Throughout this piece, we've focused on Nvidia's naming/architecture issues, which were made most apparent when Thomas started looking at Eurocom’s Panther workstation notebook. This is an Nvidia problem though, not a Eurocom one, so we broke it into a separate editorial.
Just because Nvidia has it wrong here doesn’t mean ATI comes away innocent. Again, this is a game of relativity, and when ATI calls its second-fastest mobile GPU the Mobility Radeon HD 4850, Nvidia sees that its flagship is faster and suddenly becomes vindicated in calling its flagship the GeForce GTX 280M. That's not doing right by the mainstream gamer, but it makes competitive sense.
What we really need are both companies to come clean in naming mobile hardware after desktop-class performance parts and skewing end-user expectations of what their new notebooks will be able to do. In this case, ATI is “less-guilty,” since its Mobility Radeon HD 4850 is actually based on the RV770 architecture driving the desktop lineup. However, the necessary loss in clock speed to fit within a certain thermal envelope is such that what you end up with runs nothing like a Radeon HD 4850.
Putting Numbers To The Claim
In order to best prove our point here, I built up a desktop machine as comparable as possible to the MSI GT725 that Thomas tested in his Eurocom D900F review. It consisted of a Core 2 Quad Q8400S running a 1,066 MHz front side bus and 7.5x multiplier (yielding 2 GHz), 2 GB of DDR2-800 memory, and a reference ATI Radeon HD 4850 running at stock clocks.
A down-clocked Q8400S isn’t the same as a mobile Core 2 Quad Q9000—there’s a 2MB difference in shared L2 cache. So, I ran a handful of synthetics to make sure these platforms were still similar enough to stand up to each other.
In fact, the results come close enough (and indeed favor the mobile solution, if anything, given the larger L2).
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.
In discussing with Nvidia about this impending editorial, the company expressed an understanding that enthusiasts might object to its naming convention. But it isn’t the power users we’re worried about. Rather, it’s the mainstream folks who know enough to recognize GeForce GTX 280 or Radeon HD 4850, but not enough to realize that the underlying technology is completely different, or that a loss in clock speed gives the graphics solution different performance attributes.
At this moment in time, Nvidia is clearly the more-guilty vendor, but ATI is not innocent either. We’d implore both companies to reconsider the naming of their respective mobile graphics offerings (and it will, indeed, take both companies cooperating here in order to alter the relativistic nature of competitive placement).
We realize they both have powerful brands in the GeForce and Radeon, but if they’re going to recycle model numbers, do customers a favor and serve up a certain degree of consistency. Otherwise, we all end up with situations like this one, where the desktop and mobile markets are alike in name, but nothing else.