Nvidia Unveils Max-Q GPUs: Optimus G-Sync Support, Better Power Sharing

Nvidia’s 12nm Turing architecture, built at TSMC.

Evidently someone designated the first week of April as “laptop week” and forgot to notify us. AMD and Intel both made significant moves in mobile this week, as did Nvidia. Team Green is announcing a new feature to match AMD’s SmartShift, which allows an AMD CPU and GPU to share a single power budget, with one component lowering its own power consumption to allow the other to use more power under load.

Nvidia calls this feature Dynamic Boost, and it’s designed to work with either AMD or Intel CPUs. It requires vendor special sauce as well, so it can’t be retrofitted into existing systems, but it takes advantage of the fact that laptops typically share one cooling system between the CPU and GPU. With both parts being cooled by the same heatpipe + fan combination, it makes sense to share their TDPs as well — but it requires laptop manufacturers to implement enough sensors to gather the data and make the whole system work. That’s part of why there’s no way to retrofit the idea into existing laptops; they typically lack the telemetry that’s needed to enable the function in the first place.

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Don’t expect enormous gains from Dynamic Boost — we’re in roughly single-digit territory here — but every 4-8 percent of additional performance is relevant when thermal constraints are now the overwhelming barrier to faster frame rates. The profiling is transparent to the end-user and Nvidia doesn’t need to profile every single game to run it effectively. Dynamic Boost is being marketed under the “Max-Q” brand Nvidia developed, but it isn’t actually tied to that capability and you can have Dynamic Boost in a laptop that uses a standard mobile GPU rather than a Max-Q variant.

G-Sync and Advanced Optimus: Together at Last

Optimus is Nvidia’s brand-name for a power-saving technology that allows the discrete GPU to power down and for the system to use integrated graphics for desktop and low-power video work. The dGPU only kicks in when required for gaming. While gaming laptops still aren’t known for their record-setting battery life, they run much longer with Optimus than without it.

Up until now, however, Optimus has had a limitation — it didn’t work with G-Sync, because it could only duplicate the abilities of the underlying iGPU — Intel didn’t add support for variable refresh rates to its GPUs until Gen11 / Ice Lake.

Because video output in Optimus systems has typically been run through the integrated GPU rather than the dGPU, the variable frame rate capabilities of the Nvidia card have gone untapped. Now, with Advanced Optimus, Nvidia has developed a method of dynamically switching between dGPU and iGPU output without requiring a reboot, allowing the benefits of G-Sync and Optimus simultaneously in the same system, no reboot required. The company even managed to eliminate the ~1 frame of lag Optimus previously introduced as well. Nvidia’s overarching goal is to push variable refresh rates out to as many laptops as possible and encourage OEMs to add the feature.

Variable refresh rate support is a great idea for mobile gaming. If you like to game from a laptop but also need to sometimes keep the system cool and/or quiet, you can use a frame rate limiter to set a maximum speed (say, 30fps), but also engage G-Sync to ensure your frames are delivered as smoothly as possible. The benefits of G-Sync / FreeSync / VRR are larger the slower the base frame rate is, so you’ll see the largest benefits at 30-35 fps as opposed to 60-70 fps.

Max-Q Refreshes

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Finally, Nvidia has launched a new range of Max-Q RTX GPUs. These are not new architectures or chips, but they extend the “Super” family into mobile to mirror the desktop launch last year. These cards are all specced for 80W+ laptops except for the new RTX 2080 Super, which can drop into a 150W+ design. Nvidia has stated that it is working with laptop OEMs to introduce low-voltage GDDR6 and to include better VRMs in their designs, with the goal of winning back some additional performance through using higher-efficiency parts.

OEMs have announced a bevy of laptops with the new solutions, as our sister publication PCMag has thoroughly documented. If you’d like to see a list of the laptops we expect to ship with new 10th Gen CPU cores and updated Nvidia cards, check it out.

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