NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 16-Series Enters Laptops

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅23.04.2019 13:01:38

ADDED: Updated the article with information on the GeForce GTX 1650 / TU117's NvEnc engine.

Just a few months ago NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 16-series graphics cards debuted on the desktop, offering an affordable next-generation alternative to their own RTX 20-series and drastically shaking up both entry-level and mid-range GPU pricing. Today, the GTX 16-series launch period comes to an end - not just with one new desktop card, but also an entire laptop range.

GeForce GTX 16-series Gaming Laptops

Driven by startling improvements in performance and power efficiency, NVIDIA have been pushing the boundaries of laptop gaming hardware for generations. More recently, during the Maxwell era they pushed forward with bringing desktop-class performance to laptops, aligning their naming schema so performance expectations would be matched across the range. From the integration of GTX 970/980 GPUs in laptops what you got in the mobile platform would be pretty much what you saw on an equivalent desktop, heralding a sea-change in laptop gaming.

While the GeForce RTX series for laptops was launched during CES 2019, today NVIDIA are bringing some of their secret sauce to the entry-level and mainstream sectors with the expansion of GTX 16-series GPUs into that section of the market. While they won’t support some of the more advanced RTX-exclusive features such as real-time raytracing and DLSS, these GPUs based on Turing’s ‘lite’ architecture variant nonetheless offer important generational advances valuable across the gaming sphere.

GeForce GTX 1660 Ti

At the top end of the range sits the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, based on a full-fat fully-equipped TU 116 GPU. The laptop chip’s specifications are broadly similar to its desktop counterpart, and as such it’s a pretty compelling graphics powerhouse. A total of 1536 enabled CUDA cores and boost clocks up to 1560 MHz should make it an ideal chip for 1080p Ultra gaming on modern titles when augmented by 6GB of the latest GDDR6 memory running at 12Gbps.

Nonetheless, there have been some compromises made to fit a laptop form factor. With a Total Graphics Power of 60-80W reference specifications keep it a little more constrained than its desktop counterpart, hence the lower Boost and Base operating frequencies. But as compromises go, it’s one we can live with.

NVIDIA’s target demographic for this class of gaming laptop are those who invest in the mid-range on a 4-year cycle, in contrast to the typical 2/3-year upgrade cycle of mainstream desktop systems. When put in those terms comparisons are flattering; it’s up against the aging GTX 960M, the last of NVIDIA’s GPUs named exclusively for laptops and itself a little anaemic at the time. An upgrade on those terms represents a 4x improvement in performance, which must seem like night-and-day contrasts even before you factor in other quality of life changes such as the now-ubiquitous SSD storage.

To put that in context, around 75% of all GeForce Gaming laptops in circulation today are equipped with a GTX 960M or lower. The market is huge and ripe for a refresh as far as NVIDIA are concerned.

A slightly more contracted upgrade cycle would mean a like-for-like replacement from the GTX 1060. Performance improvements here are in line with the desktop – approx. 1.5x on average – which is roughly what we’d expect from a generational improvement. While it won’t necessarily be enough to get owners of a GTX 1060-powered laptop chomping at the bit for an upgrade, that differential should certainly factor into decisions of purchasing new vs older (potentially price-reduced) models.

Opting for a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti-powered laptop should easily see frame rates above 100fps with eye-candy turned all the way up in the most popular titles for streaming and esports, including Overwatch, Fortnite Battle Royale and Apex Legends. More graphically intensive games such as Battlefield 5 should still hit higher than the 60fps sweet spot with very high image quality settings, but to be confident you’ll want to interrogate reviews of specific models before laying down the money.

GeForce GTX 1650 – the new entry-level for mainstream

In a slightly eyebrow-raising move, NVIDIA’s GTX 1650 on laptops isn’t quite the same as the GTX 1650 you’ll see in a desktop system (a card which also launches today). While performance is expected to be similar, a couple of tradeoffs have been necessary to fit it within a sensible 35-50W Total Graphics Power rating.

While the GTX 1650 on desktop has a slightly slimmed down TU117 with just 864 CUDA cores, the TU117 of a laptop GTX 1650 is fully enabled and has access to all 1024 CUDA cores. That’s a curious move, made in order to keep operating frequencies relatively low. Laptop GTX 1650 has reference base clocks of 1020-1395 MHz (depending on configuration & system cooling), boosting to 1245-1560 MHz.

The GPU is paired with 4GB GDDR5 memory over a 128-bit memory bus for 128GB/s bandwidth. This puts it firmly in the camp of 1080p60 High gaming for the majority of AAA titles coming onto the market, although once again streaming and esports favourites should hit at least the high 90’s at similar settings.

Based on a 4-year upgrade cycle, NVIDIA are looking at the GTX 1650-equipped laptops as an upgrade patch for those sporting one with a GTX 950M at the heart. For this class of user the benefits are significant, though perhaps not quite so astonishing as the GTX 1660 Ti: 2.5x higher perf., and many of the quality of life benefits to go with it.

NVIDIA have been pretty smart in their GPU selection here. The performance differential between GTX 1650 and 1660 Ti is wide enough to satisfy the needs of OEMs seeking a broad performance range for their mainstream gaming laptops below RTX 2060-series pricing, and should result in a wide selection of both feature-rich and more budget-oriented models.

Laptop GPU Spec Comparison Overview

Max-Q – GeForce GTX 16-series’ not so secret weapon

While performance will nominally sit below that of RTX 2060-power laptops, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 16-series does have an ace up its sleeve: Max-Q compliance. Aggressive power profiles and strict design guidelines mean that the extremely thin and light Max-Q laptop models featuring the new GPU series will be available.

Max-Q laptops will tend to have slightly lower performance than their thicker counterparts, and will sit at higher price points. While the gorgeous, sleek design will be immediately tempting, pay careful attention to specifications to get a complete picture each model’s respective capabilities. Max-Q can be seductive, so beware!

Turing Features

While they may not have the GeForce RTX hybrid ray-tracing and deep learning innovations of RTX 20-series GPUs, the TU 116 and TU 117 are still important generational leaps that bring forward three important aspects of NVIDIA’s Turing architecture.

Concurrent Floating Point and Integer instruction processing allows a Turing GPU to mix Float and Int workloads for better scheduling and more optimum use hardware resources. Integer workloads are only now being leveraged by development houses keen to take advantage of the latest hardware features, and could lead to significant performance gains in next-gen engines.

NVIDIA documentation issued for the GTX 1660 Ti launch indicated that use of Concurrent Float and Int processing could unlock as much as 1.5x performance in a representative scene of a game such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider. While that does seem a little optimistic, it nonetheless speaks to the potential value of the technology.

Another important aspect of Turing is the transition to a Unified L1 Cache, a schema which offers lower latency, higher bandwidth, and higher capacity compared to Pascal and earlier architectures. Once again the impact on performance will vary based on the game, but with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 NVIDIA highlight a 1.4x uplift in throughput.

Last but not least, Variable Rate Shading is a feature which could have major implications on game design and performance in the near future. Recently added to Microsoft’s DirectX 12 toolkit, VRS applies different shading rates across a scene based on context clues and other factors. It relies on scenes generally being a mix of the simply textured - walls and doors for instance - to far more complex objects and displays. Key to the technique is that overall image quality shouldn’t suffer, i.e. that it should just be ‘free performance’.

Other forms of Variable Rate Shading include different contextual analysis applications such as comparing frames over time and devoting resources based on the rate of change over time. This could be particularly useful for titles like fixed-viewpoint driving sims where the composition of a scene changes relatively little from frame to frame (compared to an FPS for example).

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus retroactively implemented VRS in late 2018, giving the GTX 1660 Ti ample advantage over the GTX 1060 6GB. At the time of the GTX 1660 Ti’s launch, NVIDIA stated that the Turing GPU gained up to 1.5x performance from the feature, and so it will be fascinating to see just how games built with the technology in mind perform.

Better Streaming With Next-Gen NvEnc

Modern gamers aren’t just playing games on their laptops; they’re also recording and broadcasting gameplay on Twitch, Youtube and other platforms. It’s easy to assume that a streamer’s basestation is a supped-up desktop with CPU and GPU performance to spare, but with over 2.2 million unique monthly broadcasters on Twitch it’s fair to say that a mix of hardware is involved.

On the launch of the GeForce GTX 16-series NVIDIA want your gaming laptop to be a more useful tool for game capture and especially streaming. Part and parcel of that is Turing’s next-generation NvEnc hardware video encoder, a feature that improves both stream quality and in-game FPS by offloading encoding tasks from the CPU. On a representative laptop, NVIDIA claim up to 40% higher performance using NvEnc over a software encoder, in addition to sharper video broadcast quality.

Of course, the hardware is only as good as the software to support it. It’s therefore encouraging to see NVIDIA work with OBS to bring hardware NvEnc support to OBS 23 and allowing streamers to take advantage of fully-featured broadcast tools.

UPDATE: Post-launch NVIDIA's TU117 GPU, i.e. the laptop & desktop GTX 1650, was revealed to incorporate a Volta rather than next-gen Turing NVIDIA Video Encoder (NvEnc). The Volta encoder performs roughly on par with the Pascal's, while Turing's is ~15% more efficient and has new anti-artifacting features.

More Features, Higher Productivity

NVIDIA-power laptops also offer additional features that could seem niche in nature, but will be very valuable to a subset of their audience. For example:

G-SYNC Support:- Support will vary based on how OEMs choose to configure a particular model, but any laptop equipped with an GTX 16-series GPU could support G-SYNC panels and external displays.

Higher Productivity:- Video Rendering, image processing and CAD/CAM applications can all benefit from hardware acceleration, reducing the time taken to complete key tasks.

Game Ready Drivers:- Day-0 drivers for the latest games, optimised for NVIDIA GeForce hardware.

GeForce Experience Tools:- NVIDIA Ansel, Highlights and Freestyle unlock the potential of your GPU in-game with high fidelity screenshots, automated highlight clipping and appearance filters.

Creator-Ready Drivers:- Released on a 3-month cycle, this driver branch is more thoroughly tested and offers optimum performance and stability for professional and enthusiast users who don’t need the latest game optimisations.

Availability and Pricing

In industry parlance, today will be the hard launch date of GeForce GTX 16-series laptops rather than a soft or ‘paper’ launch, meaning that hardware will be available to buy and ship from today rather than some unknown point in the future. Simply choose your favourite etailer and there’s a very good chance you’ll see a huge range of models at some pretty attractive prices.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 16-series laptops are set to launch with eighty designs across every major OEM, starting from an MSRP of $799 in the US or approx. £750 inc. V.A.T. in the UK. Designs should be extremely varied, not only including the thin and light Max-Q variants but also encompassing a range of screen resolutions, G-SYNC panels, CPUs, I/O options and more.

As always, for more information on all things pertaining to NVIDIA graphics visit GeForce.com.

And fear not, this isn’t a mere paper launch. It’s expected that models will be ready to buy and ship today rather than some distant point in the future.