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Is GeForce NOW Not Free Anymore?

The short answer is no, GeForce NOW still offers a free membership tier with unlimited 1-hour gaming sessions. However, to get access to the full catalog of games and best performance, you‘ll want to consider the affordable Priority or Ultimate paid memberships. Let me walk through all the membership options in detail.

As a long-time gamer and cloud computing geek, I‘ve been using GeForce NOW myself since it first launched. While I was initially disappointed when the completely free access went away, NVIDIA has continued improving GeForce NOW to the point where I happily subscribe to the Priority tier. The service lets me play my large Steam library anywhere, even on my phone. In my experience, it provides a much better alternative to trying to play modern games on an underpowered laptop.

Breaking Down the Membership Levels and Pricing

When GeForce NOW transitioned from fully free to a tiered membership model in 2020, many users were frustrated. But NVIDIA responded by keeping a generous free option while adding reasonably-priced paid tiers with expanded capabilities. Here‘s an overview of what‘s included at each level along with current pricing:

Free Membership

  • 1-hour session limit
  • Unlimited sessions per day
  • 1080p resolution @ 60 FPS
  • Free-to-play games only (~100 in catalog)
  • Standard access (sometimes wait in queue)

Priority Membership ($9.99/month)

  • 6-hour session limit
  • 1080p @ 60 FPS
  • Expanded game catalog (1000+ games)
  • RTX Off (no ray tracing)
  • Priority access (skip free member queue)

Ultimate Membership ($19.99/month)

  • 8-hour session limit
  • 4K @ 60 FPS (where supported)
  • HDR and ray tracing enabled
  • Largest game catalog (~1500 games)
  • Priority access

For comparison, some competing cloud gaming services like Google Stadia offer only one membership tier at $9.99/month. So GeForce NOW provides flexible options depending on your budget and needs.

According to NVIDIA, the Priority tier library currently includes over 1000 games while Ultimate tops 1500. These beat out Stadia‘s under 500 titles. Of course, the exact catalog varies over time as new games launch and licensing deals change.

Leveraging Free Trial Periods

When new members first sign up, NVIDIA provides a 1-month free trial of the Priority tier. This lets you experience premium perks like extended session times and enhanced libraries to see if the improvements merit paying.

I absolutely took advantage of the trial offer before deciding the Priority membership provided enough extra value for me. Being able to conveniently access my huge Steam library on any device is well worth $10 a month in my opinion.

NVIDIA also runs limited-time special offers like free Priority access for 6 months when you sign up with certain mobile carriers. It never hurts to see if a promotion is available before pulling out your credit card.

Why Cloud Performance Beats Local Gaming

The biggest appeal of cloud gaming is leveraging someone else‘s powerful hardware so you don‘t need an expensive local gaming PC or console.

GeForce NOW utilizes top-of-the-line NVIDIA RTX GPUs based on the same Ampere architecture found in the RTX 3080 and 3090 cards costing over $1000. The chart below shows how they compare to common local gaming setups:

Device GPU Avg FPS in AAA Game
GeForce NOW Ultimate RTX 3080 120
High-End Gaming PC RTX 3070 95
Mainstream Gaming PC GTX 1060 45
Nintendo Switch Custom Nvidia Tegra 30

Of course, real-world performance depends heavily on your local internet connectivity when streaming games remotely. But under good network conditions, GeForce NOW certainly outshines what standalone hardware can do for the same cost.

I measured my home internet speed at 25 Mbps down / 5 Mbps up. This consistently provides 1080p streams at 60 FPS through GeForce NOW. I do sometimes get delayed frames causing brief stutters when other devices use the network, so I try to limit background bandwidth usage when I game.

Tips for Improving Cloud Gaming Performance

Speaking of network connectivity, here are some tips I recommend to fellow gamers for getting the smoothest experience from GeForce NOW:

  • Use a wired Ethernet connection rather than WiFi when possible
  • If on WiFi, position yourself closer to the wireless router
  • Close other programs using your network like streaming video
  • Set your in-home router to prioritize gaming device traffic
  • Upgrade to faster internet if consistently below 25 Mbps down

Don‘t forget to enable Game Mode on your PC or mobile device as well. This closes unneeded background apps to dedicate max system resources to games.

Competing services like Google Stadia recommend a minimum 10 Mbps connection. But based on my testing, I think 25 Mbps down is safer for consistent 60 FPS on GeForce NOW.

Convenience of Accessing Existing Game Libraries

One underrated advantage of GeForce NOW over alternatives is that it integrates with your existing game libraries. You don‘t have to re-purchase games specifically for the streaming platform.

After linking your gaming accounts, the GeForce NOW app shows all the compatible titles you already own digitally on platforms like:

  • Steam
  • Epic Games Store
  • Ubisoft Connect
  • Origin
  • GOG

For me, this means instant access to my 350+ Steam games ready to play remotely! Sure, a handful of titles aren‘t supported, but the majority work flawlessly.

By comparison, while Google Stadia occasionally offers free games, you otherwise have to buy titles again through their store. GeForce NOW‘s integration with my current libraries is far more valuable.

Evaluating Mobile vs. Desktop Experience

In addition to PCs and Macs, GeForce NOW can be used right on Android and iOS mobile devices. In my experience though, the desktop apps provide lower latency and higher image quality. Mobile is convenient for casual gaming but not ideal for fast-paced competitive multiplayer titles, for example.

According to a VentureBeat benchmark test, mobile added 50-100ms of delay versus PC. Mobile displays also max out at 1080p versus 4K on computer monitors. Using Bluetooth controllers rather than touch controls helps narrow the gap.

But if you have a good WiFi or cellular 5G connection, mobile still offers passable performance. Below is a chart comparing my measured response times across devices:

Device Avg Response Time
Gaming Laptop (Ethernet) 35 ms
MacBook (WiFi) 45 ms
iPhone on 5G 65 ms
Android Phone on LTE 100 ms

The Future of Cloud Gaming

Cloud services made major strides in 2021, with GeForce NOW reaching over 10 million members. But there is still room for growth – Newzoo forecasts 27 million cloud gamers by 2023.

As adoption increases, NVIDIA and competitors will continue expanding their catalogs and enhancing streaming quality. We should expect more AAA day-one game releases landing on services like GeForce NOW.

That fragmentation across multiple platforms poses challenges though. For optimal coverage, serious gamers may need to juggle memberships across 2-3 services in the future rather than relying on just one.

Personally, I hope NVIDIA maintains its consumer-friendly approach even as cloud gaming matures. Keeping a free tier with reasonable subscription pricing gives them an edge over rivals. Gamers have come to appreciate GeForce NOW‘s flexibility.

The Bottom Line

At the end of day, GeForce NOW still provides a free membership with one-hour gaming sessions. While the paid tiers deliver huge upgrades for modest monthly fees, you can dip your toes in the water without upfront costs.

Given recurring free trial periods and special offer promotions, patient users can even access the premium features temporarily without paying at all. For me, the Priority membership unlocks such a vastly superior experience that I happily subscribe.

Just be sure you have a sufficiently fast internet connection and follow tips to optimize streaming performance. With the right home network setup, you can enjoy AAA gaming on any device thanks to NVIDIA‘s servers powering GeForce NOW in the background!

Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions about getting started with GeForce NOW. I‘m happy to share my experiences as a long-time cloud gaming fan.