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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  • 5150Joker - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Jarred, has the TDP of the 485M gone down vs the 480M and is it still 100W+?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    NVIDIA didn't disclose any specific TDP, but they said they're competing to get into the same designs as AMD's high-end parts, and so it appears they're looking at around 75W to 80W.
  • nitrousoxide - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    nVidia and AMD are using different TDPs. The TDP of a Mobility Radeon is only the power consumed by the GPU itself while the TDP of a Geforce M is the total MXM Module power consumption.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Regardless, the point is that the notebook manufacturers have to be the ones to handle the cooling, so the premise is that NVIDIA and AMD mobile GPUs are targeting roughly the same power/thermal requirements.
  • marraco - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Finally, competence will force nVidia to bring the goods.

    But what nVidia needs is HydraLogic technology.

    That way discrete graphics will add to integrated graphics instead of compete with it. The speed up would be 3X instead of 2X, and a good integrated would help nVidia to sell his hardware instead of hinder it.
  • Ed051042 - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    As of 2:19PM EST the Dell XPS 15 has the 1080p panel available through online ordering!
  • nitrousoxide - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    The 384 Shaders are expected, but the 575MHz frequency is just unbelievable! Keep in mind that the GTX480M with 352 Shaders clocked at only 425MHz (which makes it even overrun by the high-freq-lower-shader-count GTX470M), it is easy to figure out that the 485M is theoretically around 1.5x performance of 480M. Keeping the TDP with 50% performance boost is really a great job done by nVidia.

    There is one error in the article: the RAM frequency of 485M is 750MHz(3GHz effective), given that it uses 256bit GDDR5, the memory bandwidth should be 96GB/s instead of 76.8GB/s (3000*256/8=96)
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Whoops... I think I copied/pasted the old data and missed updating that one cell.
  • halcyon - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    This is what matters in the mobile space.

    What are the parts capable of? Are they still 35W + parts?

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