NVIDIA Slims Down Gaming Laptops Below 20mm With New Max-Q Design

By Patrick Moorhead - May 31, 2017
NVIDIA has without a doubt been the company leading the charge to bring desktop-class gaming performance into laptops. Thanks to NVIDIA, we have desktop processors like the GTX 1080 in notebooks and virtually every gaming notebook today is VR ready. Because of NVIDIA’s efforts, we have seen some laptop manufacturers sacrifice thickness for the sake of thermal stability and performance. Cooling a desktop GPU like a GTX 1080 inside of a laptop form factor is not easy because you simply don’t have much space to dissipate the heat. But even within these limitations, NVIDIA has managed to work with their partners to deliver some of the fastest gaming notebooks the world has ever seen. Because of these performance improvements, we’ve seen very little efforts to reduce the thickness of gaming notebooks outside of the usual suspects like Razer and MSI. However, at Computex 2017 NVIDIA announced a new program and design specification called MAX-Q that will enable any of NVIDIA’s partners to adopt thin notebooks that are also capable of desktop-class gaming. MAX-Q is an intelligent, software-defined solution NVIDIA MAX-Q Design is a combination of software and hardware including reference designs to help NVIDIA’s gaming laptop partners to deliver a thinner high-performance laptop. The thing that makes MAX-Q different is that NVIDIA is no longer shooting for the absolute fastest performance possible as they have in the past. The company is offering the choice to go performance at all costs which is today and MAX-Q, which is approximately 90% performance with much thinner and cooler laptops.
NVIDIA is looking to find the fastest and most power-optimized performance level to allow for laptops thin enough to be under 20mm thick and sport a GTX 1080.
According to NVIDIA, the average thickness of current gaming laptops is essentially double that and they want to change that. Part of what causes that thickness is the pursuit of absolute peak performance, which usually translates to more power and heat consumption than is usually thermally manageable. This is because in many cases, the last few percentage points of peak performance consume significantly more power than performance is gained. Instead, NVIDIA is looking for the peak performance and efficiency point to allow themselves some headroom for cooling. MAX-Q employs a bunch of software optimizations to increase the peak efficiency of their GeForce GTX gaming GPUs. Features like smart fan algorithms to dynamically adjust to the different power states of the GPU not only enable optimal cooling but also to reduce noise. NVIDIA has also tested and profiled over 400 different games to find the right settings to optimize quality and power consumption which ultimately translates to heat and sustained performance. By using the crowd-sourced data from the GeForce Experience (GFE), NVIDIA can determine which game settings suck down the most power and which ones are worth turning on. This is a huge testament to GFE, and interestingly enough, is one of the more advanced use of big data to improve a product. NVIDIA doesn't get enough credit for it but they should.
Whispermode NVIDIA also has technologies like WhisperMode that uses FPS targeting which allows the user to target a certain frame rate within the game that they deem acceptable. Once that targeting is completed, the GPU will only take on as much load as is needed to display the game at that frame rate, meaning that it can consume less power and generate less heat and therefore less noise. This capability combined with the new cooling designs and new power regulation designs on the laptop itself allow for some impressive size and performance improvements once never thought possible. OEMs and ODMs lined up NVIDIA has been working with laptop manufacturers like ASUS, MSI and Clevo to deliver gaming notebooks that are under 18mm thin and capable of delivering desktop-class gaming in a notebook without being too big. Those three partners were the ones that NVIDIA showed off at Computex and helped tell the company’s story of thin gaming notebooks. NVIDIA’s MAX-Q Design also translates to us likely seeing more high-performance GPUs like the GTX 1070 and 1080 in thinner notebooks which may have previously been stuck with 1060s only. NVIDIA is also working with the world’s leading gaming laptop OEMs like Acer, Alienware, ASUS, Clevo, Gigabyte, HP, Lenovo, Maingear, MSI, Origin PC, Scan and many others to deliver MAX-Q gaming notebooks starting June 27. Wrapping up Overall, NVIDIA is introducing a more refined solution for gaming laptops and it isn’t about absolute performance at all costs anymore. There will always be compromises when it comes to gaming laptop performance and overall size, however, NVIDIA’s MAX-Q technology appears to be bridging that gap. NVIDIA is recognizing an important pain point for many mobile gamers with their MAX-Q design technology and more importantly making high-end gaming GPUs available in more attractive form factors. People simply don’t want to lug around 10 lb. laptops that are thicker than the side of a tank to be able to game on the go. NVIDIA appears to be addressing this pain point while also helping to increase the market size for their high-end gaming GPUs. By creating MAX-Q reference designs and working with so many partners, NVIDIA will likely help their partners ship more gaming laptops than they ever have before thanks to more sleek and portable designs. NVIDIA is helping the industry  transition to faster more capable gaming laptops with more GPU options and flexibility than ever before and it is doing it in a very sophisticated, software-defined matter. Nice job NVIDIA, very smart.
Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.