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At Least Two Steps Too Far

Mobile GeForce GTX Graphics: Model Inflation Gone Awry

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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