If you’ve been looking for a way to play demanding PC games without buying new hardware, Nvidia has your solution. After years in public beta, the company’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service is officially launching today with both free and paid tiers. GeForce Now has a huge leg up on more well-known competitors such as Google Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud, because it supports hundreds of popular titles, including free-to-play games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends and Destiny 2.
GeForce Now has been in public beta since 2017, with more than 300,000 users allowed into the free program, which allows you to play games you already own (or buy for this purpose). As of today, any user on the Internet can register and take advantage of the free edition, which allows you to connect to the cloud service for up to an hour per session. If you sign up for the Founder’s membership, which costs $4.99 per month, you can play for up to six hours in a row and you’ll get priority access to the servers. The first three months of a Founder’s plan are free so there’s no reason right now to go with the free tier.
How it Works
Having priority access to the GeForce Now servers really matters, because in my experience using the service in beta extensively in 2019, the cloud service often failed to connect or denied me entry because too many people were logged on at once.
Founder members also have the ability to play games with RTX ray tracing turned on. GeForce Now currently supports a number of ray tracing titles including Metro Exodus and Wolftenstein Youngblood, though Battlefield V and Control were not in the database of available titles at press time.
Unlike Stadia, which only supports a handful of games, GeForce Now supports over 1,000 titles, with more being added all the time. The service doesn’t come with any games, but will run those you buy (or have bought) on Steam, Epic, Uplay or Battle.net — note that Origin, GoG, Microsoft Store and other launchers are not presently supported. Compare that to Stadia which has only about three dozen games right now.
Of the 1,000-plus titles, several hundred are "instant access," which means that they are always available to launch (and are up-to-date) on Nvidia's servers. The rest are single-session installs, which means that you need to have the system reinstall them every time you start a new session.
The minimum hardware requirements for GeForce Now are so low that you can run it on even the cheapest Windows computer. To run on a PC, you need any dual-core or better CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a GPU that can handle DirectX 11, which even low-end, integrated graphics processors support. You can also run the cloud gaming service on Macs that date back as far as 2009 or on Android devices. To play on your TV, you can use one of Nvidia’s own Android-powered Shield set-top boxes.
The one catch (which applies to all cloud streaming services) is that you need a stable Internet connection that’s at least 15 Mbps, which operates over either Wi-Fi 5 (aka 802.11ac) or higher wireless, or Ethernet. The service is unlikely to work well over 4G and you need to have really good Wi-Fi coverage.
How it Plays
During 2019, I tested GeForce Now at my house over the course of several months in 2019, with a 75 Mbps Internet connection and an 802.11ac router. It often took a while to get a connection and often I would get messages saying I had a poor connection and the sharp images in games would blur. This weekend, I tested again briefly, using both a PC laptop and an Android tablet, and the image quality was solid, but some of my connection attempts failed and I had to re-try to get in.
I tried again at my office this week, connecting via 802.11ac to a line that had more than 140 Mbps up and down, but each time I connected, I had to wait a long time for a connection test and I got a warning message telling me that my connection was spotty, the same warning I was getting at home. I chose the option to Continue despite the warnings and, though games were playable, they were often blurry and laggy.
I fired up a game of Metro Exodus and the images kept blurring and sharpening. According to Fraps, frame rates ranged from 60 fps (when nothing was happening) down to a jerky 15 fps at times, but most often when I was walking around they were in the 30 to 40 fps range.
The experience felt both jerky and blurry, but didn't get noticeably worse when I turned on RTX . However, with the general darkness and bluriness, there was no way to see if ray tracing was working. Eventually, the game stopped and I got a message saying "The game stopped due to a spotty connection."
Having used the service on two different Internet connections (home and work) that otherwise achieve high speeds, I am concerned that the connection problems were not on my end but Nvidia's. I tested primarily with my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen), a Samsung tablet and, over the summer, with Nvidia's Shield TV. However, now that the product is out of beta, I'm going to keep trying it and use it on more devices and networks to see if my experience is representative or not.
With the new session length rules and prioritization system, hopefully it will be easier to get a good connection to GeForce Now. However, with just one hour of session time for free accounts, anyone who’s even remotely serious about gaming will want to get the Founder membership with its 6-hour limit.
Nvidia says that there will be no waiting period for starting a new session so, if you’ve gotten through 6 hours and want to start again, you can connect again right away. To help you remember to save before you get kicked off, there will be on-screen warnings that start 40 minutes before you reach your session time limit.
If you can get a strong connection and maintain it, GeForce Now is really impressive. It allowed my son and I to play games ranging from Lego D.C. Villains to Metro Exodus on devices that should have no business playing any kind of game. My ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an ultrabook with integrated Intel graphics, but with GeForce Now, it can be a gaming rig.
Lego Worlds doesn’t exist for Android, but my son was able to run the PC version of it on his low-end Samsung Tab A tablet, without a hitch. When using GeForce Now on a mobile device, you can either use an on-screen controller, or pair your device with a real Bluetooth controller. It almost goes without saying, but we found that using an XBox One controller was preferable to using the on-screen one.
Of the current crop of cloud gaming services, GeForce Now seems like the most versatile, because of its broad device and software support. Provided that Nvidia's Servers and your Internet connection get along, you can game on just about any device, allowing people who don’t have the latest discrete graphics to get high frame rates and even ray tracing. Even if you have a good gaming PC at home, GeForce Now could let you play your favorite titles on your phone or non-gaming laptop.