NVIDIA Announces GTX 480M: Mobile Fermi Coming Soon

NVIDIA has been trailing AMD in terms of graphics performance and features since the launch of the Radeon 5000 series late last year. Missing the holiday shopping frenzy undoubtedly hurt, and AMD has enjoyed being the sole purveyor of DX11 hardware for six months. In late March, NVIDIA finally answered AMD with their launch of the desktop GTX 480 and GTX 470. While they did surpass AMD in raw gaming performance, the victory was not without a cost—specifically, the GTX 400 cards use a ton of power and run quite hot. Imagine our surprise, then, when we heard that GF100 chips would be going into notebooks next month.

We're told that the total graphics power draw (GPU + RAM) for each 480M MXM is 100W, which is higher than the 75W draw of the GTX 285M. While the GTX 480M will in theory support Optimus Technology, it's unlikely any vendors will actually implement Optimus. We expect the majority (all of them?) will go the discrete-only route as quad-core mobile i7 processors don't have the requisite IGP, and pairing the top-end GTX 480M with a Core i3/i5 would potentially introduce CPU bottlenecks. We expect with the GPU running constantly battery life is likely to be in the ~1 hour range, but that's typical of the gaming notebook market. Far more important than battery life is the performance characteristics, and here's where NVIDIA should trump AMD's Radeon Mobility HD 5870 quite handily.

Like the desktop GTX 400, the GTX 480M puts a heavy focus on tessellation hardware and compute shaders. NVIDIA states that the 480M will deliver "up to five times" the tessellation performance of any other GPU, though how much that will truly matter remains to be seen.  GTX 480M will also support the usual slew of NVIDIA features like CUDA, OpenCL, and PureVideo, and it will be part of the Verde Driver Program. On the desktop, the additional shader performance does appear to be the main reason NVIDIA is ahead of AMD, with an average lead of around 15% at high resolutions. In DX11 titles, the lead is often even greater, coming in at 20 to 25% faster. With that in mind, let's look at what the GTX 480M offers.

GeForce GTX 480M Specifications
CUDA Cores 352
Graphics Clock (MHz) 425
Processor Clock (MHz) 850
Texture Fill Rate (billions/sec) 18.7
Memory Clock/Effective (MHZ) 600/2400
Standard Memory Configuration GDDR5
Memory Interface Width 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec) 76.8
CUDA gigaflops 598
PhysX capable Yes
OpenCL support Yes
PureVideo HD 1080p Full HD Yes
H.264, VC1, MPEG2 1080p video decoder Yes
Full spec Blu-ray decode Yes
DirectX 11 support Yes
DirectCompute Support Yes
OpenGL 2.1 support Yes
OpenGL 3.2 support Yes
Windows Vista, XP and 7 Yes
GDDR5 support Yes
LCD – LVDS support Up to 2048x1536
VGA analog display support Up to 2048x1536
DisplayPort multimode support Up to 2560x1600
HDMI 1.4 support Yes
HDCP content protection Yes
7.1 channel HD audio on HDMI Yes
PCI Express 2.0 support Yes
SLI Ready Yes
Package MXM board

(Note: Some of the above figures may be different from what you'll find on NVIDIA's current spec sheet. We spoke with NVIDIA to confirm the numbers, and what we have posted should be correct. It sounds like there was a math error/typo initially, so the GFLOPS data is correct and we have clarified the memory clock information.)

Beyond the obligatory DX11 support, the paper specs of the 480M look to be a good sized jump over the previous generation GTX 285M. CUDA Cores have increased from 128 to a whopping 352, which could mean a dramatic increase in performance. It's interesting to note that with 352 shader cores, that means NVIDIA is disabling five of the available 16 "Streaming Multiprocessors" we discussed in our GF100 Architectural Overview. 352 is still a big jump from 128, but we have to keep clock speeds in mind as well. The GTX 285M had a core clock of 576MHz with a shader clock of 1500MHz, and up to 1020MHz GDDR3 memory (2040MHz effective). The GTX 480M has a core clock of 425MHz, a shader clock of 850MHz, and 600MHz GDDR5 memory (2400MHz effective).

The old G90 architecture at the heart of the GTX 285M could do three shader operations per clock; the GF100 does two per clock, which means that the raw GFLOPS isn't particularly faster when you factor in clock speeds. Memory bandwidth on the other hand has increased by around 20%, despite the relatively tame 600MHz base clock of the GDDR5 memory. If we look at the desktop GTX 480, we can see that even with less texture fill rate and only slightly more memory bandwidth, the other architectural changes resulted in a performance increase ranging from 20% at the low end to as much as 75%, with the average being around 50% faster. We would expect a similar performance increase with the GTX 480M compared to the previous generation 285M. Given that the mobile HD 5870 is only slightly faster on average than the GTX 280M, it looks like NVIDIA is set to retake the mobile performance crown.

Beyond offering better performance, the new 480M also provides full support for 3D Vision displays. Notebooks with dual-link DVI output will be able to drive 120Hz panels without any problem. Likewise, the internal LCD can be a 120Hz panel, and we'll likely see some notebooks with 3D displays down the road. SLI is also possible, though it looks like notebooks with 480M SLI won't be out for another couple of months.

Availability of notebooks with the GTX 480M should start next month, with the first units coming from Clevo. What we don't know yet is pricing information, but if the past is any indication we expect the GTX 480M notebooks to command a pretty penny. Being the fastest notebook on the block is one thing, but what we're interested in seeing is a well-balanced answer to notebooks like the ASUS G73Jh. Also worth noting is that the mobile DX11 at present consists of a single top-end GPU, whereas AMD has top to bottom DX11 support.

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  • spidey81 - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    With a mobile part as powerful as Nvidia is claiming this to be it seems like it might make a good fit for either an ITX mobo or something along the lines of book sized HTPC system that could double as a 1080P gaming system. I mean some of those systems use sodimms so why not use other parts designed for notebooks. Just an idea I'm posing.
  • Omophorus - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    Another high-power, high-heat part that makes it even less advisable to have a "laptop" anywhere near one's family jewels.

    So, if it can't go more than about 10 feet between charges, and you can't actually have it in your lap without risking burns or fried eggs, how is it not a slightly portable desktop with ultra-small form factor?
  • Pessimism - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    I just wish they would stop constantly changing the MXM mobile graphics card format and mandate it in all laptops.
  • theeldest - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    "Also worth noting is that the mobile DX11 at present consists of a single top-end GPU, whereas AMD has top to bottom DX11 support."

    It sounds like you're saying that ATI doesn't have a mobile Crossfire solution for the top end right now, but you can get two of the 5870 (mobile) in the Alienware m17x (and probably in other systems, I just don't care to look).

    Unless I'm reading this wrong?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    Yeah... all I meant is that NVIDIA just has the mobile 480M. ATI has mobile HD 5870, 5850, 5830, 5770, 5750, 5730, 5650, 5470, 5450, and 5430. (Note that HD 5145 and 5165 are just rebadged DX10.1 solutions.) So ATI has what you need from the top to bottom with DX11 support, and NVIDIA focuses just on the top right now. Of course, once you get below the 5830, the actual utility of DX11 becomes limited. The 5650 runs medium details + DX11 "okay" at 1366x768; anything more and you're generally better off dropping to DX10/DX9 modes.
  • synaesthetic - Thursday, May 27, 2010 - link

    The 5650 doesn't really even run DX11 "okay" at 1366x768... my lappy has one and I find myself disabling those features more often than not.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 27, 2010 - link

    Note that I said "medium details and DX11"... if you try to run high/ultra quality, forget it. LOL
  • SunSamurai - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    To this?

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    I linked to the GTX 280M vs. HD 5870 review of the G73Jh, where the 5870 is about 10-15% faster than GTX 280M. 285M would make the gap even smaller, and it looks like GTX 480M should be about 30-50% faster than 285M. The HD 5850 is going to be about 12% slower than the 5870, which means it would be more like a GTX 280M and thus clearly slower than the 480M.
  • SunSamurai - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    Well since we are talking mobile I was kind of more interested in the watt to rendering power ratio. I mean I wouldn't mind taking a 20% fps hit if its going to use half the power. Though I would want all the features the same or better. DX11 hardware codec acceleration etc.

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