The Fastest Mobile GPU in the World: NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480M

We'll cut to the chase: NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480M does indeed reclaim the crown of fastest mobile GPU from ATI's strangely anemic Mobility Radeon HD 5870. And it ought to: after all, in a break with tradition the GeForce GTX 480M is actually properly named. The GPU core of the GeForce GTX 480M is indeed a Fermi GF100 lovingly crammed into a notebook form factor. NVIDIA cut that same 3.1 billion transistor you've all come to know and love down to a still-egregious 100-watt TDP, the highest of any mobile graphics hardware to date.

While the GeForce GTX 285M was just another rehash of the G92 and ATI's Mobility Radeon HD 5870 is a mobile version of their desktop Radeon HD 5770, NVIDIA's GTX 480M uses the same cut-down—but still Fermi—core found in desktop GeForce GTX 465 cards. That means 352 of NVIDIA's "CUDA cores" and a 256-bit memory bus connected to GDDR5 memory. The difference is that while the GTX 465 only gets 1GB of GDDR5, the GTX 480M gets a full 2GB in our review notebook. Clock speeds aren't as comparable, though, with the 480M's clock speed down from the GTX 465's 607 MHz to just 425 MHz. The shader clocks get cut down, too, dropping from 1.2 GHz to 800 MHz. Probably the most alarming drop is the GDDR5: running at 3.2 GHz on the desktop card, the 480M has its effective speed cut to just 2.4 GHz, the lowest speed we've ever seen on GDDR5 and actually a slower effective clock speed than the GDDR3 on the desktop GeForce GTX 285!

It's not unreasonable to expect cuts had to be made to fit Fermi into a notebook form factor, but given how underwhelming the performance of the desktop GTX 465 that the GTX 480M borrows its hardware from is, one can begin to become genuinely concerned about NVIDIA cutting too deep to get the GTX 480M to fit into its 100-watt TDP. Both ATI's Radeon HD 5830 and NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 465 have proven that it's possible to hit a wall of diminishing returns when harvesting high-end GPU die; both of these cards are barely faster than their substantially smaller predecessors.

Still, it's impressive Fermi made it into a notebook form factor at all. 352 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores are nothing to sneeze at, and a 256-bit memory interface connected to 2.4 GHz GDDR5 still produces a healthy 76.8GB/sec of bandwidth. The GeForce GTX 480M also brings to the table full DirectX 11 support along with all of NVIDIA's usual trimmings: CUDA, PhysX, and 3D Vision. With Eyefinity largely out of the equation in notebooks, the Mobility Radeon HD 5870 can certianly begin to feel feature light compared to NVIDIA's hardware.

So that's all well and good, but how does the GeForce GTX 480M actually fare in practice?

Introducing the Fermi-in-Your-Backpack Synthetic Benchmarks
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  • 7Enigma - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    That's really cool. Thanks for the post. My cousin does Adobe work and I belive has the GTS 250 with either 512 or 1gig memory. I'll have to try this out the next time I'm over his place.
  • therealnickdanger - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    The best part is that Adobe is aware of this tweak and has no plans to "turn it off". While using this method is not officially supported, it appears to be unofficially encouraged.

  • B3an - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Surely NV will be supporting CS5 with atleast the 4xx series? Why only have the 285GTX support it for non-workstation cards?
  • therealnickdanger - Friday, July 9, 2010 - link

    NVIDIA doesn't have much say in the matter. It's Adobe's software, Adobe's engine.

    The 4xx series works exceptionally well with the tweak, so it's a non-issue anyway.
  • Gunbuster - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Can we get a benchmark with a CrossfireX HD 5870 Laptop?
  • frozentundra123456 - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I like the idea of a 1000-1500 dollar gaming notebook for moderate gaming, but I dont think this notebook is anywhere near worth the price. For 3000 dollars, one could buy a mid level notebook for moderate gaming and buy/build a 1500 dollar desktop that would have excellent performance.
  • angelkiller - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I'm still not satisfied with their naming scheme. I do think this is a step in the right direction though. This time at least the name refers to the correct architecture. But the GTX 480M isn't a mobile version of a GTX 480. It's more like a GTX 465M. And this isn't just a Nvidia problem. The Mobility 5870 isn't a mobile version of a 5870.

    I think the idea of naming laptop cards after desktop cards is flawed to begin with. Instead, laptop cards should have their own series name. Then the name would never be misleading. Then the ATI Mobility <Series Name> could be based off the desktop Juniper chip and nobody would care. The name wouldn't refer to something that the card isn't. Hopefully that made sense.

    I also wanted to say that I've really been digging the articles AT has been putting out lately. Very thorough and informative analysis. Keep it up!
  • anactoraaron - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I completely agree. The 480M isn't "properly named". It should be named 465M.

    Also, I could care less who (nVidia or ATI) has the 'fastest' card as long as it's practical... MSI has a new laptop (reviewed here on AT) that still gets 2~3 hrs of battery life with a mobility 5870. In my mind, the superior product is the one that can actually be used not plugged in all of the time. And I don't need to re-hash all of the impractical reasons to get the desktop fermi... I still can't get the "epic fail" taste out of my mouth from this series of graphics cards from nVidia.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, July 9, 2010 - link

    The thing is, at least the 480M is the same freaking silicon as the desktop 480. It may be crippled, but it's the same chip. The same can't be said about...well...pretty much anything else in Nvidia's mobile lineup. ATI was doing well in the 4 series, but their 5 series is nearly as bad. 5700s = desktop 5600s, 5800s = desktop 5700s.
  • therealnickdanger - Friday, July 9, 2010 - link

    That doesn't make sense. The desktop 470 and 465 are also "crippled" versions of the 480, but at least they are appropriately named. That's the point.

    "NVIDIA's GTX 480M uses the same cut-down core found in desktop GeForce GTX 465 cards."

    352 CUDA Cores

    GTX465 Desktop:
    352 CUDA Cores

    GTX480 Desktop:
    480 CUDA Cores

    So logically, if the 480M is the SAME as the desktop 465... then it should be called the 465M, not the 480M. Technically speaking, NVIDIA does NOT make a mobile GTX 480. It's misleading and just plain nonsense.

    ATI is no better.

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