

 

For discussion, see our Mobile Pascal thread here in our gaming forum. It’s racked up over 3,000 replies and 195,000 views since its creation.

Where is AMD?

AMDPolarisAMD announced its new graphics architecture, dubbed Polaris, in early January at CES 2016. No exact launch date has been announced, but expect something official next week at Computex Taipei 2016.

Perhaps the largest contribution for Polaris to the notebook world is an alleged improvement in performance relative to power consumption. AMD says much of the credit for lower power consumption comes from its new 14nm manufacturing process. This is half the size of the 28nm process used for the company’s current graphics, which has been in use since 2011.

Of special interest for notebook gamers is AMD’s recently-announced XConnect technology. This allows the use of an external graphics card over a Thunderbolt 3 port. The external graphics card could be connected or disconnected at any time, making it easy to unplug the external GPU and take your notebook with you. The Razer Blade Stealth is one notebook compatible with AMD XConnect. Razer’s external graphics solution, the Core, allows the use of a full-size desktop graphics card. We previewed the Core at CES 2016. It also accepts Nvidia graphics cards, so AMD isn’t alone in support of external GPU technology. An external GPU is about as close as notebook gamers will get to upgradeable graphics. If you’re interested in upgrading notebook graphics, take a look at our guide on how to upgrade MXM notebook graphics cards.

Although AMD’s presence in the notebook market has become more limited in recent years, it’s important to remember they still control a sizable share of the overall graphics market. In the console world, AMD provides the graphics solutions for both the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. This gives them some advantages when it comes to game development; if the games are developed on a console, that means they’re being developed on, and possibility optimized for AMD hardware.

AcerPredator17XOther Thoughts

There’s a distinct possibility Nvidia Pascal-based mobile cards may not be available until much later this year. Several notebook makers have only just announced gaming notebooks based on the existing Maxwell cards. Acer’s Predator 17X, for example, features the Nvidia GTX 980 “mobile desktop” graphics card, yet won’t ship until June 2016. Razer has also only recently announced its 14-inch Blade (2016), which features a GTX 970M. It also won’t ship until mid-June 2016.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed for mobile Nvidia Pascal and AMD Polaris sooner rather than later. If the marketing hype is believable, they’ll both be worth the wait.

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