NVIDIA’s Max-Q designs are all about finding the sweet spot
Where peak performance is not peak efficiency.
What do space rockets and NVIDIA Max-Q laptops have in common? As it turns out, a laser sharp focus on creating designs that can deliver under extreme conditions. NVIDIA doesn’t want to put laptops in space, but it certainly wants to achieve the ideal in gaming laptop design, where machines are thin, powerful, and quiet.
At COMPUTEX 2017, NVIDIA announced that it was partnering with OEMs to make high-performance laptops that are also thin, light, and quiet.
This translates into a ton of engineering work, and includes things like advanced thermal solutions, optimized in-game settings, and more efficient power regulation.
WHAT IS MAX-Q?
In aerospace engineering, Max-Q refers to maximum dynamic pressure, and is the point where pressure on a craft such as a rocket peaks in tandem with increasing velocity. After that point, pressure drops off as a result of the decreasing density of air as altitude increases.
Rockets are designed to withstand these stressful Max-Q conditions, and NVIDIA co-opted the term to refer to notebooks that have been built to similarly perform under the most trying conditions.
ACHIEVING MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY
The operative word in Max-Q designs is efficiency. These aren’t notebooks tooled for maximum performance, so Max-Q laptops do take a small performance hit of around 10 percent.
Instead, NVIDIA and its hardware partners have worked to identify the point at which efficiency is the highest. The guiding principle at the heart of their efforts is that peak performance is not peak efficiency.
Beyond a certain point, increments in power consumption result in increasingly smaller gains in performance that are hardly worth the higher power draw (see fig. 1).
Furthermore, once you change the Y-axis to plot for incremental instead of raw performance, the drop off in
efficiency becomes even clearer. There just comes a point where performance increments shrink as power increases, and it makes no more sense to continue in that direction, which would also necessitate bulky designs and hefty cooling apparatus to deal with the increased power.
NVIDIA is shooting for this point where efficiency peaks, and this approach has enabled its partners to make laptops that are almost 70 percent more powerful than before, thanks to the ability to cram a GeForce GTX 1080 into chassis that would previously have only held a GeForce GTX 1060 (see fig. 2).
That’s not all however, and this zeroing in on peak efficiency is combined with novel cooling solutions – such as the bottom panel of the ASUS ROG Zephyrus that opens up for more ventilation – and better voltage regulators.
These optimizations apply to individual games as well, and a similar approach has been taken with regard to in-game graphics settings. NVIDIA calls this feature WhisperMode, and it helps Max-Q laptops run more quietly. In fact, the company has targeted the maximum noise level at 40dbA, which in a chart of comparative noise levels, has been lumped together with sounds like bird calls.
In other words, that’s barely a peep compared to the storm that some gaming laptops can whip up.
WhisperMode applies the most power-efficient graphics settings and intelligently paces the game’s frame rate, thus striking a balance between visual quality, performance and noise. Over 400 games have been profiled, so there’s a good chance that your favorite title will be able to take advantage of it (see fig. 3).
WHO HAS THE FINAL SAY?
Ultimately, Max-Q is just a new approach to notebook design, and not any new technology per se. NVIDIA simply takes on a more assertive role in the design process and works with OEMs in creating advanced cooling solutions and maximizing efficiency at the hardware, software, and driver level.
There is no arbitrary standard for what makes a Max-Q laptop, and NVIDIA’s participation is really the defining factor. Max-Q notebooks are also diverse, and are not limited to premium, high-end models.
For instance, the updated HP OMEN 15 is a Max-Q laptop, but it measures 24.8mm thick and features only an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060. In comparison, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus is an engineering marvel that crams a GeForce GTX 1080 into a body that is only 17.9mm thick.