GeForce NOW Beta Impressions

I’ve been a subscriber to the GeForce NOW streaming service for some time, using my Nvidia Shield Tablet. The streaming experience has been impressive so far, offering consistent satisfying performance on my high-speed home Wi-Fi as well as on my local coffee shop Wi-Fi. So, when Nvidia emailed me about joining their beta for GeForce NOW on PC, I immediately put my name on their waiting list. Now that I’ve spent a few weeks testing the service, I can say that GeForce NOW is coming along nicely, but still has far to go if it it’s going to offer a comparable experience across its potential user base.

GeForce NOW Overview

Now that cloud services have become the norm, streaming services are hitting their stride. GeForce NOW continues the trend of offering a video game streaming service similar to PlayStation Now, LiquidSky, Blade Shadow, and the defunct OnLive. While some of these services require external hardware, like a mini-console, GeForce NOW only requires its client installed on a PC (or Mac). There are system requirements, so those hoping to play their PC games on a netbook will be disappointed.

PC Requirements

  • Windows 7 64-bit or higher (32-bit versions of Windows are not supported)
  • Intel i3 with 3.1GHz or faster CPU
  • 4GB of system memory
  • GPU that at least supports DirectX 9
    • NVIDIA GeForce 600 series or newer
    • AMD Radeon HD 3000 series or newer
    • Intel HD Graphics 2000 series or newer

For Mac requirements, Nvidia lists a number of models that have been tested and verified to work with their platform. The list can be located here. As for internet requirements, GeForce NOW requires a 25Mbps internet download speed, but recommend 50Mbps or higher. You will need to use a hardwired ethernet connection or 5GHz wireless router.

The beta client is simple and straightforward. The interface bears a little resemblance to Netflix with games presented in a grid layout and segmented into categories, like “New Releases,” “Multiplayer Online,” “Action Packed,” and more. The listed games are the titles that are currently officially supported by GeForce NOW with more titles being added every few days or weeks. However, these titles must be games the user owns on a supported digital platform, like Steam, Battle.net, or Uplay. A moderator on the GeForce forums hinted at Origin support back in November 2017, but there hasn’t been any update since at the time of this writing.

Clicking any of the titles will send the user to the appropriate digital platform. If this is the first time using GeForce NOW, then the service will analyze the user’s connection before sending the user to a virtual machine to log in to the digital platform. From there, the user installs the game like they normally would on their local machine. Everything works as expected, like save games and continuing where you left off when you return to the service. Just don’t expect the ability to run mods.

Gameplay sessions are currently limited to four hours before the player is forced to quit and restart their session. There’s supposed to be a five-minute warning before the virtual machine shuts down, but some users report getting booted without notice. Because there is a maximum capacity for users being served at one time, the time limit allows other users who are queued a chance to play while those at the end of a four-hour session are moved to the back of the line.

If you were playing a supported game, then it gets added to your “Library” within the GeForce NOW client. You can, however, attempt to install an unsupported game as long you own it. The downside is that the games take several minutes to download as opposed to the near instantaneous experience with supported games. Additionally, unsupported games are deleted the moment you exit GeForce NOW. Finally, the virtual machine that runs your games uses Windows 8, so older games may have trouble installing.

GeForce NOW Experience

To test the GeForce NOW service, I used my Lenovo Yoga 720 15” which has a Core i7HQ and an Nvidia 1050 graphics card. I have Google Fiber which provides roughly 1000Mbps up and down with a 3ms ping over ethernet. Wireless performance using the 5GHz channel on the Google router degrades performance to roughly 300Mbps and 5ms ping.

As soon as I got the GeForce NOW client up and running, I immediately installed Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which I’ve been putting off playing until I bought a 1080 Ti (Thanks cryptocurrency!). I’ve tried running the game on my desktop PC which has a GTX 970, but the performance on max settings isn’t enjoyable. So, I was charmed and surprised to discover the DE:MD played impressively smooth at maxed out settings. There was zero delay in input and response. After a few minutes of marveling at such a demanding game running flawlessly on my midrange laptop, I just played the game without giving specs a second thought.

Afterward, I installed an unsupported game, Street Fighter IV. While it did install, I couldn’t get it to run in full screen. Nevertheless, I plugged in an Xbox controller and was able to pull off special moves and combos with no noticeable latency.

Despite the wonderful impressions so far, the experience hasn’t been perfect. Even on a 1Gbps wired connection, the streaming did falter every now and then. Just like with Netflix, the first casualty is resolution. While playing for an extended period, the resolution would dip for a few seconds while still preserving latency. So, while the game wasn’t stuttering or lagging, it was certainly blurrier and jaggier.

The wireless experience is much worse. Even though 300Mbps is far above the recommended connection speed, for some reason FHD resolution is the exception and not the norm. Furthermore, the stream would stutter every 10 seconds or so. Moving my laptop a few feet away from the router didn’t seem to help. I can only imagine what the experience is like on slower connections.

The Beta Goes On

Currently still running in North America and Europe, the GeForce NOW beta doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon. According to the GeForce NOW FAQ, the official launch of the service will be announced at a later date. Additionally, pricing has not been discussed either. There is some speculation on the forums, however, that the pricing model will be something akin to paying for blocks of time, like $25 for 20 hours. If that turns out to be true, then GeForce NOW may not be the best solution as a primary gaming platform. Instead, it may be best suited for gamers that are traveling or who don’t play games very often. We’ll report more once new information is available.

In the meantime, the experience so far has me hopeful. As someone who doesn’t game very often and only games at home, being able to consolidate my gaming into one machine would be very convenient. If the experience becomes more consistent and the pricing can beat the cost of a high-end gaming rig, then my days of system building might be over.