NVIDIA Max-Q - Cramming Powerful GPUs Into Ultrathin Laptops

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅30.05.2017 14:20:29

Earlier this month NVIDIA proudly showcased Volta at the Game Technology Conference, their upcoming GPU architecture which will debut as part of new solutions for Deep Learning in the enterprise and education sector. With that huge announcement already made it's perhaps understandable if Computex 2017 is a little more sedate for the Santa Clara-based GPU architects, but they surely couldn't turn up at the worlds largest IT hardware Expo. without something special to show off, could they?

Not a bit of it. Today NVIDIA are revealing two solutions specifically for the gaming laptop market to squeeze ever more powerful hardware into smaller and more convenient designs - Max-Q and WhisperMode Technology.

NVIDIA Max-Q borrows a term from the aerospace sector, defining the point of maximum dynamic air pressure exerted on a vehicle in an atmosphere, and hence the point of maximum stress. Analysis of Max Q for an atmospheric flight will often act to inform the limits of flight capabilities; for example nearing Max Q conditions could necessitate throttling down engine thrust so that the overall airframe remains stable.

Repurposing to laptops, the key stress on a system is thermal rather than aerodynamic. Clearly the analogy isn't exact, but it rather neatly encapsulates the need for both changes to the chassis cooling and system power efficiency to gain the maximum amount of performance for any particular system configuration.

The Marvels of Max-Q

At the heart of this performance is NVIDIA Pascal™, the world’s most efficient gaming GPU architecture. To deliver more performance to thin laptops, NVIDIA has further optimized and configured Pascal for even higher efficiency. And with Max-Q, everything in the design is precision engineered—including the laptop, the GPU, the drivers, and the thermal and electrical components—to ensure peak efficiency.

With its blend of rocket science and exacting design, Max-Q pushes PC gaming on laptops into another stratosphere:

Powerful GPUs at Max Efficiency:

Based on the NVIDIA Pascal GPU architecture, GeForce GTX 1080 is manufactured on the leading-edge FinFET 16nm process, and features cutting-edge GDDR5X memory. Max-Q combines a new way of operating the GPU for peak efficiency, with optimizations such as a low voltage optimized clock curve that wrings out gaming performance while reducing power.

Optimal Playable Settings:

In addition to efficient GPUs operating at max efficiency, the Game Ready drivers have been tuned to deliver optimal system efficiency while delivering a great gaming experience for every game on every system.

Advanced Thermal Solutions and Optimal Regulator Efficiency:

To squeeze even more performance out of a system, these Max-Q designed laptops are engineered with sophisticated thermal and electrical design. New advanced thermal solutions, along with unprecedented regulator efficiency, enable dramatically higher performance and quieter operations in thin gaming laptops than in anything else currently available.

Looks impressive, but the GTX 880M was from the Kepler GPU generation built on a 28nm process

This sounds all well and good, but on the surface appears to be a retreading of already familiar concepts: GPU binning, undervolting, and holistic cooling and power delivery designs required by ultrathin chassis. The major innovation may well be a more robust and dynamic undervolting and power delivery strategy specifically for Max-Q laptop designs, but that remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, undervolting is also synonymous with throttling, which could result in a GTX 1080 ultrathin laptop only achieving GTX 1070-levels performance during real-world gaming sessions. In that case, surely just equipping the laptop with a binned GTX 1070 would be more appropriate? Conjecture perhaps, but we'll know more when the designs are released next month.

NVIDIA WhisperMode once again focuses on power efficiency over performance, with the overall aim of reducing laptop noise during gaming sessions. WhisperMode regulates frame pacing, reducing the overall workload on the GPU in instances where potential FPS greatly outpaces what could be rendered on-screen. In some respects it's similar to AMD's Radeon Chill solution (although the implementation is liable to be unique to NVIDIA), but currently limited to laptops. No doubt NVIDIA would also be keen to point out that with GeForce Experience and their driver design team it will work with considerably more titles than is currently the case for Radeon Chill.

It should also be interesting to see how WhisperMode interacts with G-SYNC, as in general it will likely target 60fps performance but without the penalties of V-SYNC. With G-SYNC monitors V-SYNC targets are effectively meaningless, so will the end-user have more control?

NVIDIA Max-Q laptop designs will be available from NVIDIA's AIB partners from June 27th, and will integrate either GTX 1080, GTX 1070 or GTX 1060 GPUs. WhisperMode should be available via a forthcoming driver update.

To learn more about NVIDIA's technologies on display at Computex2017, including GPUs, laptops and G-SYNC monitors, check out the NVIDIA Blog.