The new CPU/GPU processor platforms–what change would there be for computing?

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Sony Unveils its new premium VAIO S Series laptops

My comments about the new trend

Cost-effective system design

Due to the integration of the CPU and the graphics processor in the one chip, we will find that most computer systems will become cheaper to purchase. This will also mean that graphics performance for most multimedia and games activity will start to come at a cheaper price and be available in product classes that wouldn’t otherwise have it like mainstream-priced computers and the subnotebook / ultraportable class of portable computer.

Dual-mode graphics

There will also be an increased use of dual-mode graphics technology as a product differentiator for midrange and high-end machines. This is where a computer is equipped with integrated graphics as well as a discrete graphics chipset and the computer uses integrated graphics for most tasks but uses the discrete graphics for video editing and intense gameplay.

This could be seen like the computer-graphics equivalent of the “overdrive” or “sports mode” switch used on some cars as a way of allowing the car to work in a performance-enhanced way. Here, the user benefits from reduced energy needs and reduced battery consumption when they use the integrated graphics but can use the discrete graphics chipset when they need the extra graphics performance.

Could this change the positioning and pricing of computers?

This may have some some effect on the prices for most of the mainstream computer ranges especially if the equipment in question is to be sold with “single-mode” graphics. Of course, the “dual-mode” graphics will still be pitched at the market who place heavy importance on graphics performance like line-of-profession imaging (CAD/ CAM, graphic arts, medical imaging, etc) and “LAN-party” hardcore gamers and will still command the price premium. Here, the manufacturers can still work on performance-optimised discrete GPUs for this market and offer them in the “dual-mode” computers.

Some people may also reckon that the ability for computers based on these chipsets to perform to mainstream expectations for multimedia and gaming may allow people who value these functions to spend less on the equipment that they want. They can also place importance on “size and style” without sacrificing graphics performance.

It can therefore lead to ultra-compact computer types like 12”-14” subnotebook / ultraportable computers and small-form-factor desktop computers being offered with decent rather than second-rate graphics performance. This could, for example, make the subnotebook more appealing as a “travel workstation” for a photo journalist or other professional photographer to use when editing or previewing photographs and video footage in the field.

How to factor this in when buying a computer through this year

What I would reckon that you should do is determine what class of computer that suits your needs, including your minimum specifications for functionality. This includes hard disk capacity, RAM memory capacity, screen size, user interface, operating-system and other factors. Then look for the good deals where you can save money on the prospective computer purchase.

It may also affect the pricing and positioning of computers based on existing “separate-GPU” graphics technology especially as manufacturers move towards the new combined CPU/GPU technologies. Here, they will be wanting to clear the warehouses of these machines and you may find that the deals are favourable to you with these computers. As I said before, work out your system needs and shop around for the cheapest and best one that will suit these needs. Also take advantage of “deal-makers” that will be offered like applications software, higher-tier operating systems (Windows 7 Professional at Windows 7 Home Premium price), and extra RAM and hard-disk capacity.

Conclusion

Once the new CPU/GPU chipsets become the mainstream for desktop and portable computers, this could bring about a subtle but real change affecting the design, product-positioning and pricing of these devices.

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