Mobile GeForce GTX Graphics: Model Inflation Gone Awry

At Least Two Steps Too Far

Naming inflation is usually nothing more than an annoyance for those in the know. Our criticism of former examples, such as the 9600 XT-based Mobility 9700, is tempered by the understanding that the desktop part, though only slightly faster, wasn’t suitable for a notebook’s heat and power requirements. Nevertheless, this practice has seemingly spun out of control.

Even when this has happened on the desktop (remember back to when G92 transitioned from the 8800/9800 series to the GTS 250?) it drew only minor quibble, since the model number 250 didn’t imply parity to existing parts. But if renaming the GTX 8800 to GTS 250 after little more than a die shrink and clock increase went half a step beyond what most enthusiasts wanted to see, underclocking the same so-called GTS 250 part below desktop GeForce 8800 GTS 512-levels and raising its model number to that of last summer’s flagship is at least two steps—if not a giant leap—too far. Notebook buyers expecting the very best of last-year’s desktop performance from this year’s mobile parts will be stunned to find that their products don’t even live up to the specifications of 2007’s upper-mainstream graphics processor.

It’s a big difference. It’s the difference between being completely playable at a large-screen notebook’s native 1920x1200 resolution and not being at all playable even after dropping to a mid-market 1680x1050 setting. To put it in perspective, we made two handy charts that compare all resolutions for the average of tested games. Let’s consider the less-demanding tests first.

At our lower test settings, the GeForce GTX 280M is barely playable on average at 1280x1024. The notebook’s integrated panel did not support a similarly-demanding 1440x900 wide-screen resolution, so players must tolerate either a stretched image or reduced image size in addition to the grainier image, or make a big sacrifice in rendering quality.

Turning up the visual quality even more results in a mobile graphics machine that isn’t even playable at 1280x1024.

A performance loss of 40% compared to its namesake GeForce GTX 280 isn’t quite as bad as we expected for the GTX 280M, but it’s still enough to ruin the experience.

In spite of all our naming complaints, today’s notebook comparison proves the GeForce GTX 280M is indeed a top-performer as far as notebooks go. But being the fastest notebook gamer at a LAN full of desktops would be kind of like being the fattest fly in a jungle filled with frogs and spiders. The easiest point to take away from this is that if you really want a mobile gaming experience, you’re probably going to need a portable desktop.

There’s really no excuse for Nvidia’s naming strategy here. It’s not like the company couldn’t have used the title GTS 250M for its mobile version and applied even lower model numbers to less-powerful models. But Nvidia is playing a game of relativity, we suppose. Just having a mobile GPU capable of beating the competitor's desktop-derived notebook solution is license enough to name its product as if it also came from its namesake's DNA.

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  • sebanab
    Grate article! Dudes like me who have tomshardware bookmarked in their browser are always immune to these naming tricks.
    It will be a pity if non-informed buyers will go for 280M instead of the mobile 4850, but I am sure that once they realize of this they will dump Nvidia for good.
    So in my opinion Nvidia is on thin ice.
  • mi1ez
    Would be interesting to see how the mobility 4850 stands against the discrete card.
  • mi1ez
    Oops! I may have not reached the last page. Sorry!

    You have to admit though, that second to last page did feel like a final conclusion...
  • Anonymous
    I agree with your fundamental point about naming, but you're amazingly disparaging of those benchmark results. I see something that can play the most demanding games at native resolution on medium/high settings, I'd call that a win. And 40% less graphics power isn't really enough to trigger graphics envy - if you could upgrade from one to the other I wouldn't bother.
  • wifiwolf
    I would really prefer naming just like was before, like my Nv7300Go. I already new it's performance before looking at benchmarks. Now I don't know anymore without it.
  • Solitaire
    f_katuyan - that the point: on average the best nVidia mobile GPU CAN'T play demanding games at mid-high quality and native res as most gaming laptops have 1650*1080 TFTs and the GTX280m can't handle 40fps under those conditions. The fact that its a rebadged GPU from over two YEARS ago (an aeon in graphics) and ATi is still off even that pace suggests a critical point in mobile gaming has been reached where mobile power limits and form factors can no longer sustain true gaming-quality graphics, and until battery and cooling technology improves to allow higher-TDP parts into the mobile market things are only going to get worse for laptops.
  • realcyberghost
    Nvidia always has to mess up at least someting in their naming conventions.

    Like with the 8800 GTS 640 vs 8800 GTS 512
    Or with the GTX260 vs GTX260 216, it was just too easy to name it GTX265

    However, while previous examples were just dumb, giving the name GTX280m to the mobile version of the 8800 GTS 512 is a pure scam imho, the only correct name would have been
  • sbuckler
    Lot of righteous indignation being shown here!

    Is there any example of a mobile card from either company that runs at the same speed as its desktop equivalent - ever?
    The mobile ones always run slower - they always have run slower - but they get the desktop names to latch onto the marketing.
  • david__t
    What happend to the good old days of each generation being a higher number and then MX, GTS & Ultra denoting the spec within each generation?
  • Anonymous
    So does this mean that the 9800M GTX is actually faster then this card? Or was this card renamed to rip people off too.
  • Reynod
    The differences here aren’t as severe as what we just saw comparing a G92-based mobile GeForce GTX 280M to a desktop GTX 280, but they’re certainly notable enough that ATI should perhaps reconsider calling the Mobility Radeon HD 4850 by a name that doesn’t reflect what mainstream buyers have come to expect from reading reviews of desktop-class Radeon HD 4850 cards.

    I call FUD Chris ... the benchies on the mobile vs desktop 4850 are clearly close enough ... but NVidia's is miles off.

    We all know NVidia don't have any new products and are recycling old stuff ... no point in trying to cover up the real issue.

    What NVidia need to do is come out with a decent new product.

    Taking a swipe at ATI / AMD just to try to make the article appear less distasteful to NVidia is just Editorial Insecurity ...

    Instead you have just pi$$es off ATI for no reason.

    Clearly ATI's modular approach and superior silicon is an advantage in the mobile market as you can drop the voltage on the GPU and still get comparable core speed ... they undervolt better.

    NVidia in comparison run a lot hotter, and need to drop the core clock a lot more before they can drop the voltage and get it stable. Their products run much closer to the thermal boundaries ... take the 8800GT ... meltdown material without proper care on a hot day.

    Tell it like it is ...