A lot has changed since Nvidia GeForce Now released its first beta way back in the yonder years of 2015. In that time, we’ve seen a slew of competitors start up – ranging from Microsoft xCloud to Rainway to Google Stadia, some of which have since shut down. After an eternity in beta, GeForce Now launched to the public in 2020 – just in time to catch the coattails of other early streamers like Microsoft and Stadia. In all that time, the quietly capable GeForce Now never seemed to claim mindshare or word of mouth.
That’s due in part to GeForce Now taking a completely different approach to streaming. GeForce Now streams the PC games you already own. Nvidia isn’t running a games store here, instead, it connects to your existing digital game libraries. It uses these digital game stores to verify your ownership of the games, then lets you play them on just about any device.
Nvidia GeForce Now – Screenshots
And because the games are cloud-based, there is no updating or maintenance required. But it also means only selected games are supported. It’s effectively free, at least for an hour session at a time, but since launch the subscription prices have gotten a bit more expensive – there’s a $9.99 subscription that’s replaced the previous $4.99 option. This tier, dubbed “Priority” gives you access to premium servers, ray tracing in games that support it, 6-hour play sessions, with up to 1080p resolution and 60fps.
In late 2022, Nvidia also upgraded its highest-performance tier, “Ultimate.” For $19.99 a month, you get access to a 4080 rig (when available), the fastest servers available, an 8-hour session length, up to 4K resolution, and up to 120fps.
(If you purchase a 6-month subscription instead of monthly, you can save some money: $8.33 a month for Priority or $16.67 a month for Ultimate.)
GeForce Now – Setup and Interface
When we first reviewed GeForce Now, the service supported just north of 400 games. These days, it’s even more packed with more than 1500 to choose from. It’s also become much easier to find the games you’re looking for. There’s a carousel of hot games, a dedicated search bar, and lockers that spotlight developers, genres, and more.
The library is much more impressive than the paltry selection once found on Google Stadia, but the offerings feel a bit more limited than Xbox Cloud Gaming. Of the 76 games currently in my Steam library, only 26 were available to play on GeForce Now. It’s still disappointing when you’re amped for a certain game, only to find it not available on the service. For instance, I was very interested in putting the latency through its paces by testing out Elden Ring, but it was not available. Neither was Vampire Survivors, Modern Warfare II, or FIFA 23.
Still, GeForce Now is no slouch. You can check the long list of supported games here.
Running games are significantly smoother than they once were. Now, instead of performing a game-by-game check to confirm your ownership, GeForce simply connects to your Ubisoft, Steam, and Epic Games accounts. Games that are not in your library are simply unavailable to launch, replacing a green “Play” button with a gray “Get” button. Once you’ve tapped that play button, the screen chugs along for a minute with a display that’s a dead ringer for the AOL 56k modem dial-up connection. That said, connecting to GeForce’s servers is also much faster than it used to be, so this antiquated UI is almost unnoticeable.
Once you’ve connected with your virtual rig, things get a little weird. GeForce opens what looks like a virtualized desktop, complete with a virtualized window of Steam, Epic Games Store or whatever client you own the game at. (It’s unclear how GeForce Now determines which store to load up if the game is available on multiple stores.) This is when GeForce Now asks you to log into your Steam, Epic, etc. account to verify that you own the game you want to play – two factor authentication and all. Once you’re finished authenticating, click play to start the game, just like when using Steam or another client on a regular PC.
Occasionally, when you start a game, you’ll need to wait for a rig (hence the subscription for priority access to servers). However, when testing the Ultimate subscription, I never ran into any queues.
Each platform I tested performed its setups just a little differently. Each was relatively painless, and Nvidia has taken significant steps to streamline this process. Still, there are a few oddities. For instance, when loading a Steam game on Nvidia Shield, there’s a pretty sizable delay after you hit start. At one point, I was certain the system had frozen, only to have the game load up about 60 seconds later.
Another quirk is that once you’ve loaded into your virtual machine, you can only play the game that you launched it with. For example, if you select The Witcher 3 in GeForce Now and launch into the virtualized Steam page, but then decide you want to play Cuphead instead, you have to fully exit out of the virtual machine and re-launch Cuphead from GeForce Now. From a user experience standpoint, things could definitely be streamlined. As it is, it feels like it’s still in beta.
And while iOS gamers can access GeForce Now from their devices’ browsers, actually setting it up is a bit of a pain. In order to test GeForce Now on my iPhone, I was forced to confirm my email address three separate times – and then games refused to load at all. After about 20 minutes, I successfully loaded into The Witcher, only to have it drop my game and freeze the app. Subsequent testing was more successful, but required a strong internet connection – 5G was a bit too spotty for a stable session.
GeForce Now – Visual Performance
Every single person reading this is going to have a different experience with GeForce Now’s performance. Whether you’re gaming on Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or cellular, our environments are drastically varied, with different ISPs, routers, congestion, and limitations. Heck, I had a great experience in one room of my house, and a slipshod experience in another.
Nvidia recommends a minimum of 15 Mbps for 60fps at 720p or 25 Mbps for 1080p, and suggests connecting via Ethernet for the best experience. To get the most of their Ultimate Tier, Nvidia recommends 45 MBPs for 3840×2160 at 120fps, or 35 MBPs for iMacs or Macbooks.
My office/game room is a small separate building, separated by about 50 feet of backyard. However, I use a 5Ghz Orbi router and satellite to connect to the internet, which got me measured speeds of 48.56 Mbps down and 41.63 Mbps up. This was more than enough for me to max out just about every setting for every game I played. And while there were a few “spotty connection” messages, more often than not it usually had zero impact on my gameplay.
All around, it seems stability has been much improved since we first tested the service. I tested on a variety of different devices and internet speeds, and while I experienced a number of stutters, the graphics remained crisp – even shortly before booting me from the game. Rarely did gameplay devolve into the smudgy, cubist hellscape I’ve grown accustomed to with poor connections.
In my living room, with my Shield TV connected directly to an ethernet cord, almost every game I played through GeForce Now looked stunning and played with indiscernible latency, even when I had RTX on, or bumped the fps to the maximum.
In fact, I could barely wear it. At one point I simulated a congested network by streaming music to my Sonos, watching YouTube TV, and loading a video on my phone. Even with all that going on, games didn’t falter in the slightest. Each game looked pristine and I had no noticeable latency.
While I remain unconvinced that streaming would ever provide the crispest graphical fidelity, there were times playing GeForce Now when visuals looked about as good as they ever have. I often found myself scrutinizing water reflections, or the hair of a character in Witcher 3. And at times, I really felt that what I was experiencing was every bit as good as it would have been on my desktop. When I loaded up Tomb Raider, I was able to turn all the graphics options to ultra – textures, hair quality, you name it. Even with everything cranked to the max, the game still streamed without any lag or buffering.
If you have a gaming PC, you’re probably within your rights to be incredulous. After all, what’s the difference between being stuck in the room with the fastest internet and the room with your gaming rig?
But for that small contingency of gamers who 1) don’t own a gaming PC, 2) want to play the best PC games, and 3) have blazing fast internet – GeForce Now still seems like a winner. In some ways, it’s almost perfectly suited for Mac enthusiasts, although the in-your-face gamer aesthetic will undoubtedly turn many of them off.
GeForce Now – Latency and Bandwidth
If your internet is fast enough, it’s really difficult to perceive any latency with GeForce Now. The only time I really felt anything was when I was playing graphically-intensive games far from the router.
GeForce Now has several settings that can improve or worsen latency as well. Streaming quality is decided by flipping a toggle: Balanced, Data Saver, Competitive, or Custom. The three generic options allow you to incentivize resolution, frames per second, or bandwidth. Nvidia approximates data usage, and it varies from 4 GBs to 16 GBs per hour, depending on which Streaming Quality you select. Somewhat surprisingly, Competitive, which optimizes for 240fps, isn’t intended to use the most data – it sits around an approximated 14 GB/hr. By dropping all the settings in the Custom tab, you can get the bandwidth usage down to what Nvidia suggests will be about 1 GB/hr.
If your internet is barely capable of streaming games, none of these options are going to have much effect on your play. But, by setting Nvidia’s Custom tab to that 1 GB/hr threshold, I was able to noticeably improve the quality of my experience during games with poor connections. It still wasn’t perfect, but the experience was significantly improved, which bodes well for those with close-but-not-great connections.