New gaming laptops with Nvidia graphics are now able to perform better thanks to a new feature called Max-Q Dynamic Boost. I’ve compared 18 games at all setting levels with it enabled and disabled to see if it actually makes a difference, but first let’s explain what dynamic boost is and how it works.
In the past, both the CPU and GPU would have static power limits defined by the OEM, say for example 45 watts for an Intel i7 and maybe 90 watts for a Nvidia RTX 2070 Max-Q. With dynamic boost, if the game being run is GPU heavy and bottlenecked by the graphics, the system can automatically shift power budget from the CPU over to the GPU, resulting in higher performance. This should work both ways too, so if a game is more processor heavy it should be able to pull power away from the GPU and the processor will get that boost. I believe currently this only works in games, adjustments are made on a per-frame basis.
Max-Q dynamic boost works with both 20 and 16 series graphics options, but unfortunately the laptop OEM needs to factor this optimization in when designing the machine, so you can’t just start using dynamic boost on an older Max-Q laptop, so the future will only be available with newer machines.
The first problem is I haven’t actually been able to find a list of laptops that have Max-Q dynamic boost. Most of the new laptops I’ve tested did have the feature, but there were also some others that did not. So unless a laptop is actually specified with it in the specs, which from what I’ve seen so far doesn’t really happen, you’re just going to have to check reviews like mine to find out if it has it or not.
It is pretty easy to check if you have access to the laptop though, the dynamic boost option should show up through the Nvidia control panel and if it is it should be enabled by default, but you can also optionally disable it, and this is how I’ve been able to do all my testing.
My testing was done with the Lenovo Legion 7i gaming laptop with RTX 2070 Max-Q graphics. With a GPU only stress test running, the GPU would run at 90 watts, but with Dynamic Boost enabled it would sit at 105 watts, so 16% higher power best case. This puts it just 10 watts off the fully fledged Max-P 2070, so it should be closing the gap between Max-Q and the full power variants. It’s worth noting that the amount of boost a laptop will have seems to vary by machine, for instance the MSI GE66 with RTX 2080 Super Max-Q is the same as my Lenovo 7i, it’s got a 90 watt default GPU power limit which can boost up to 105 watts with dynamic boost enabled. On the other hand though, the ASUS Zephyrus Duo 15 with the same GPU topped out at 100 watts, so I’m assuming this will vary between machines based on cooling solution, but so far 105 watts is the highest I’ve seen.
Anyway with all that in mind, let’s get into the gaming results.
I’ve tested control by running through the same section of the game. I’ve got the results from dynamic boost enabled shown in red, and then disabled in purple. I’ve tested all setting levels, which are listed on the left, with the lowest at the bottom and highest up top. With the high setting preset in use, dynamic boost was offering a 6.5% higher average FPS, though interestingly at low settings there was a large 31% boost to the 1% low.
Battlefield 5 was tested in campaign mode, and again by performing the same test pass through the game. The results were close together this time, with dynamic boost enabled offering just a 1.5% boost to average FPS at ultra settings, though there was more of an improvement again in 1% lows at lower settings, I suspect the CPU may be getting more power at lower levels as we’re typically less GPU bound there, and more CPU power is known to help with 1% lows. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested using the games built in benchmark, and there was just a couple of FPS boost to highest settings with dynamic boost enabled, equating to a 2.3% improvement, though interestingly at lowest settings this was closer to a 10% boost. Fortnite was tested with the replay featuring using the same replay file for each test. At epic settings dynamic boost was giving almost a 7% improvement to average frame rate, and the margins weren’t too different at the lower setting levels. I’ve tested Call of Duty Modern Warfare with either all settings at minimum or maximum as it doesn’t have built in setting presets. 1% lows saw very minor changes, while average FPS at max settings was 5.5% higher when using dynamic boost. Rainbow Six Siege was tested with the in-game benchmark with Vulkan, and it saw one of the smallest differences out of all 18 titles tested, with less than a 1% boost to average FPS at max settings, and the results were quite similar regardless of setting level, and in many cases within margin of error. CS:GO was tested with the Ulletical FPS benchmark, and the differences were low here, but still a clear edge with dynamic boost enabled, which was just 2.3% faster in average frame rate with all settings maxed out. Dota 2 was tested playing in the middle lane with bots, there was about a 3% boost to average FPS at ultra settings here, so again nothing game changing, but hey extra performance is extra performance. Monster Hunter World saw the largest improvement out of all 18 games tested with dynamic boost enabled. There was an 8.5% higher average FPS with the highest setting preset, and an even larger 20% improvement to the 1% low performance, then smaller changes at lower setting levels. Borderlands 3 was tested using the games benchmark. There was an above average 7.5% increase to average FPS with the highest setting preset, and like some others, less of a difference at lower levels. 1% low values also went either way, but in most cases are within margin of error anyway. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was also tested with the built in benchmark, and there was less than a 3% boost to average FPS at the highest setting level, though the differences could be much more minor at other setting presets, take very high or low for instance, the average FPS is basically the same. Results in the Witcher 3 where a little different, dynamic boost enabled was always beneficial with the exception being to 1% low performance with the ultra setting preset. Average FPS was still better with dynamic boost, but the difference to 1% low is larger. Ghost Recon Breakpoint was tested with the built in benchmark, and dynamic boost was almost getting us a 5% increase to average FPS with the highest ultimate setting preset. Metro Exodus was also tested with the games benchmark tool, now while extreme settings were still doing quite well with dynamic boost enabled with a 7.5% boost to average FPS, the RTX preset was more like 16% higher. Unfortunately I only checked the data after returning the 7i laptop, so I wasn’t able to do more RTX testing, but that could potentially benefit more from dynamic boost. Overwatch was tested playing in the practice range, both enabled and disabled were hitting the 300 FPS frame cap at low and medium, then dynamic boost had a clear lead at the higher setting levels, with one of the highest differences seen in all 18 games at max settings, where dynamic boost enabled was 8% faster. The Division 2 was tested with the games benchmark tool, and there was an above average 7% boost to average FPS at ultra settings here. F1 2019 was tested in the same manner, and there was less than a 4% boost with dynamic boost enabled at max settings. Far Cry New Dawn was another built in benchmark test, and results were very close together, so much so that dynamic boost enabled was actually slightly behind disabling it at ultra and high settings, but it’s such a small difference I’d be more inclined to say the game isn’t really being affected by it.
On average over all 18 games tested at the highest setting preset, we’re looking at a 4.69% performance boost, nice. Results vary by game and even setting preset based on what resources the game needs, but for the most part all but one test were seeing positive effects from Max-Q dynamic boost, so on the whole it is helping out.
While I think this is a cool feature and it does seem to give us free performance, I have to ask, why now? The announcement of dynamic boost came shortly after AMD’s SmartShift, which works on a similar concept of sharing power between the CPU and GPU, so is that just a coincidence? I suppose my question is why haven’t we always had this in Max-Q laptops from the start - I don’t know, personally I’ve got nothing against Max-Q and I get it, you have to cut the power limit in thinner machines, but there are a lot of people out there that are just super anti max-q, so I think if the performance gap could have been closed from the get-go maybe it might have been received a bit better. Either way, I guess we’re winning now by having options like this from both AMD and Nvidia, but at the same time if Max-Q could have been performing this much better in laptops the whole time then it kind of sucks for people that missed out dynamic boost. Either way as we saw while it does help, on average in most games the difference isn’t that significant. It’s definitely nice to have extra performance, but don’t go throwing away your old max-q laptop just yet.
The difference just isn’t game changing, anyway let me know what you think about max-q dynamic boost down in the comments.