Understanding Max-Q

Understanding Nvidia’s Max-Q Revolution and Modern Thin and Light PC Technology

Since 2017, Nvidia has been partnering up with many OEMs (or Original Equipment Manufacturers) such as Lenovo, Asus, HP and many others to create a system of back-and-forth communication that afforded both parties better involvement in the process of the other. The main goal of this particular collaboration was to create powerful graphics cards, and subsequently gaming laptops, that are both:

  • Capable of keeping up with the demands of the latest titles.
  • Ergonomically viable as a daily carry, or normal work PC, by making them quieter, smaller, and more power-efficient

I’d also like to mention that the information in this article is very much an oversimplification of many aspects of “Max-Q vs. Max-P”. While the information is accurate, it will be painting a picture of the situation that I believe is sufficient for you to be able to speak GENERALLY about with your friends and colleagues, but I have sacrificed some info for simplicity’s sake, and so you don’t get bored to tears 🙂 enjoy

(I agree.. no need to fat shame the “before” one..)

 

Considering the state of laptops BEFORE this (good luck finding a GTX 980M laptop that’s under an inch thick! or that weighs under 2.5Kg or 5lbs), I’d say it’s already great that manufacturing companies, in collaboration with Nvidia of course, actually care about increasing the appeal of these laptops by making them viable as more than just a desktop with a screen and a keyboard tacked on.

So how are Nvidia and friends achieving these results?

Well, while having “Max-Q” at the end of the graphics card’s name may sound cool (it did to me the first time I heard of it), it actually means that this version of the card is going to be running at a much lower clock speed than its mobile, non Max-Q (or as Nvidia calls it, Max-P) equivalent.

While I usually don’t like to show exact numbers in order to keep my articles as easy to understand as possible, I feel it can paint a clearer picture of exactly how much of a downgrade in raw performance we are looking at from a regular Max-P laptop graphics card to the Max-Q version of the same base card. In this case, we’ll be looking at the RTX 2070 Max-Q, and for our Max-P contestant we have the RTX 2070 Mobile (Max-P).

Note: Max-P versions of graphics cards does NOT mean this is a desktop card! It’s still a laptop card, just not the slimmed and tuned down Max-Q version.

All following numbers are measured in MHz.

Clock speed indicates how many operations can the card perform in a specific time unit.

 

2070 Max-Q Clock speeds: 885-1080 MHz base GPU clock, 1085-1305 boost clock

2070 Max-P Clock speeds: 1214-1440 MHz boost clock

From this we can learn several things:

  1. The base, and even boost clocks of the 2070 Max-Q are considerably lower
  2. The base clock of the Max-P is often not even taken into consideration
Good to know:
The more power you give a processor (this applies to CPUs as well), the faster it will be, up to a point of diminishing returns. Meaning that after a certain point, supplying it with more power will simply produce too much heat for the increase in power to be worth it.

The point of Max-Q Graphics cards is being able to fit more graphics processing power into a smaller form factor, while also reducing the impact to battery life and thermals as a result. This is what manifests itself as lower clock speeds.

Further proof of this is, like I said, the fact that when I was researching for this article, I found that many reviewers, comparison websites, and even Nvidia themselves at times neglect to even mention the base clocks of the Max-P cards.

This is because efficiency is not an object in this case, the whole point of this is packing the most amount of power into a mobile system. The card is assumed to be working at boost clocks more often than not. In other words, you’ll be spending 100% of your gaming time plugged into an outlet when using a system with a Max-P card in it.

Gaming on Max-Q vs Max-P

But how does this manifest in actual gaming performance? Does the considerable drop in frequency result in that big of a difference when I’m playing a game? well in order to figure this out, we’re gonna need to look at some more of those pesky numbers. All the following statistics were calculated by gpucheck.com.

Title / GPU (Frames Per Second) RTX 2070 Max-Q (Average FPS) RTX 2070 Max-Q (Highest FPS) RTX 2070 Max-P (Average FPS) RTX 2070 Max-P (Highest FPS)
Apex Legends 68 75.6 79 88.6
Forza Horizon 4 70 78.6 82 91.7
Red Dead Redemption 2 30 33.6 35 39.2
Call of duty: Modern Warfare (2019) 78 87.2 91 101.7
Resident Evil 2 Remake 79 88.1 92 102.8

Results are for: 1920×1080 Ultra settings | CPU: Intel Core i7-8700K (Closest mobile equivalent)

 

As expected, the Max-Q variant of the RTX 2070 averages about 17% lower than the Max-P in almost every title.

Does this mean Nvidia has succeeded?

If you’re asking me, absolutely, they have! Considering the many benefits that a thinner, lighter, cooler (at least temperature wise, that is), more power efficient laptop provides, the 17% power sacrifice is well worth it, if it means you’ll be able to bring it to work meetings and not have to worry about how loud the fans are, or how obnoxiously big thick the form factor is.

In addition, the gap between the two systems will keep getting smaller, until eventually Nvidia decides to do one of two things:

  1. Completely get rid of the concept of “Max-P” and “Max-Q” variants of graphics cards, as the difference in performance will no longer warrant the extra power needed for Max-P cards.
  2. Simply keep improving the efficiency of ALL of its mobile GPUs so that the next generations will still be designed with the same philosophy as current ones. Max-Q versions will be power-limited with efficiency as the main goal, while Max-P variants will push the same silicon to its limits with a larger form factor and high power draw numbers.

Whatever they decide to do, I’m excited for the future of thin & light. We’ve already come a long way since the inception of these designs, and that has allowed us to play AAA games at desktop levels of quality using continuously shrinking form factors. The BIGGEST impact we will see in the performance department, however, will come from Nvidia’s new “Deep Learning Super Sampling” tech, which will revolutionize the capabilities of even the weakest of modern GPUs (as long as they have “RTX” in their name) on supported titles.

Thank you for sticking around till the end 🙂

6 thoughts on “Understanding Max-Q

  1. Wow! Nvidia max q is actually a lot of upgrades considering the effects of the before ones. In all honesty, the ease that comes with having a gaming laptop is just great for gamers like me who can play at anywhere without having to be seated home all the time due to game. So, it feels good to see this here. Thanks for sharing with us

    1. Well said, buddy! And glad to see you’ve benefitted from the article.
      Max-Q has made gaming on the go much more viable, yes. It’s also cool to see that the same laptop that you use for gaming can now be used for work whenever you have 30 minutes free on a commute, since you don’t have to be lugging a 5Kg brick with you at all times 🙂

  2. Hello Bashar, 

    Having a good PC matters a lot and for those who are out to play games on PC, you should read reviews on which PC can give you the best experience while playing the game. I have made use of some very good products but this is my first time learning about the Max Q or Max P, however, it’s nice to have learned all of this 

    1. The first time I saw Max-Q I actually thought it was some upgraded version of the card. Imagine only finding that out AFTER you buy an expensive laptop!
      Always happy to clear up marketing vagueness

  3. Hello there! Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful piece of information. I’ve gone through it and its a very educative one and also very detailed too. You’ve done a commendable job, well done. For me, the Max P is also a good system but these days we need something more mobile that we can easily move around. Nobody would want to carry a fat laptop everywhere (not fat shaming tho). A slimmer and lighter laptop is the order of the day so the upgraded Max Q version is really nice. Thank you for sharing this. 

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Sofie 🙂
      I think it’s great that Nvidia thought of us people who love PC gaming but also have stuff to do and limited time. 
      Can’t wait to see where Max-Q will take us in 5 or even 10 years

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