Earlier this month, Nvidia rolled out the beta for an interesting new service: GeForce Now. This is a game streaming service that’s targeted at those who don’t have gaming-capable PCs and even Macs (which tend to get little to no support when it comes to most games) to allow them to play modern titles through the power of the cloud. It’s an exciting concept, but can it really fix this age-old problem?
Just two years ago, I was one of the very same people that are a part of GeForce Now’s target audience. I was trying to use a Dell Inspiron laptop as a gaming PC, although it was really only built for office tasks and entertainment. As you would imagine, that was not a very easy thing to do, and more often than not it just flat-out didn’t work. The computer only had an Intel Core i3 processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics. I can’t remember exactly which variant it was, but it’s an iGPU so it really doesn’t matter as they typically can’t do much when it comes to gaming anyway (except for the newer ones which are mildly decent).
While I was able to bump the RAM up from 4GB to 8GB, that still didn’t do much for game performance as the rest of the components simply weren’t up to the task. Still, that was my only hardware until late 2016 when I was finally able to purchase an actual gaming laptop, a Lenovo Y700.
Really, that’s the solution that most PC gamers would give to anyone who’s trying to get into PC gaming: buy the capable hardware. Trying to game on a budget PC really just can’t be done unless all you’re playing is simplistic indie games or titles from several years ago. That’s where GeForce Now comes in.
GeForce Now turns non-gaming machines into pseudo-powerhouses. It’s all thanks to the power of the Internet, but that’s also the service’s weakness.
Nvidia is hoping to offer an alternative to buying hardware. But, why? Simple—hardware is expensive. This especially applies to gaming laptops, as you’re paying even more due to the portability factor. I spent nearly $1000 to get the Y700. Now in the case of MacBooks, you’re probably going to end up spending that much anyway for a modern model. But that’s where the second reason comes in: a lack of technical expertise and support.
To be a PC gamer, it’s not just enough to have the hardware, but you also need to know what you’re doing from a technical perspective, which also involves making sure your hardware is well-supported. A big reason as to why some everyday computer users choose to go with Mac over Windows is due to its simplicity. Although when it comes to gaming, MacOS is not very well supported. Hence, the overall objective of GeForce Now is to provide a simple way to get access to modern titles without the need for any game-ready hardware or technical knowledge. As long as you know how to launch a program and play a game, you’re good to go! Well, actually, there is another thing….you also need to have great Internet.
The major component of GeForce Now that makes it both amazing and limiting all at the same time is its reliance on the internet. From a convenience perspective, it’s absolutely great. Due to streaming, players don’t have to worry about natively having the hardware necessary to run a game. All the actual rendering is being done by the Nvidia PC on the opposite end of the server. But, that’s where this service’s biggest weakness comes in.
Like any streaming service, GeForce Now completely requires constant access to the Internet. The problem is that it explicitly requires high-speed connections, which a number of people around the world don’t have.
Since you’re reading this article, that means you’re on the internet. Chances are you’ve streamed something before. You’re probably even streaming something right now. It could be music on Spotify or a movie/TV show on Netflix. Even watching a video on YouTube is a form of streaming. Clearly, streaming is something a lot of us do on a daily basis; typically for several hours a day. With that said, you should know that the experience is only enjoyable if you have a decent internet connection. For instance, it’s incredibly annoying to try and watch a video that won’t stop buffering. I experienced issues like this and more on a recent trip to Lima, Peru where I stayed at a nice AirBNB that happened to have internet service from ancient times.
This connection had speeds of 2 Mbps for the Download and 5 Mbps for the Upload. In less technical terms, it was terrible. For comparison, my internet speeds here in my own apartment are 20 Mbps on both download and upload—a massive increase. With that AirBNB connection, I was stuck watching YouTube videos at 240p and maybe 360p if things were going well. Even at those horrendous resolutions, it would still succumb to constant buffering. That experience showed me that despite the World Wide Web having now been around for nearly three decades at this point, high-speed Internet connections are still not the global standard. The thing is, it’s a total necessity for something like GeForce Now.
While you may be able to scathe by with a mediocre connection for a YouTube video or a show on Netflix, a high-speed connection is absolutely essential for game streaming. If you’ve ever played a game online, then this should be clear to see. Playing an online game with a weak connection results in it being a laggy mess, and that’s exactly what will happen when trying to use GeForce Now. The amount of fun you can have with a game is almost completely dependent on the framerate; it’s not an enjoyable experience at all to play a laggy game. This is why GeForce Now’s minimum Internet speed requirement is 25 Mbps. Even then, the recommended level is actually 50 Mbps or higher for an optimal experience. On top of that, you’re also required to play via an ethernet connection or at least with a router that supports a 5GHz signal. Millions of people all over the world have internet connections far below this standard, which makes the market for GeForce Now limited. In a lot regions (including parts of first-world countries like the USA) high-speed connections are either unavailable or not affordable for the average consumer. On top of that, some internet carriers in certain countries like the USA and Canada impose data caps on their customers, which adds yet another obstacle. Yet another requirement is that you must be in a location where GeForce Now is supported in order to use it, so even if you meet the previous criteria, you’ll still be limited by location.
GeForce Now may be able to turn your MacBook into a gaming PC, but that’s only if your Internet is up to the task.
Another issue, aside from GeForce Now only supporting a few select titles, is that essentially every game that it does support is completely reliant on having an Internet connection at all times; even single-player titles like Euro Truck Simulator 2.
It’s clearly impossible to play offline, which means your connection would need to be active 24/7. If your ISP is having issues or throttles speeds at certain times of day, that could ruin the experience. What about if you go on vacation? Your hotel may offer free internet access, but unless it’s as fast as 25 Mbps (which it usually isn’t in a lot of cases), then you’ll be locked out of your GeForce Now library.
Ultimately, GeForce Now is an amazing concept, but it only fixes the problem of gaming on an unpowered PC to a very specific degree. Until the global Internet infrastructure improves, then stuff like this will continue to only be a luxury. With that being the case, your best bet for getting into PC gaming is still buying the hardware that can actually do it. If you can’t afford it or don’t have the technical expertise, then just get a game console like Switch, PS4 or Xbox One.