If you’re currently a laptop owner and you have a somewhat-recent Geforce GTX graphics card in there, you may not want to upgrade to the latest version of the Geforce drivers, Forceware 347.29. Starting with this set of WHQL drivers that came out recently to support Evolve, Nvidia is will now be disabling overclocking of all laptop GPUs. In a statement on the Geforce forums about the unannounced change, Nvidia says that overclocking mobile GPUs was never their intention and they don’t want users to try doing this in a thermally constrained environment. This has only been a possibility with recent driver releases and until now, Nvidia had not addressed why users were suddenly able to enjoy the benefits of overclocking like desktop users do.
For the good part of the last ten years, graphics cards on mobile devices have been somewhat overclockable. Laptop owners in the past had to resort to using Rivatuner to get their Geforce and Intel graphics up to faster speeds and AMD had various methods for supporting overclocking on mobile GPUs, but never really recommended it for obvious reasons – namely, they didn’t want to anger their partners by encouraging users to try overclocking a mobile GPU that was stuck in the horrible, inefficient chassis designs of laptops from ten years ago.
Fast-forward to today, quite a few notebooks were billed as being overclockable. MSI has marketed plenty of notebooks in the past with “One Touch Overclocking” which was a prominent feature for their high-end notebooks with Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs inside them. Pressing the Turbo button, which actually did something for a change (90’s PC owners will get this joke), would overclock the CPU by about 200-500MHz. Because MSI had designed their notebooks with this in mind, heat usually wasn’t a problem.
Discovering that GPU overclocking had suddenly been removed from the options inside the Geforce drivers and blocked to some third-party utilities, angry Geforce owners took to the forums to vent their frustrations. One of the Nvidia reps responded and claimed that allowing overclocking in the drivers was a bug and that Nvidia did not intend to open up this functionality to users.
Personally, I don’t see a big problem with this given that a laptop is many, many, many times more thermally constrained than a desktop chassis. Barring the few laptops that have MXM modules for swapping out and upgrading the graphics card, most laptops simply don’t have the kind of cooling power necessary to support a GPU that may have just jumped 20 or 30W in terms of TDP – that’s extra heat and power draw that the system wasn’t designed for. In many cases it may not be a problem and in others, like the ultra-thin Razer Blade or MSI’s GS60 Ghost, the extra heat may be enough to push the system into throttling itself to keep heat levels manageable.
In addition, many notebooks are designed to run on AC adapters that have set limits. Sure, your Geforce GTX 970M now can overclock the memory and core to much higher heights, but have you considered the power draw of the system now? Unless you have a larger AC adapter handy to support the higher power consumption, it is really redundant to keep the system as highly strung as it is when overclocked.
There’s also the case that Nvidia has a financial stake in sorting out this mess quickly but overall I think this isn’t intended as a sinister move on their part – it probably was a genuine mistake. We’ll keep track of this development and report on whether Nvidia decides to give in to the Change.org petition which currently only has 440 supporters that want Nvidia to bring mobile overclocking back as an option.
If you have the Forceware 34.75 drivers now, find a safe place to keep them for reinstalls as Nvidia may elect to take those down to be replaced by the fixed drivers which don’t have overclocking enabled.