NVIDIA's GeForce 600M Series: Mobile Kepler and Fermi Die Shrinksby Dustin Sklavos & Jarred Walton on March 22, 2012 8:59 AM EST
Conclusion: Bring On the GeForce 600Ms
While there's a decent amount of the kind of branding chicanery we've come to really dislike in the 600M series, we have a feeling most of those rebranded chips are going to wind up being brushed aside. They're not liable to be as profitable as the 28nm GPUs once yields get up there, making them less compelling for NVIDIA to sell, and they're holdovers in terms of thermal requirements that are liable to be less compelling for OEMs. In fact, without giving too much away, the list of OEM wins in our reviewer's guide that are under embargo pretty much confirms it: the bulk of the systems on our list are using the 640M on up.
Of course, what's really telling is what's missing from the list: a GeForce GTX 680M. It's tough to complain too much about the GeForce GTX 580M getting a second wind as the GTX 675M (naming shenanigans notwithstanding); the top end of mobile graphics has actually been pretty healthy since the GeForce GTX 485M and AMD Radeon HD 6950M launched. But given that the Kepler-based GK107 powering a good chunk of the 600M series possesses only a quarter of the shader power of its big brother, we expect another Kepler GPU will fill in the gap.
At the same time, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a cut down GK104 to materialize as the GTX 680M; the desktop GTX 680 only has a TDP of 195 watts, and some careful binning and pruning of clocks (keep in mind that the desktop card is running the GPU at 1GHz and the power-hungry GDDR5 at a staggering 6GHz) could theoretically produce a competitive top-end notebook GPU. It wouldn't be unheard of; NVIDIA's crammed cut down GF100/GF110 Fermi chips into notebooks with a 100W TDP, and the GTX 680 is already very close to that level. Give NVIDIA some time to make a bunch of money selling all the GTX 680 cards they can to early adopters and then we're likely to start seeing trickle down parts, including our presumed GTX 680M.
Regardless, we do have a pair of very compelling products on the table right now: the GK107 powering the GT 640M, 650M, and GTX 660M, and the 28nm replacement for GF108 at the bottom of the list. (Again, note that this isn't a straight die shrink as there are other changes.) We've already seen that the GeForce GT 640M can produce the kind of gaming experience NVIDIA claims in our own testing, and it stands to reason there's a decent amount of performance waiting to be unlocked by a jump to GDDR5 in higher-end parts, not to mention pairing the GPU with a faster Ivy Bridge (non-ULV) processor. Meanwhile, the 28nm Fermi part provides a substantial jump in performance for the bottom end of the list, allowing for a halfway decent replacement for the terminally awful GF119 (GT 520M/520MX) that's taken up residence in a few popular notebooks.
All that remains to be seen is how AMD is going to respond. With the low idle power draw of the Southern Islands chips, AMD at least has some of the pieces in place, but they really need something that competes directly with Optimus—not just on the switching technology, but on reference driver updates as well. Meanwhile, Turks is already getting long in the tooth and would likely need a die shrink to stay competitive with the 600M series. That's before we even talk about the abnormally popular 6400M series, which will hopefully just be obsoleted entirely by both Ivy Bridge's IGP and the GeForce GT 620M. But Cape Verde and Pitcairn both bode well for the mobile market; the 7750's 55W TDP makes it an excellent candidate for mobile deployment, while Pitcairn can have its clocks shaved just enough to make a formidable top-end notebook GPU. Either way, with the entirety of the current Radeon HD 7000M series just being rebrands of the 6000M (all the way up to the 7690M), AMD will need to step their game up. Hopefully as we get closer to the Ivy Bridge launch we'll see what they have in store.