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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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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    tacoslave , July 7, 2009 6:27 AM
    and here i thought they were going to name it the gts 250m, but 280m? thats just low
  • 10 Hide
    lemonade4 , July 7, 2009 8:03 AM
    Down with naming inflation!! (excellent article btw)
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    tacoslave , July 7, 2009 6:27 AM
    and here i thought they were going to name it the gts 250m, but 280m? thats just low
  • -2 Hide
    amdfangirl , July 7, 2009 6:39 AM
    Well... how long would a lappie last with power draws of the desktop GTX versions?
  • 4 Hide
    IzzyCraft , July 7, 2009 7:00 AM
    Probably not more then 30 mins :)  But that's not the point.
  • -2 Hide
    Crashman , July 7, 2009 7:24 AM
    IzzyCraftProbably not more then 30 mins But that's not the point.

    Actually, if you look at the notebook it's could probably cool at least a GTX 275 with same-sized sinks if you had a lower power CPU.
  • 0 Hide
    Sharft6 , July 7, 2009 7:25 AM
    :o  i never noticed this before although I've never had a laptop before. maybe this article could stoke up the the big boys in the gfx department to rethink their naming schemes :) 
  • 4 Hide
    apache_lives , July 7, 2009 7:26 AM
    will these parts crash and burn like every other previous nvidia product released for laptop over the last 2 years?
  • -3 Hide
    amdfangirl , July 7, 2009 7:53 AM
    Well, the laptop maker could always try putting in a normal Geforce card...
  • 10 Hide
    lemonade4 , July 7, 2009 8:03 AM
    Down with naming inflation!! (excellent article btw)
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , July 7, 2009 8:04 AM
    Well, the laptop maker could always try putting in a normal Geforce card...

    It would be hard, but when nVidia makes a card using the same specs as the GTS 250...except lower clock could at least call the thing a GTS 250M.

    Then again, both it an the GTS 250 are actually die-shrunk, underclocked 8800 GTS 512s...with twice the memory.
  • 0 Hide
    falchard , July 7, 2009 9:10 AM
    I think the die on the GTX 260+ is just too large to shrink down to be cool enough and power hungryless enough to put in a laptop.
  • -8 Hide
    crisisavatar , July 7, 2009 9:29 AM
    I am shocked TH actually posted this lol, let me SS just for the lulz.
  • 3 Hide
    mickey21 , July 7, 2009 9:47 AM
    Very well done article.... It explains the lower cost of the 280M part versus the 8800M GTX MXM addon... Interesting indeed... Especially since I own a laptop that uses the latter... That is bad on nVidia to represent the mobile part as the same model number... This does not sit well with me at all...
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 7, 2009 10:19 AM
    Place your ATI Mobility Laptop on a decent Laptop Cooler, (Belkin make a very good one, 8/10 Degrees Celsius depending on load) plugged into the mains(Which is exactly where most people will be when gaming, Battery life does not tend to allow long bouts of mobile gaming, we are used to it!)and overclock the Mobility chipset using AMDGpuTool.exe which allows for a significant overclock!

    Check the temps with HWmonitor until you find a happy overclock versus temperature. i bet you will find it going to the same clock speeds as the desktop variety.
  • 8 Hide
    sublifer , July 7, 2009 11:44 AM
    I can't believe that nvidia did it again! It was bad enough renaming the 8800/9800 to the GT 200 class but to imply its now a mobile equivalent to the GTX 280 is freakin wrong! Glad TH wrote this... I hadn't heard about it yet. After their defective graphics of two years ago I didn't really need another reason to avoid their mobile line further but I was hoping they'd at least begin to prove they've got reliable parts. Now though, reliable or not I won't stand for this BS. Nvidia will never get a recommendation from me.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , July 7, 2009 11:46 AM
    you cannot expect ATI to even consider changing the name on their mobile parts unless Nvidia does it first. Nvidia has been riding this train for a while now, and in order for ATI to compete they may have to follow the trend and start "over-naming" their mobile parts. I'm sure Nvidia is NOT going to change the mobile parts' names, so the only fair thing to do is for ATI to rename that 4850M into 4890M :)  and honestly, even that would not be as bad as 8800GTS-->280M.
  • 2 Hide
    f4nt4sm4 , July 7, 2009 11:54 AM
    Nice article, Reminds me why I visit TH on a daily bssis :p 
  • 1 Hide
    scook9 , July 7, 2009 12:19 PM
    ATI really isn't that bad at all actually....People have gotten scores over 16000 in 3dMark06 using Mobility 3870x2 and a mildly overclocked CPU (mildly because that's all you can do on a laptop). That is on par with the desktop equivalent if you ask me. Maybe even slightly better depending on the rig. And the fact that the architecture is IDENTICAL for the laptop/desktop parts with ATI puts me 100% at ease.

    Nvidia however, I agree is atrocious with it's naming. If anyone has the time and money, they could probably be successfully sued over this haha. Of about 1 minute on Nvidia's website you can figure out the equivalent desktop GPU as well...
  • 4 Hide
    B-Unit , July 7, 2009 1:39 PM
    Pei-chenWhy complaint? Would you prefer the sticker on your extreme gaming notebook to say Intel Core i7 and NVIDIA 8800GTS? NVIDIA renamed old parts because they need to present a unified lineup that doesn’t confuse the customer. Having a bunch of 8x00, 9x00, GTX 2x0 is not going to help customer making a purchase decision.All you have to remember is that GTX 280 > GTX 260 > GTS 260 and you know how much you want to spend. Whether the name corresponds with desktop parts is a non-issue as you are not going to substitute an 11lb gaming notebook with a 15lb Shuttle case and 20lb LCD.

    Except that GTX280M = GTS250. That's the complaint.

    At best, the top end part should be a GTX250M. This is misleading and shady as hell. Im done with nVidia, I'll never buy or recommend one of their products again.
  • 9 Hide
    cking , July 7, 2009 1:45 PM
    The problem here is that it reall isn't about the speed of the part compared to it's desktop counter part. Anyone that expects it to be close is rather foolish. The real issue here is the that the name of the mobile part has nothing to do with the archeticture the chip is designed. That is were ATI is successful and NVidia fails completely. Yes the ATI part is slower then it's desktop counterpart but atleast it contains the same basic chip design and features. The nvidia part doesn't it isn't even based on the GTX 2x0 archeticture.

    We should remember that there are allot scarafices made to get either card into a laptop and in many cases the card will vary from laptop to laptop.
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