Introducing the GeForce 500M Family (and the 485M)

When NVIDIA announced their complete 400M lineup last September, we were pleasantly pleased: top to bottom DX11 support, with reasonable performance and the option for laptop manufacturers to use Optimus Technology to provide a nice balance of battery life and performance. There was one problem with that last item, however: the high-end Clarksfield CPUs used in most gaming notebooks didn’t have integrated graphics, so you were left with a notebook continually powering a discrete GPU. The result was less than stellar battery life but good performance, illustrated by notebooks like the ASUS G73Jw.

At the lower end of the performance spectrum, Arrandale offerings provided plenty of performance for mainstream users, but no one wanted to take a chance and pair a fast dual-core Arrandale (i.e. i7-640M) with a high-end GPU (i.e. GTX 460M) and enable Optimus graphics switching technology. That’s a shame, as it would have been an interesting alternative, but with such a short shelf life it probably doesn’t matter. As we illustrated earlier this week, Sandy Bridge has completely altered the mobile landscape. Now you can get near-desktop performance, quad-core processing with Hyper-Threading, decent integrated graphics, and battery life that’s none too shabby—all at roughly the same price as the old Core i7-740QM! SNB’s integrated graphics allow for a combination “have your cake and eat it too” notebook that combines a fast CPU with a fast GPU and doesn’t have to throw battery life under the bus. That’s the theory at least; we’ll have to wait for actual hardware to see who manages to pull it off.

With the Intel HD Graphics 3000 shipping in all mobile Sandy Bridge processors, Intel also effectively killed off anything below the 420M level. Yes, you can still get DirectX 11 support and better drivers from NVIDIA and AMD GPUs, but for those who only need “good enough” graphics there’s no real need to pay more. GT 425M still ended up being 55% to 96% faster than HD 3000 on average (at low and medium details, respectively), but while twice as fast is good, that 55% number is a bit of a concern. Why not widen the gap a bit by increasing clock speeds and memory bandwidth? Enter the GeForce 500M line.

NVIDIA’s New 400M/500M Parts
  GeForce
GTX 485M
GeForce
GT 555M
GeForce
GT 550M
GeForce
GT 540M
GeForce
GT 525M
Codename GF104 GF106 GF108 GF108 GF108
CUDA Cores 384 144 96 96 96
Graphics Clock 575MHz 590MHz 740MHz 672MHz 600MHz
Processor Clock 1150MHz 1180MHz 1480MHz 1344MHz 1200MHz
RAM Clock 750MHz
(3.0GHz)
900MHz
(3.6GHz)
900MHz
(3.6GHz)
900MHz
(3.6GHz)
900MHz
(3.6GHz)
RAM Type GDDR5 GDDR5/DDR3 GDDR5/DDR3 GDDR5/DDR3 GDDR5/DDR3
Bus Width 256-bit 192-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Bandwidth (GB/sec) 96.0 43.2 28.8 28.8 28.8
SLI Ready Yes No No No No

Let's get this out of the way first: this is just rebranding the old 400M series and chaning the clocks. Everyone clear on that? AMD is launching their 6000M parts as well, except they failed to provide us with any information ahead of time. I guess NVIDIA wanted to do a number update to keep people excited, but anyway....

Starting at the high-end, we also get a new 400M part to go with the 470M and 460M. The GTX 485M now uses the full GF104 chip, so you get 384 CUDA cores, and the clock speed is 575/1150MHz for the core/shaders, with 750MHz GDDR5 (3.0GHz effective). That puts it ahead of the old 480M (352 cores at 425/850/600 Core/Shader/RAM clocks), and it should have better power characteristics as well. To be specific, the GTX 485M ends up with 48% more computational power than the 480M and 25% more memory bandwidth. The 470M and 460M will continue their roles as high-end parts.

The first of the new 500M chips is the GT 555M, based on the GF106. Unlike the old GT 445M, the GT 555M is always a 192-bit interface, although there’s still the potential to curtail memory bandwidth by using DDR3 instead of GDDR5. So, while there’s plenty of confusion with the overlapping 400M and 500M parts, at least in this one instance we have some clarification. Core clocks are the same as the old GT 445M, but the GDDR5 memory is now specced to run at 900MHz (3.6GHz effective) instead of 800MHz.

The next three cores are all just a speed-bumped version of existing 400M parts. 550M, 540M, and 525M replace the 435M, 425M, and 420M respectively. All have 96 CUDA cores, just like the old 400M chips they replace, but memory bandwidth is up from 800MHz (25.6GB/s effective) to 900MHz (28.8GB/s)—a 12.5% increase. Clock speeds are also up, in this case it’s a 14% increase for the 550M vs. 435M, 20% for 540M vs. 425M, and 20% for the 525M over the 420M—not too shabby. As before, everything that doesn’t start with “GTX” lacks SLI support, which is fine by us; we’d rather have a single fast GPU over two slower GPUs in SLI just for ease of configuration if nothing else.

More New Chips!
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  • Kaboose - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    Cant wait for a 2630QM and a GT 555M in a 15.6 inch 1080p notebook. Now lets see who is first to market with that gem, and see what price we are looking at. Reply
  • Willhouse - Thursday, January 06, 2011 - link

    I too would like to see this laptop. Been waiting for months. 14" with similar hardware would be nice too. Reply
  • Pneumothorax - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    "Of course, while notebook manufacturers are doing the above, please quit with the lousy LCDs. Tablets are now shipping with IPS displays; can the laptops and notebooks get some luvin' as well? Also, stop with the glossy plastics, give us decent keyboards, and stop using 48Wh batteries in 15.6" and larger laptops!"

    Please do this so I can stop paying an extra $1000 of Apple tax to get decent screens and batteries in a laptop?!
    Reply
  • Dug - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    I 2nd that!!! Reply
  • Wizzdo - Thursday, January 06, 2011 - link

    Remember that with the so called "Apple Tax" you also get a wonderful modern "Ultimate" version OS and a slew of really excellent useful applications in iLife minus the pile of crippled cpu-hogging crapware installed.

    If you want to do the real math ( including the seemingly infinite headaches and hours of productivity lost by all my Windows clients who are constantly paying me to fix their machines ), Apple Macbooks are a steal!

    There's a lot more to a laptop than the upfront cost.

    Ironically, my macBook Pro is the best Windows laptop (using BootCamp) that I've ever owned and believe me I've owned many!
    Reply
  • inaphasia - Friday, January 07, 2011 - link

    3rd! (Except for the Apple part)

    And I'll say again again what has already been said many times before:
    16x9? Only good for for video! And video on almost all sub $1000 notebooks... Can you say 0% viewing angle? Because effectively it's exactly that on my 1215n.
    Reply
  • Karammazov - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    jarred I like very much your take on reviewing notebooks, you provide an angle that most of us who are interested in buying the laptop are wanting.

    However Im still left aloof when it comes to optimus. I cant see why all the hype about it, the switchable gpus is a reality even on the AMD field. granted that you need a board to coordinate the stuff, but it doesnt suffer the same driver issues that the optimus offer, the switch is not as seamless as it looks, and the drivers are plagued with bugs.

    Not only that but its visible that optimus was designed to provide high performance when needed, thus improving the battery life, but is there any laptop out there that use optimus that also have a mid upper range GPU? Im not even going into the territory of the high end stuff.

    I also like the idea, but the way optimus is now, I dont consider it a good thing, unless you are seeing the AMD side of things.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    The big benefit of Optimus is that driver updates are available. If you get something with switchable graphics, you end up only getting new drivers when the laptop manufacturer puts together a package that includes your GPU and IGP drivers. In practice, that usually means you're stuck with whatever the laptop initially shipped with.

    Mid-range GPUs like the 335M have done Optimus before, which I'd call midrange for the 300M series. I don't think anyone did higher than 435M Optimus up until now, but with Sandy Bridge you can now get quad-core as well as high-end Optimus. That's what I want to see, but we'll have to wait for someone to actually make it.

    Optimus does have a few glitches on occasion with compatibility, but if you're stuck with drivers that are months old and you're trying to run a new game, it can be even worse. So the combination of driver updates and better battery life is a win for me.
    Reply
  • LtGoonRush - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    While I am excited about the possibility of a GTX 560M using an uncut GF106 die, the fact that the GF108 only has 4 ROPs basically makes it worthless at gaming. A 96 shader card could have made a decent low-end gaming option, but the ROP count limits performance in ways that are simply insurmountable. It's true that we're probably looking at laptops with <1080p displays where the ROP count matters less, but still, I can't see the card being competitive enough to justify the cost. On the other hand, nVidia did make the right choice with the GTX 485M, that's the card the original GTX 480M should have been (much like the GTX 580 vs the GTX 480). Reply
  • rjc - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    On page 2 you have listed the GT520m as a cut down GF108. The part is up on the nvidia site and it really does not look like GF108, more like a new chip the GF119.
    See here:
    http://www.nvidia.com/object/product-geforce-gt-52...
    The chip is physically much smaller and a different shape than the GF108 from the pictures.
    Reply

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