NVIDIA GeForce Now Ultimate hands-on: The enthusiast's choice for cloud gaming

The addition of new servers with RTX 4080 cards makes a big difference.


This week, as the lights go out for good at one major game streaming service, NVIDIA is upgrading GeForce Now with a bunch of features thanks to the addition of new SuperPODs equipped with RTX 4080 GPUs. And after testing out some of the service’s improved capabilities, the addition of expanded support for high refresh rates and ultrawide resolutions is really turning GeForce Now into a truly high-end cloud gaming app.

For those that missed the initial announcement back at CES, GeForce Now’s recently renamed Ultimate plan (formerly the RTX 3080 tier) is getting a number of new features including support for refresh rates of up to 240Hz at full HD or 4K at 120 fps and an expanded set of usable wide-screen resolutions (3840x1600, 3440x1440 and 2560x1080). On top of that NVIDIA is also adding better support for HDR on both Macs and PCs along with the ability to use full ray tracing with DLSS3 in supported games. Right away, this elevates GeForce Now above rivals like Xbox Cloud Gaming, which is capped at 1080p/60fps. But in practice, the service’s new features have an even bigger impact as they make it easier to get the most out of a wider range of games and gaming setups.

Take for example my current gaming PC, which is centered around an aging RTX 2080 card (GPUs ain’t cheap y’all) and a 4K/120Hz display. In more recent AAA games, my graphics card simply doesn’t have enough oomph to hit 120 fps at higher graphics settings, which means I always have to fiddle around a bit before I get a game’s performance dialed in just right. But with the new resolution support in GeForce Now Ultimate, suddenly I can play a game with all the bells and whistles turned on while still taking full advantage of my monitor’s specs.

With this much stuff happening on screen, you need all the performance you can get.
With this much stuff happening on screen, you need all the performance you can get. (Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

This effect was most evident when I played the demo Ghostrunner, which is a fast-paced first-person slasher set in a dystopian future. It’s exactly the kind of game where you need fast reactions to dodge bullets while slicing apart your enemies. Unfortunately, at least on my desktop, in order to hit 120 fps, I had lower things like texture settings and anti-aliasing, which meant I couldn’t fully enjoy the game’s gorgeous cyberpunk aesthetic. But that wasn’t an issue in GeForce Now, where I was able to max out the graphics and still hit 120 fps. And even though I ignored NVIDIA’s directions and was connected to the internet over Wi-Fi, gameplay was so crisp and responsive that after just a few minutes, I completely forgot I was relying on servers in the cloud instead of the PC next to my feet.

While I don’t have the equipment at home to test it out properly, the addition of NVIDIA’s Competitive Mode toggle in GeForce Now gives you more freedom to hit really high refresh rates (up to 240Hz at 1080p) regardless of how fast (or slow) your PC might be. And while I was only able to go up to 120 fps on my monitor while playing League of Legends and Apex Legends, I only encountered a single stutter over the course of multiple matches, which would be impressive even if I was relying on local hardware, let alone a server hundreds of miles away. And when you factor in that the service also works with the company’s Reflex tech to reduce latency, the whole experience was shockingly smooth.

Hitting CTRL + N in the GeForce Now app lets you see what type of server is powering your game along with stats like network info and streaming settings.
Hitting CTRL + N in the GeForce Now app lets you see what type of server is powering your game along with stats like network info and streaming settings. (Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

Now there are some important caveats. The first is that you need a speedy internet connection. NVIDIA’s recommended minimum bandwidth for gaming at 1080p at 240 fps is 35 Mbps. If you’re like me and you want to max out at 4K/120 fps, you’ll need at least a 45 Mbps connection, not to mention additional overhead to handle anyone else who might be using the internet at your home. This also means that while the idea of gaming at 4K on the road sounds awesome, you’ll still be at the whims of your hotel or Airbnb’s network, which typically aren’t very speedy or reliable.

The other main thing to think about is that after the new Ultimate tier goes live today (January 19th), at least initially, the availability of the new SuperPODs may be limited. At launch, new servers with 4080 GPUs will be located in four places: San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas and Frankfurt Germany. That means only people in the U.S. and Central Europe will have access to GeForce Now’s Ultimate tier, and even then, if there are too many people online, you may get downgraded to a server still equipped with 3080 cards. (Tip: if you are using GeForce Now and want to see what hardware your cloud games are running on, you can hit CTRL + N to see stats including your server type, network specs and more).

Even with the addition of servers RTX 4080 GPUs, NVIDIA's top-tier Ultimate plan will remain the same price at $20 a month.

The final hurdle is that at $20 a month compared to $12 for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (which includes cloud streaming), GeForce Now UItimate is a bit on the pricey side. But as the old saying goes: you get what you pay for. And for an extra $8 a month, NVIDIA’s latest update to its game streaming services delivers better performance, more control over your resolution and refresh rate, and support for fancy features like ray tracing and Reflex. Granted, it’s a bit weird to think about specs for hardware you don’t really own, but for people who want their games to look as good as possible regardless of what hardware they’re playing, GeForce Now’s new Ultimate tier is positioning itself as the enthusiast’s choice for cloud gaming.

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