“We are maximizing performance, at the maximum efficiency point.”
Jensen Huang, Nvidia Keynote at Computex 2017
From time immemorial, it has been the burning dream of graphics card developers, to create a mobile platform that can go toe-to-toe with the best that the desktop space can truly offer…
Well, they were actually able to do that very early on at the dawn of the 21st century. But, achieving it with the significant advancements in graphics design and visual fidelity that we have in the last five years has remained somewhat of an economic challenge.
That is, until Max-Q technology was unveiled. Or so they said. At the very least, the concept was set to sweep the mobile market with the
quietness sleekness and style of the best features Nvidia can offer from Pascal and beyond.
How Does it Work?
In a nutshell, Max-Q refers to the combination of features and technologies in laptops that allow them to theoretically squeeze our every single bit of performance that it can for the highest level of efficiency that they could. For example, better cooling solutions, significantly thinner design, weight factor that is completely unimaginable for its level of power, among other game-changing (pun intended) things.
Thus, Max-Q has many different optimization options both at the software and hardware-level. Because it is mostly specified on the GPU though, it mostly modifies the GPU hardware configuration for laptops to perform near their non-Max-Q counterparts with all the aforementioned upgrades. Like briefly explained by Jensen Huang himself during his keynote at Computex 2017, Max-Q is all about “peak efficiency”. It’s not just all about increasing clock speeds, or pumping more power (and thus heat) to the system. It’s also about, being cooler (both figuratively and physically), sleeker, and (somewhat) less of a battery hog, while still bearing the rightful designation of a “gaming” laptop.
As for its name, it was inspired by a similar term in aerospace design (Max q) that refers to the point where a vehicle has achieved its maximum dynamic pressure.
Was it good as advertised?
Pretty much, at least in the way enthusiasts already understand its sacrifices. Max-Q definitely delivered on enhanced power and heat management, combined with portability and usability upgrades for the gaming laptops that featured it.
More specifically though:
- Noise levels, something that gaming laptops are always notorious for, was one of the highlights of the improvements in usage by the feature. It did not bring it down exactly to the advertised calm and gentle 40 dBA, of course. But Max-Q capable laptops are now noticeably quieter for the current level of workload that they do. Definitely still more than just ambient noise, but on most models it is usually the type of softer and flatter whirr that you wouldn’t mind in the background if you’re not using headphones.
- As briefly mentioned earlier, mobile GPUs belonging to the Max-Q line have similar names but shouldn’t be considered the same. First, the physical configuration itself (CUDA cores, die size, etc.) is different. Second, power delivery is also completely different. The model number only serves to be a guideline on its intended tier within the laptop space itself. For example, 1660 Ti Max-Q vs 1660 Ti (mobile), 2080 Super Max-Q vs 2080 Super (mobile), and so on.
- Max-Q isn’t necessarily a universal standard for ALL gaming laptops today. Depending on the price range, performance tier, or intended market of the laptop, it may still be manufactured and released with desktop-level GPU names without Max-Q. Always double-check the listed specs, or confirm the listings that include a particular gaming laptop you are interested to purchase.
- Battery life is perhaps one of the least improved parts of the Max-Q technologies suite. There were enhancements for the last three generations, of course. But, the experience is still more likely close to playing typical handheld (dedicated) consoles of the last ten years, which means around four to five hours. We’re quite far from the “M1 experience” of typical office use when it comes to high-intensity gaming just yet, Max-Q or no Max-Q.
Is it still relevant today?
Absolutely, though their popularity still relies on performance preference. While the original Max-Q gaming laptops lineup for mobile Pascal GPUs only included the 1060, 1070, and 1080, it went on to widen consumer choices for the subsequent Turing (RTX 20 series) and Ampere (RTX 30 series) mobile versions.
But as mentioned earlier, it takes a bit more research and double-checking before you can confirm that a particular model does support Max-Q technology (if the model name and advertisement doesn’t specify it outright).
There is also the risk of falsely perceived upgrades. Max-Q is far more invested in balancing power delivery, heat and noise, rather than just pushing the hardware selections to the maximum upper limit. Therefore, you might get a Max-Q laptop that performs almost the same, or even slightly less, to a another laptop that is one generation below in the same tier, but does not feature Max-Q.
Nonetheless, for someone who wants more portable versions of gaming laptops both in weight and battery life, and does not mind slightly cranked down hardware, then Max-Q technology is for you.
Check out some of these Max-Q laptops for a bit more reference on what they can do:
- Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (GX550) – High-end
- Razer Blade Pro 17 (2020 ver.) – High-end
- Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 – Mid-range
- Dell G3 15 – Upper Entry-level