Nvidia's new GTX 800M-series GPUs benchmarked
We go hands-on and test the new GTX 880M and 860M GPUs from Nvidia in gaming laptops from Asus and MSI.
Just in time for hot new games such as Titanfall and The Elder Scrolls Online to hit PCs (in addition to next-gen consoles), Nvidia is announcing a new generation of graphics cards for laptops.
The GeForce 800M line goes from basic GPUs for slim ultrabook-style laptops all the way up to the new GeForce GTX 880M, which Nvidia calls the "world's fastest notebook GPU." Along with the new parts, the GeForce Experience software app, which combines driver updates and game optimization, is adding new features to improve battery life while gaming, and to easily capture gameplay footage for social sharing. Some of these features will only work with the newer GPUs.
The new GTX 880 and company
And that new 800-series GPU hardware is shipping in new gaming laptops almost immediately, including systems from Asus, MSI, Lenovo, Alienware, and others. The highest-end is the GeForce 880M, which Nvidia says will run about 15 percent faster than last year's comparable 780M GPU. As you move into gaming laptops with smaller screens, or less expensive models, you'll find the GeForce 870M, 860M, and 850M cards, all of which are still part of Nvidia's enthusiast GTX line.
For laptops that are not sold explicitly as "gaming" systems, Nvidia has two new GPUs, the GeForce 840M and the 830M, joining the existing 820M model. These are generally going to be fine for playing most games at medium settings at resolutions lower than 1,920x1,080 pixels.
It's worth noting that we're seeing a growing number of laptops with screen resolutions higher than 1,920x1,080 as well. Models from Apple, Lenovo, Toshiba, and others now have 2,560x1,440 or 3,200x1,800-pixel displays. That can mean an extra challenge for even laptops with GTX-level cards to push high-end in-game settings at these higher resolutions. When we asked a few Nvidia employees whether gamers should choose high/ultra graphics settings or higher game resolutions, the general consensus was that playing at the screen's native resolution was best, even if you had to dial game settings down from ultra to high, or from high to medium.
New features for GeForce Experience
Nvidia also says more systems featuring these new GPUs will come with the GeForce Experience software preloaded (we've usually had to download it ourselves in current-gen laptops). The software app, despite the kitschy name, is actually very useful, offering hand-programmed, game-by-game optimization settings, which can be applied to most games from within the GeForce Experience app with the click of a button. It also makes checking for and installing new GPU drivers a snap.
A new Battery Boost feature allows the GPU to adjust its settings on the fly to give you longer gameplay time while running on battery power, but an expanded version coming in April, which will create a separate optimized settings profile on a game by game basis, sounds more useful.
ShadowPlay is a new feature that can be set to automatically capture in-game footage on a rolling basis, from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, which can then be clipped, saved, and shared online and via Twitch, much like on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
Finally, GameStream will be added to the GeForce Experience in late March and allow you to send the video signal from your gaming rig to another device on your network -- for example, a simple PC hooked up to your big-screen TV. Both the Nvidia Shield handheld gaming system and Steam's upcoming Steam Machine micro-consoles are partly built around similar features.
Battery Boost will only be supported on newer 800-series GPUs, while ShadowPlay and GameStream will work on 700 and 800-series cards (with a few higher-end GTX 600-series cards also supporting GameStream).
As most of the new GeForce Experience features are not live or complete yet, we have not been able to perform comparative benchmarks on battery life yet. But, we do have two gaming laptops on our testing bench right now with new 800-series GeForce GTX cards.
Benchmarking the new GPUs
In the charts below, you can see how these new cards performed, compared with similar cards from 2013's 700M line. The new 17-inch Asus G750 has a top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 880M GPU, while the 15-inch MSI G60 has a still-impressive GeForce GTX 860M. Both new cards, unsurprisingly, outperformed their predecessors while running our standard Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light benchmarks at high settings and 1,920x1,080 resolution.
Laptops with the new 800-series GPUs will be available to buy or preorder almost immediately, while updates to the GeForce Experience software will roll out across late March and early April.