NVIDIA GameStream vs. GeForce Now: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to PC gaming, NVIDIA arguably rules the roost. And in recent years, the company has gone to great lengths to take its gaming presence to the next level with services like GameStream and GeForce Now. The thing is, these services can be kind of confusing for new users, especially when you’re trying to figure out which one best fits your needs.

Before we get into what makes them different, however, let’s take at where they share common ground.

  • Both services stream games to the device in front of you, so it isn’t carrying the heavy resource load.
  • Both services require NVIDIA SHIELD devices.
  • Both services need a 5GHz Wi-Fi router.

That’s about it. Each service has its own set of requirements, too, but we’ll get into that down below.

What Is NVIDIA GameStream?

If you’re a PC gamer with a large collection of games, GameStream is probably the service you’re after. Basically, this allows you to stream your games from a PC to a SHIELD device—be it SHIELD Portable, SHIELD Tablet, or SHIELD TV. That way, your gaming PC is doing all the heavy lifting, but you can play your games on a handheld device or on your TV, even if you’re away from home.

Of course, it’s not entirely that simple, either—you’ll also need a GameStream-compatible GeForce GTX graphics card in the PC doing all the work. Those include:

  • GeForce GTX 1000 series
  • NVIDIA TITAN X
  • GeForce GTX 900 series
  • GeForce GTX 700 series
  • GeForce GTX 600 series
  • GeForce GTX 900M series
  • GeForce GTX 800M series
  • GeForce GTX 700M series

Otherwise, you’ll just need enough horsepower in your PC to push the game, but the odds are you’ve already got that covered if you have a large catalog of games to choose from. The quickest way to know if you meet all the criteria is to install NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience—it’ll let you know if your PC is ready or not. The main thing you’ll want to make sure you have outside of a good gaming PC is a good network—while a 5GHz router is required for streaming over Wi-Fi, ethernet is always going to be a better choice. That’s really only practical if you’re streaming to SHIELD Android TV, though.

One of the nicest things about GameStream is the price: it’s free. Since you’re streaming games you own to devices you own from a PC you own, there’s really nothing to charge for, after all.

If your PC has everything it needs, settings up GameStream is pretty much a no-brainer: GeForce Experience handles all the heavy lifting for you. From there, you can stream your PC games pretty much anywhere you are: in the living room, bedroom, Starbucks, or anywhere else there’s Wi-Fi.

Of course, GameStream was designed to use the SHIELD Controller, but NVIDIA gets that most PC games aren’t really into the whole controller scene, so GameStream also supports Bluetooth keyboards and mice paired up with the SHIELD device—sure, the latency will be a little higher than a wired connection, but you can’t really be that picky when you’re streaming games over Wi-Fi anyway.

Overall, GameStream is easy to set up and easy to use, and is a great solution for gamers who are looking to take their catalog with them everywhere they go.

What Is NVIDIA GeForce Now?

Like GameStream, GeForce Now is a game streaming service. It doesn’t stream games directly from your PC, though—it streams games from the cloud. This not only includes games you own, but also a selection of other games—some available for purchase, some available with the $7.99 monthly subscription cost.

You can currently stream games to any SHIELD device (Portable, Tablet, or Android TV), but GeForce Now is also coming soon to computers. This will essentially turn a PC or Mac into a powerful gaming rig with a GTX 1080 graphics card. Got a laptop that doesn’t have a very powerful graphics card? GeForce Now lets you play those games with crisp graphics. Got a Mac but want to play Windows-only games? GeForce Now will stream them to you as well. This upcoming computer streaming service will also allow you to bring your own games from services like Steam.

Here’s the gist of how GeForce Now works: you pay roughly $8 a month and get access to over 60 games that you can stream at any time. Aside from that, GeForce Now also includes a large catalog of new games to choose from that you can purchase, and will be added to your cloud library. Many of these games also include Steam keys, so you can also install it on a PC, allowing you to keep and play it should you choose to cancel your GeForce Now membership. Not all games have this option, however, so pay attention when making purchases!

Since GeForce Now is coming from location somewhere that isn’t your own house, the network requirements can be a little more specific than with GameStream. You’ll need at least a 25Mbps internet connection, as well as a 5Ghz Wi-Fi router (unless you’re connecting over ethernet, of course—you’ll only need a 5GHz router if you plan on streaming over Wi-Fi). You can test your network compatibility to see how well it’s going to fare for you, and it’ll spit back recommendations to improve your experience. As you can see, neither my ping nor network speed meet the “recommended” settings in my screenshot below, though both fall within the “required” category.

We’ll be taking a closer look at GeForce Now in the coming weeks, so if you’re curious about how it works (and how well it works), keep an eye out for that.

Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys on the 'net, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, chugging away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching the Bulls while yelling at the TV.