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
GTX 485M
GT 555M
GT 550M
GT 540M
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
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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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    It looks like the 520M has four fewer pins, but the top of the chips is quite different. NVIDIA didn't disclose any chip names to me when I asked, unfortunately, I have intermittent Internet access, so I can't really do much other than respond to posts right now, but I'll try to look into it later.
  • rjc - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Thanks Jarred for updating the article.

    One small thing though - the pin outs on the GF108 and GF119 i think are identical. The website for some reason though shows the GF119 pads rotated by 90degrees, notice the triangle is in a different position to the equivalent shot for the GF108. The pin outs are very similar and same size to the older GF215 and GF216 chips, with 4 additional pins for the 2 new parts.

    With regard to the GF119 performance, be a bit careful estimating it. As the codename indicates, it is rumored to have quite some advances over the other Fermi chips. For instance the increase from 420m to 520m performance level apparently only consumes 2W more according to the nvidia figures.
  • Dug - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Thanks for taking the time to go through the new chips and explain the differences. Even then nVidia has made it confusing again. I really wish they would just stick with increasing the model number with increased performance.
  • bennyg - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    At this rate Fermi will be in the 600s, maybe the 700Ms; and their next chip design will take them well beyond the 900s.

    G80 and derivatives were the 8000s, 9000s, 100Ms, 200Ms, 300Ms.

    Nvidia's whole point of new model numbers is to HIDE that there is no/minimal increase in performance.

    I won't even begin to consider shedding a fraction of a tear that all the "1Gb Dedicated Graphics" cards will have no reason for existence. They are only ever targeted and marketed to the uninformed and it's clear a company has reached the pinnacle of un-ethics when it deliberately seeks to confuse the marketplace in order to market its products.
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    I find it really funny how the same chip with lower clocks suddenly gets a higher subnumer once it "improved" one generation :p

  • RyanVM - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Firefox 4 doesn't support hardware acceleration with Optimus configurations. It was causing lots of instability.

    Can't speak for Chrome or IE9.
  • Ed051042 - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Amen to the closing statement on laptop LCD quality. 1366x768 is NOT an acceptable resolution on a 14/15/17" notebook. My 10" netbook as that resolution! The currently lack of ability to deliver quality displays is troubling. Dell has "supply issues" with their 1080p panel for the XPS 15, while HP pulled their 1600x panel for the Envy 14. Only the Sony Vaio Z is delivering the goods, with 1080p on a 13" panel.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    "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 520M—not too shabby" I think you meant "525M over the 420M (not 520M).

    The GT425M at 560core/1120processor/800RAM clocks. That's only 7%, 7% and 12.5% increases. I'm glad for the extra memory bandwidth and would love to see if giving this GPU GDDR5 would let it handle 1080p at least on the lowest settings in games like Crysis or Stalker. I just hope the "new" GT525M costs less than the GT425M cause realistically it won't be much faster if at all so the price should drop. I just really want a 15.6" laptop with a decent quality (Compal/Clevo) quality 1080p screen. i5 2520M, GT525M, 4GB DDR3 1333 for a thousand bucks or less. I REALLY don't care if it includes a blue ray drive, or even a dvd drive. And I REALLY REALLY want it to come with Seagate's Momentus XT Hybrid drive 500GB.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Finally got enough internet speed to be able to update a few bits in the text. The 525M replaces the 420M, which had 500/1000 clocks. The 535M replaces 425M, which is the 560/1120 clocks you mention. But you're right if you compare 525M to 425M. The overlapping names is more than a little confusing!

    I also updated the information in regards to 520M/410M, which use the GF119 core.
  • EliteRetard - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    If we can currently buy a 1GB GTX460 for 150$ any chance well get the GTX485 at a reasonable price? Sure its fully unlocked (why dont we have an unlocked desktop GTX460?), so make it 200$. I want to see laptops with that chip for under $1,000.

    If Nvidia wants $500 for a card like that, whats stopping companies like Asus from just making their own mobile varients? Couldnt they just take the mobile PCI card blank and drop in an actual GTX460 chip and downclock it? Ive been saying all this time, if they can do GTX480 SLI in a laptop with an i7-980x, why the heck cant they just use a GTX460 and go with a much cheaper and more reasonable mobile CPU to make a low cost but effective gaming laptop?

    Thats what I want, a midrange sandy bridge CPU and a switching GTX460 level GPU. Call it an all in one PC if you have to and stick it to a decent 17" LCD. Keep it at 6lbs or less. Id buy that for around a grand. Oh and let us use those larger mobile HDDs...I do need 1TB storage in a laptop and dont want to use 2 drive bays to do it. Keep the second for SSD.

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