Maxwell (microarchitecture)

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Nvidia Maxwell
Fabrication process 28 nm
Predecessor Kepler
Successor Pascal

Maxwell is the codename for a GPU microarchitecture developed by Nvidia as the successor to the Kepler microarchitecture. The Maxwell architecture was introduced in later models of the GeForce 700 series and is also used in the GeForce 800M series, GeForce 900 series, and Quadro Mxxx series, all manufactured in 28 nm.[1]

The very first Maxwell-based products to hit the market were the GeForce GTX 750 and the GeForce GTX 750 Ti. Both were released on February 18, 2014, both with the chip code number GM107. Earlier GeForce 700 series GPUs had used Kepler chips with the code numbers GK1xx. The GM10x GPUs are also used in the GeForce 800M series and the Quadro Kxxx series. A second generation of Maxwell-based products was introduced on September 18, 2014 with the GeForce GTX 970 and GeForce GTX 980, followed by the GeForce GTX 960 on January 22, 2015, the GeForce GTX Titan X on March 17, 2015, and the GeForce GTX 980 Ti on June 1, 2015. These GPUs have GM20x chip code numbers.

Maxwell introduced an improved Streaming Multiprocessor (SM) design that increased power efficiency,[2] the sixth and seventh generation PureVideo HD, and CUDA Compute Capability 5.2.

The architecture is named after James Clerk Maxwell, the founder of the theory of electromagnetic radiation.

First generation Maxwell (GM10x)[edit]

First generation Maxwell GPUs (GM107/GM108) were released as GeForce GTX 745, GTX 750/750 Ti, GTX 850M/860M (GM107) and GeForce 830M/840M (GM108). These new chips provided few consumer-facing additional features, as Nvidia instead focused more on GPU power efficiency. The L2 cache was increased from 256 KiB on Kepler to 2 MiB on Maxwell, reducing the need for more memory bandwidth. Accordingly, the memory bus was reduced from 192 bit on Kepler to 128 bit, further saving power.[3] The streaming multiprocessor design from Kepler was also retooled and partitioned, renaming it to SMM for Maxwell. The structure of the warp scheduler was inherited from Kepler, with the texture units and FP64 CUDA cores still shared, but the layout of most execution units were partitioned so that each warp schedulers in an SMM controls one set of 32 FP32 CUDA cores, one set of 8 load/store units and one set of 8 special function units. This is in contrast to Kepler, where each SMX has 4 schedulers that schedule to a shared pool of execution units.[4] Prior to Kepler, these units were connected to a crossbar that uses unnecessary power to allow them to be shared.[4] On Maxwell, the crossbar was removed as it became redundant.[3][4] This allowed for a finer-grained and more efficient allocation of resources than in Kepler, saving power when the workload isn't optimal for shared resources. Nvidia claims a 128 CUDA core SMM has 90% of the performance of a 192 CUDA core SMX while efficiency increases by a factor of 2.[3] Also, each Graphics Processing Cluster, or GPC, contains up to 4 SMX units in Kepler, and up to 5 SMM units in first generation Maxwell.[3]

GM107 also supports CUDA Compute Capability 5.0 compared to 3.5 on GK110/GK208 GPUs and 3.0 on GK10x GPUs. Dynamic Parallelism and HyperQ, two features in GK110/GK208 GPUs, are also supported across the entire Maxwell product line.

Maxwell also provides native shared memory atomic operations for 32-bit integers and native shared memory 32-bit and 64-bit compare-and-swap (CAS), which can be used to implement other atomic functions.

Maxwell GPUs and later use tiled rendering.[5]

Polymorph-Engine 3.0[edit]

The brand Polymorph-Engine denotes the unit responsible for Tessellation. It corresponds functionally with AMD's Geometric Processor. Maxwell features version 3.0.


Main article: Nvidia NVENC

Maxwell-based GPUs also contain the NVENC SIP block introduced with Kepler. Nvidia's video encoder, NVENC, is 1.5 to 2 times faster than on Kepler-based GPUs, meaning it can encode video at six to eight times playback speed.[3]


Main article: Nvidia PureVideo

Nvidia also claims an eight to ten times performance increase in PureVideo Feature Set E video decoding due to the video decoder cache, paired with increases in memory efficiency. However, H.265 is not supported for full hardware decoding, relying on a mix of hardware and software decoding.[3] When decoding video, a new low power state "GC5" is used on Maxwell GPUs to conserve power.[3]


  • GM107
  • GM108

Second generation Maxwell (GM20x)[edit]

Second generation Maxwell GPUs introduced several new technologies: Dynamic Super Resolution,[6] Third Generation Delta Color Compression,[7] Multi-Pixel Programming Sampling,[8] Nvidia VXGI (Real-Time-Voxel-Global Illumination),[9] VR Direct,[10][11][12] Multi-Projection Acceleration,[7] Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing(MFAA)[13] (however, support for Coverage-Sampling Anti-Aliasing(CSAA) was removed),[14] and Direct3D12 API at Feature Level 12_1. HDMI 2.0 support was also added.[15][16]

The ROP to memory controller ratio was changed from 8:1 to 16:1.[17] However, some of the ROPs are generally idle in the GTX 970 because there are not enough enabled SMMs to give them work to do, reducing its maximum fill rate.[18]

Second generation Maxwell also has up to 4 SMM units per GPC, compared to 5 SMM units per GPC.[17]

GM204 supports CUDA Compute Capability 5.2 (compared to 5.0 on GM107/GM108 GPUs, 3.5 on GK110/GK208 GPUs and 3.0 on GK10x GPUs).[7][17][19]

GM20x GPUs have an upgraded NVENC which supports HEVC encoding and adds support for H.264 encoding resolutions at 1440p/60FPS & 4K/60FPS (compared to NVENC on Maxwell first generation GM10x GPUs which only supported H.264 1080p/60FPS encoding).[12]

After consumer complaints,[20] Nvidia revealed that it is able to disable individual units, each containing 256KB of L2 cache and 8 ROPs, without disabling whole memory controllers.[21] This comes at the cost of dividing the memory bus into high speed and low speed segments that cannot be accessed at the same time for reads, because the L2/ROP unit managing both of the GDDR5 controllers shares the read return channel and the write data bus between the GDDR5 controllers. This makes simultaneous reading from both GDDR5 controllers or simultaneous writing to both GDDR5 controllers impossible.[21] This is used in the GeForce GTX 970, which therefore can be described as having 3.5 GB in a high-speed segment on a 224-bit bus and 512 MB in a low-speed segment on a 32-bit bus.[21] The peak speed of such a GPU can still be attained, but the peak speed figure is only reachable if one segment is executing a read operation while the other segment is executing a write operation.[21]


  • GM200
  • GM204
  • GM206


The theoretical single-precision processing power of a Maxwell GPU in GFLOPS is computed as 2 (operations per FMA instruction per CUDA core per cycle) × number of CUDA cores × core clock speed (in GHz).

The theoretical double-precision processing power of a Maxwell GPU is 1/32 of the single precision performance (which has been noted as being very low compared to the previous generation Kepler).[22]


After Maxwell, the next architecture will be codenamed Pascal.[23] Nvidia has announced that the Pascal GPU will feature High Bandwidth Memory, Unified Memory, and NVLink.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880 and GTX 870 coming this fall". 
  2. ^ "5 Things You Should Know About the New Maxwell GPU Architecture". 2014-02-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Ryan; T S, Ganesh (18 February 2014). "The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti and GTX 750 Review: Maxwell Makes Its Move". AnandTech. Archived from the original on 18 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Ryan Smith, Ganesh T S. "Maxwell: Designed For Energy Efficiency - The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti and GTX 750 Review: Maxwell Makes Its Move". 
  5. ^ Kanter, David (August 1, 2016). "Tile-based Rasterization in Nvidia GPUs". Real World Technologies. Retrieved April 1, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Dynamic Super Resolution Improves Your Games With 4K-Quality Graphics On HD Monitors". 
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ "MFAA". 
  9. ^ "Maxwell's Voxel Global Illumination Technology Introduces Gamers To The Next Generation Of Graphics". 
  10. ^ "NVIDIA Maxwell GPUs: The Best Graphics Cards For Virtual Reality Gaming". 
  11. ^ "How Maxwell's VR Direct Brings Virtual Reality Gaming Closer to Reality". The Official NVIDIA Blog. 
  12. ^ a b Ryan Smith. "Display Matters: HDMI 2.0, HEVC, & VR Direct - The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Review: Maxwell Mark 2". 
  13. ^ "Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing Delivers Better Performance To Maxwell Gamers". 
  14. ^ "New nVidia Maxwell chips do not support fast CSAA". 
  15. ^ "Introducing The Amazing New GeForce GTX 980 & 970". 
  16. ^ Ryan Smith. "The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Review: Maxwell Mark 2". 
  17. ^ a b c Ryan Smith. "Maxwell 2 Architecture: Introducing GM204 - The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Review: Maxwell Mark 2". 
  18. ^ "Here's another reason the GeForce GTX 970 is slower than the GTX 980". The Tech Report. 
  19. ^ "Maxwell: The Most Advanced CUDA GPU Ever Made". Parallel Forall. 
  20. ^ Geoffrey Tim (3 December 2015). "Nvidia's GTX970 has a rather serious memory allocation bug". 
  21. ^ a b c d Ryan Smith. "Diving Deeper: The Maxwell 2 Memory Crossbar & ROP Partitions - GeForce GTX 970: Correcting The Specs & Exploring Memory Allocation". 
  22. ^ Smith, Ryan (17 March 2015). "The NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan X Review". AnandTech. p. 2. Retrieved 6 December 2015. ...puny native FP64 rate of just 1/32 
  23. ^ a b "NVIDIA Updates GPU Roadmap; Announces Pascal". The Official NVIDIA Blog.