Mobile Gaming Showdown

So we know that as far as 3DMark is concerned, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480M is the fastest mobile GPU available. But how does it fare in actual gaming situations?

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Crysis: Warhead

DiRT 2

Far Cry 2

Left 4 Dead 2

Mass Effect 2

Metro 2033

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Well, we keep saying it's the fastest mobile GPU available, and that's probably because it's the fastest mobile GPU available. How much faster? That's kind of a problem.

While the 480M takes the lead in most of the games we tested—it downright tears past the competition in Far Cry 2 and DiRT 2—in Mass Effect 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 it was actually unable to best the Mobility Radeon HD 5870. It's only when 4xAA is applied at 1080p that the 480M is able to eke out a win against the 5870 in those titles (we only showed the 4xAA results for the 480M, but you can see the other results in our W860CU review), but the margin of victory is a small one. Of course, Mass Effect 2 doesn't need ultra high frame rates and Left 4 Dead 2 (like all Source engine games) has favored ATI hardware.

Ultimately, that seems to be the pattern here. The wins the 480M produces are oftentimes with the 5870 nipping at its heels; even compared to the 14-in-dog-years GTX 285M it only offers a moderate improvement in gaming performance. What we essentially have are baby steps between top-end GPUs, particularly when we're running DX10 games running at reasonable settings. DX11 titles may be more favorable; DiRT 2 gives the 480M a 25% lead while STALKER is a dead heat; early indication are that Metro 2033 also favors NVIDIA, though we lack 5870 hardware to run those tests. You can see that DX11 mode is punishing in Metro, regardless. Our look at the desktop GTX 480 suggests that NVIDIA has more potent tesselation hardware. Will it ultimately matter, or will game developers target a lower class of hardware to appeal to a wider installation base? We'll have to wait for more DX11 titles to come out before we can say for certain.

NVIDIA provided additional results in their reviewers' guide, which show the 480M leading the 5870 by closer to 30% on average. However, some of those are synthetic tests and often the scores aren't high enough to qualify as playable (i.e. Unigine at High with Normal tesselation scored 23.1 FPS compared to 17.3 on the 5870). Obviously, the benefit of the GTX 480M varies by game and by settings within that game. At a minimum, we feel games need to run at 30FPS to qualify as handling a resolution/setting combination effectively, and in many such situations the 480M only represents a moderate improvement over the previous 285M and the competing 5870. Is it faster? Yes. Is it a revolution? Unless the future DX11 games change things, we'd say no.

Synthetic Benchmarks Application Performance and Battery Life
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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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