Category: Graphics subsystems

NVIDIA offers external graphics module support for their Quadro workstation graphics cards

Articles

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

NVIDIA allows you to turn a high-performance Ultrabook like the Razer Blade in to a mobile workstation when you plant a Quadro graphics card in an external graphics module like the Razer Core

Nvidia rolls out external GPU support for Nvidia Quadro | CNet

NVIDIA External GPUs Bring New Creative Power to Millions of Artists and Designers | MarketWired

From the horse’s mouth

NVIDIA

Press Release

My Comments

Over the last year, there has been a slow trickle of external graphics modules that “soup up” the graphics capabilities of computers like laptops, all-in-ones and highly-compact desktops by using outboard graphics processors. Typically these devices connect to the host computer using a Thunderbolt 3 connection which provides a bandwidth equivalent to the PCI Express expansion-card standard used for desktop computers.

At the moment, this approach for improving a computer system’s graphics abilities has been focused towards gaming-grade graphics cards and chipsets, which has left people who want workstation-grade graphics performance in the lurch.

But NVIDIA has answered this problem by providing a driver update for their TITAN X and Quadro workstation graphics cards. This allows Windows to work with these cards even if they are installed in a “card-cage” external graphics module rather than on the host computer’s motherboard.

Not just that, NVIDIA are to start allowing external-graphics-module manufacturers to tender their products for certification so that they are proven by NVIDIA to allow these cards to work reliably to optimum performance. This may be different to the context of a certified workstation where all the components in that particular computer are certified by Autodesk and similar software vendors to work reliably and perform at their best with their CAD or similar software.

What is being pitched in this context is a “thin-and-light” laptop of the Dell XPS 13 kind (including the 2-in-1 variant);  an “all-in-one” desktop computer like the HP Envy 34 Curved All-In-One or an ultra-compact “next unit of computing” unit like the Intel Skull Canyon being able to do workstation-class tasks with the kind of graphics card that best suits this computing requirement.

The question that some workstation users will then raise is whether the computer’s main processor and RAM are up to these tasks even though a workstation-grade graphics card is added on; and then consider this approach unsatisfactory even though the host computer has a lot of RAM and / or runs with a Core i7 CPU. But something like a gaming laptop that uses a gaming-calibre graphics chipset may benefit from the Quadro in an external graphics “card cage” module when this system is destined to do a lot of video editing, CAD or animation work.

Personally, I see the concept of the Quadro workstation graphics chipset in an external graphics module as a way to allow hobbyists and small-time professionals to slowly put their foot in the door of high-performance workstation computing.

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Investing in an external graphics module for your laptop

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module

Just lately, as more premium and performance-grade laptops are being equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the external graphics modules, also known as graphics docks or graphics docking stations, are starting to trickle out on to the market as a performance-boosting accessory for these computers.

The Thunderbolt 3 connection, which uses the USB Type-C plug and socket, is able to provide a throughput similar to a PCI-Express card bus and has put forward a method of improving a laptop’s, all-in-one’s or small-form-factor computer’s graphics ability. This is being facilitated using the external graphics modules or docks that house graphics processors in the external boxes and link these to the host computer using the above connection. What it will mean is that these computers can benefit from desktop-grade or performance-grade graphics without the need to heavily modify them and, in the case of portable computers, can allow for “performance” graphics to be enjoyed at home or in the office while you have battery-conserving baseline graphics on the road,

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 – can benefit from better graphics thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and an external graphics module

The devices come in two classes:

  • Integrated graphics chipset (Acer Graphics Dock) – devices of this class have a hardwired graphics chipset similar to what is implemented in an all-in-one or small-form-factor computer.
  • Card cage (Razer Core, Akitio Node) – These devices are simply a housing where you can install a PCI-Express desktop graphics card of your choice. They have a power supply and interface circuitry to present the desktop graphics card to the host computer via a Thunderbolt 3 connection.

What will they offer?

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 “card cage” external graphics module

All these devices will have their own video outputs but will yield what the high-performance graphics chipset provides through the host computer’s integral screen, the video outputs integrated with the host computer as well as their own video outputs. This is in contrast to what used to happen with desktop computers where the video outputs associated with the integrated graphics chipset became useless when you installed a graphics card in these computers.

I have read a few early reviews for the first generation of graphics modules and Thunderbolt-3 laptops. One of these was Acer’s integrated graphics module kitted out with a NVIDIA GTX960M GPU, known to be a modest desktop performer but its mobile equivalent is considered top-shelf for laptop applications. This was ran alongside an Acer TravelMate P658 and an Acer Aspire Switch 12S, with it providing as best as the graphics would allow but highlighting where the weakness was, which was the mobile-optimised Intel Core M processors in the Switch 12S convertible.

Simplified plug-in expansion for all computers

Intel Skull Canyon NUC press picture courtesy of Intel

The Intel Skull Canyon NUC can easily be “hotted up” with better graphics when coupled with an external graphics module

Another example was a manufacturer’s blog post about using their “card-cage” graphics dock with one of the Intel Skull Canyon “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers which was equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connection. This showed how the computer increased in graphics performance once teamed with the different graphics cards installed in that “card-cage” module.

It opened up the idea of using an “AV system” approach for enhancing small-form-factor and integrated computers. This is where you connect extra modules to these computers to increase their performance just like you would connect a better CD player or turntable or substitute an existing amplifier for something more powerful or plug in some better speakers if you wanted to improve your hi-fi system’s sound quality.

This usage case would earn its keep with an “all-in-one” computer which has the integrated monitor, the aforementioned “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers or simply a low-profile desktop computer that wouldn’t accommodate high-performance graphics cards.

Software and performance issues can be a real stumbling block

What I had come across from the material I had read was that as long as the host computer had the latest version of the operating system, the latest BIOS and other firmware to support graphics via Thunderbolt 3, and the latest drivers to support this functionality then it can perform at its best. As well, the weakest link can affect the overall performance of the system, which can apply to various mobile system-on-chip chipsets tuned primarily to run cool and allow for a slim lightweight computer that can run on its own batteries for a long time.

At the moment, this product class is still not mature and there will be issues with compatibility and performance with the various computers and external graphics modules.

As well, not all graphics cards will work with every “card-cage” graphics module. This can be due to high-end desktop graphics cards drawing more current than the graphics module can supply, something that can be of concern with lower-end modules that have weaker power supplies, or software issues associated with cards that aren’t from the popular NVIDIA or AMD games-focused lineups. You may have to check with the graphics module’s vendor or the graphics card’s vendor for newer software or firmware to be assured of this compatibility.

Multiple GPUs – a possible reality

A situation that may have to be investigated as more of these products arrive is the concurrent use of multiple graphics processors in the same computer system no matter the interface or vendor. The ability to daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 devices on the same Thunderbolt-3 connection, along with premium desktop motherboards sporting this kind of connection along with their PCI-Express expansion slots, will make the concept become attractive and easy to implement. Similarly, some vendors could start offering Thunderbolt-3 expansion cards that plug in to existing motherboards’ PCI-Express expansion slots to give existing desktop PCs this functionality.

Here, the goal would be to allow multiple GPUs from different vendors to work together to increase graphics performance for high-end games or multimedia-production tasks like video transcoding or rendering of video or animation projects. Or it could be about improving the performance and efficiency of a multiple-display setup by allocating particular graphics processors to particular displays, something that would benefit larger setups with many screens and, in some cases, different resolutions.

Highly-portable gaming setups being highlighted as a use case

A usage class that was always put forward for these external graphics modules was the teenage games enthusiast who is studying at senior secondary school and is ready to study at university. Here, the usage case underscored the situation where they could be living in student accommodation like a college dorm / residence hall or be living in a share-house with other students.

The application focuses on the use of a laptop computer that can be taken around the campus but be connected to one of these modules when the student is at their home. I would add to this the ability to carry the graphics module between their room and the main lounge area in their home so that they could play their games on the bigger TV screen in that area. This is due to the device being relatively compact and lightweight compared to most desktop computers.

That same application can cover people who are living in accommodation associated with their job and this is likely to change frequently as they answer different work placements. An example of this would be people whose work is frequently away from home for significant amounts of time like those who work on ships, oil rigs or mines. Here, some of these workers may be using their laptop that they use as part of their work during their shift where applicable such as on a ship’s bridge, but use it as a personal entertainment machine in their cabin or the mess room while they are off-shift.

What could be seen more of these devices

Once the external graphics modules mature as a device class, they could end up moving towards two or three classes of device.

One of these would be the integrated modules with graphics chipsets considered modest for desktop use but premium for laptop use. The expansion abilities that these may offer could be in the form of a few extra USB connections, an SD card reader and / or a higher-grade sound module. Perhaps, they may come with an optical drive of some sort. Some manufacturers may offer integrated modules with higher-performance graphics chipsets along with more connections for those of us who want to pay a premium for extra performance and connectivity. These would be pitched towards people who want that bit more “pep” out of their highly-portable or compact computer that has integrated graphics.

Similarly, it could be feasible to offer larger-screen monitors which have discrete graphics chipsets integrated in them. They could also have the extra USB connections and / or secondary storage options, courting those users who are thinking of a primary workspace for their portable computer while desiring higher-performance graphics.

The card-cage variants could open up a class of device that has room for one or two graphics cards and, perhaps, sound cards or functionality-expansion cards. In some cases, this class of device could also offer connectivity and installation options for user-installable storage devices, along with extra sockets for other peripherals. This class of device could, again, appeal to those of us who want more out of the highly-compact computer they started with or that high-performance laptop rather than using a traditional desktop computer for high-performance computing.

Portable or highly-compact computers as a package

Manufacturers could offer laptops, all-in-one and other highly-compact or highly-portable computers that are part of matched-equipment packages where they offer one or more external graphics modules as a deal-maker option or as part of the package. These could differ by graphics chipset and by functionality such as external-equipment connectivity or integrated fixed or removable storage options.

This is in a similar vein to what has happened in the hi-fi trade since the 1970s where manufacturers were offering matched-equipment packages from their lineup of hi-fi components. Here they were able to allow, for example, multiple packages to have the same tape deck, turntable or CD player while each of the package was differentiated with increasingly-powerful amplifiers or receivers driving speakers that had differing levels of audio performance and cabinet size. It still was feasible to offer better and more capable source components with the more expensive packages or allow such devices to be offered as a way to make the perfect deal.

Conclusion

Expect that as more computers equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection come on the market the external graphics module will become a simplified method of improving these computers’ graphic performance. It will be seen as a way for allowing highly-compact or highly-portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics at some point in their life, something that this class of computer wouldn’t be able to normally do.

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What is a GPU all about?

Article

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The GPU, whether dedicated or integrated is what paints the picture on your computer screen

What Makes A GPU Different From A CPU? | Gizmodo

My Comments

A graphics processing unit or GPU is a special data-processing chipset that effectively “paints” the images that you are to see on your computer screen. This is compared to the central processing unit or CPU which is focused on handling the data that your computer is dealing with at your command and being the system’s “commander” processor.

The idea of a separate processor is to effectively work with the shapes, pixels and colours that constitute what you see on the screen and the highly-sophisticated GPUs handle this using multiple “cores” or unique processors. Another factor worth considering is that video editing, animation and transcoding programs are making use of the GPU to transcode the video material between different formats or rendering an animation or a sequence of shorter video clips in to one longer video clip.

Gaming rig

A “gaming rig” tower desktop computer equipped with high-performance display cards

The higher-performance GPUs, typically offered as display cards that are installed in desktop computers especially “gaming rigs” set up by computer-games enthusiasts, use multiple “cores” or unique processors so they can realise the high-resolution graphics very quickly and responsively. Some of these cards even implement setups like “Crossfire” with the ability to gang two display cards together for increased performance.

Integrated vs dedicated GPUs

Typically the difference between an integrated or dedicated GPU is that a dedicated GPU has its own memory and other resources for “painting” the graphics images while an integrated GPU “borrows” resources like RAM memory from the system’s CPU. As well, a lot of these dedicated GPUs are designed and developed by companies who specialise in that field.

The benefit of a dedicated GPU is that it can turn out the graphics images required by demanding applications like games, video editing, CAD and the like efficiently because its resources are focused on what you see while the CPU and system RAM are focused on working out what is to happen.

Sony VAIO S Series ultraportable STAMINA-SPEED switch

Sony VAIO S Series – equipped with dual graphics with an easy-to-use operating-mode switch

For example, a game needs the use of the CPU to answer the players’ commands, apply the game’s rules and position each of the elements while it needs the GPU to visually represent where everything is. Here, the dedicated GPU can handle how everything is represented without encumbering the CPU’s tasks relating to how the game runs.

The main disadvantage with dedicated GPUs that affects laptops and other portable computers is that they can quickly drain the computer’s battery. This has been answered in a few ways like equipping laptops with integrated and dedicated graphics chipsets and adding logic like NVIDIA’s Optimus to switch between the different chipsets, in a similar vein to how the overdrive or “sports mode” in some cars work. In most cases, this logic engaged the dedicated graphics if the computer was running a graphics-intensive program like a game or video-editing program or was running on external power.

External GPU docks

Alienware high-performance laptop computer with Graphics Amplifier external GPU module

Alienware high-performance laptop computer with Graphics Amplifier external GPU module

A new trend that is starting to appear and benefit laptop-computer users is the “external GPU” dock or module that connects to the laptop computer. These appear in two different forms – a “card cage” like the Alienware Graphics Amplifier where a user can install a desktop graphics card, or a graphics module which has the graphics hardware installed by the manufacturer.

Initially these devices were connected to the host computer using a connection that was proprietary to the manufacturer but now they are implementing the Intel Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C connection due to it offering PCI-Express data-transfer bandwidth, thus allowing for increased interchangeability between computers and docks. Most of these implementations will have the ability to send the graphics back to the host computer’s screen or to an external display that is connected directly to the external GPU module.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

A graphics expansion module that could option up budget and mainstream laptops

These devices have appealed as a way to “option up” laptop, all-in-one and similar computers for high-performance dedicated graphics. It is more so where you don’t need to have dedicated graphics all the time, rather when you have that laptop or 2-in-1 “back home” and ready to work or play.

Conclusion

The graphics processors or GPUs, whether integrated on a computer’s motherboard, installed on a display card or housed in an external GPU module, are processors that look after “painting” the images you see on your computer’s screen.

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USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 make it real for outboard graphics expansion

Article

Here’s The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse | Gizmodo

My Comments

Sony VAIO Z Series and docking station

The Sony VAIO Z Series ultraportable with functionality expanded by an add-on module

There have been some successful attempts at developing outboard expansion modules or docking stations that add discrete graphics or a better discrete-graphics solution to a laptop computer which wouldn’t have internal room for this kind of performance.

One of these was Sony with their VAIO Z Series that I reviewed previously which had an expansion module that housed a Blu-Ray drive and an AMD discrete graphics chipset. This used an Intel “Light Peak” connection (Thunderbolt over USB) between the devices to provide for high data throughput between the host computer and the expansion module.

Another of these was one of the new Alienware gaming laptops that could connect to a so-called “Graphics Amplifier” which was an expansion module for some of the Alienware R2 series gaming laptops that could house one or two PCI-Express graphics cards. This brought forward the idea that a laptop could have desktop gaming-rig performance just by adding on an expansion module.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module that connects to selected Alienware R2 gaming laptops

Both these solutions implemented manufacturer-specific connection methods which restricted which devices can connect to these “external-graphics” expansion modules.

But the USB 3.1 standard with the Type-C connection allowed the same connection to be used to connect other devices via different logical connection methods like Intel’s Thunderbolt. This was effectively “opened up” as a high-performance connection for expansion modules when Intel launched “Thunderbolt 3” which has throughput equivalent to what happens on a computer’s motherboard.

Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that can benefit from the Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

This led to some reference designs being presented at the Intel Developers Forum 2015 for external-graphics docks of the Sony VAIO Z or Alienware Graphics Amplifier ilk that are able to work with laptops that have the USB Type-C and Intel Thunderbolt 3 connection. In their own right, they are expansion modules which add extra connectivity to the laptop but also they give it access to improved discrete graphics chipsets. One of these was modelled on the Alienware Graphics Amplifier by virtue of allowing the use of fully-fledged graphics cards of the kind expected in that tower-style gaming rig.

The equipment that was shown proved the concept that you could use Thunderbolt 3 over a USB 3.1 Type C physical connection to provide an external discrete-graphics solution for an ultraportable laptop computer or similarly-small computer design. This proves that it can be feasible to use these modules for an “at-home” or “at-office” solutions where performance is desirable but allow for a lightweight computer system.

Similarly, a manufacturer could offer a laptop or all-in-one desktop with the integrated graphics but allow their customers to buy a graphics expansion module at a later date should they want something with more graphics acumen. Here, they can simply plug in the graphics expansion module and play rather than opening up the computer to install a graphics card. There is also a reality that as newer graphics chipsets come along, the person can purchase a newer expansion module or, in the case of those units that use PCI-Express desktop cards, install a newer graphics card in to the module to take advantage of these newer designs.

It simply underscores that fact that USB 3.1 Type C opens up the concept of expandability for tablets, laptops, all-in-one and small-profile desktops even further by use of external modules that offer different functions to suit different needs at different times.

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

Articles

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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Processor Chipsets with built-in Graphics

 

BBC News – Intel to launch chipsets with built-in graphics

My comments

With Intel now showing interest in supplying a processor chip with an integrated graphics processor, this will raise the stakes when it comes to supplying single-chip CPU / GPU solutions.

Why supply a single-chip CPU/GPU solution

There is the obvious benefit in design size that it would yield. This would of course allow for more compact applications and, of course, the bill-of-materials costs would be reduced thus allowing for cheaper devices. Another key benefit would be that the single-chip solution would have reduced power needs, which is important for battery-operated devices like laptops, tablet computers and, especially, smartphones.

There is also the reality that most consumer electronics devices like electronic picture frames, digital cameras, TVs / video peripherals and hi-fi equipment are being designed like the general-purpose computers and most of them will also benefit from these CPU/GPU chips. This has become evident with most of these devices offering network and Internet connectivity in a way to augment their primary function or beyond that primary function.  They will also yield the reduced “bill-of-materials” costs and the reduced power demands for this class of device which will become a market requirement.

Similarly, an increasing number of office equipment / computer peripherals, home appliances and “backbone” devices (HVAC / domestic-hot-water, building safety / security, etc) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and offering a huge plethora of functions. I had noticed this more so with the multifunction printers that I have reviewed on this site where most of them use a colour bitmap LCD display and a D-toggle control as part of their user interfaces.

Therefore manufacturers who design these devices can benefit from these single-chip CPU/graphics solutions in order to support these requirements through reduced supporting-power requirements or design costs. In the case of “backbone” devices which typically require the uses to operate them from remotely-located user-interface panels i.e. programmable thermostats or codepads, there isn’t the need to require too much power from the host device to support one or more of these panels even if the panel is to provide access to extended functions.

The market situation

The Intel Sandy Bridge which is just about to be launched at the time of publication, would provide improved graphics. This is in a market which AMD has just entered with their Zacate CPU / graphics chip and been dominated by ARM who have been involved in the smartphone scene. This firm’s design was infact used as part of the Apple A4 chip used in the iPhone 4 and iPad.

With three companies in the market, this could yield a highly-competitive environment with a run for high-quality quickly-drawn graphics, quick CPU response, power conservation / long battery runtime and small circuit size / reduced bill-of-materials. This may also yield a “run for the best” which also yields desirable functionality being available at prices that most people can afford.

The only limitation with this concept is that the single-chip design may make the market for discrete graphics chipsets and cards only for people who value extreme-performance graphics.

Conclusion

The reduced size of these new single-chip CPU/GPU setups could replicate the success of what has happened with the arrival of the 80486 processor with its integrated floating-point coprocessor. It could then make for a longer battery runtime for portable applications and lead to smaller cooler-running computers for most applications.

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Graphics chipsets: ATI is no more, AMD is now the brand

 AMD jettisons ATI brand name, makes Radeon its own – The Tech Report

My comments

Some of us who have observed what has happened with the ATI graphics chipset name was taken over by AMD and were wondering what would happen with this name and the graphics-chipset scene.

Now that AMD has changed the brand for the ATI chipsets to their own brand, who knows what could happen next especially when it comes to computer display solutions, especially integrated-display setups like in laptops, all-in-one PCs and low-profile desktop computers.

One way that the situation could evolve would be for AMD to end up making motherboard or chipset solutions centred around an AMD CPU and GPU setup. This may be in a similar vein to the Intel Centrino solutions which include an Intel Wi-Fi chipset as well as the Intel CPU.

The worst thing that could affect high-end graphics and gaming users is for AMD to pull out of the plug-in display-card scene thus reducing a competitive aftermarket when it comes to performance graphics. This is because the ATI brand has been put up as an alternative to NVIDIA when it came to aftermarket and OEM plug-in display cards pitched at the gaming, multimedia and performance graphics scene.

Once we see disappearance of brands that are part of a competitive market, there has to be others who well provide competing products or a nasty monopoly or cartel can start to exist.

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Switchable graphics – an “overdrive switch” for PC graphics

Articles

 NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology Brings New Level of Switchable Graphics – Windows Experience Blog – The Windows Blog

From the horse’s mouth

NVIDIA’s article about the Optimus graphics system

My comments and explanation

The common graphics setup

The “IBM PC”-based computing platform started off with a “discrete” graphics setup where the system used a separate display card to put up data on the screen for the user to see. This allowed users to buy the graphics capability that they needed at the time of the system’s purchase yet upgrade this capability when their needs changed.

Then motherboard manufacturers and graphics-chip vendors moved towards placing the display circuitry on the motherboard, a practice that most other computer manufacturers engaged in for their platforms. This was preferred for computers that had an integrated display; as well as computers that were based on smaller stylish chassis designs. It also became a cost-saving measure for computer resellers whenever they designed their budget-priced models.

This method required that some of the system’s RAM (primary memory) was to be used for the graphics functionality and, in some cases, made use of the system’s CPU “brain” for some of the graphics work. This typically limited the performance of computer setups and those of us who valued graphics performance, such as gamers, designers or people involved in video production preferred to use the original “discrete” graphics arrangements.

Most systems, especially desktop systems, that had the integrated graphics chipsets also had an expansion slot for use with graphics cards and these setups typically had the graphics card that was in the expansion slot override the integrated graphics functionality. As well, a user who was upgrading a computer to discrete graphics also had to disconnect the monitor from the motherboard’s display output and reconnect it to the discrete graphics card’s display output.

As for laptop computers, there was a limitation in using discrete graphics there because it would lead to the computer running for a short time on its batteries, whereas a computer with low-end integrated graphics could run for a long time on its batteries. This also affected other applications where it was desirable to conserve power.

What does “Switchable Graphics” provide for the Intel-based computer platform.

The NVIDIA Optimus technology has brought around the concept of “switchable” graphics where a computer can have both integrated and discrete graphics. This practice is similar to a car that is equipped with an overdrive or “performance/economy” control.  Here, the driver runs the car in the “economy” mode or disengages the overdrive when they do their regular driving so they can conserve fuel. On the other hand, they engage the overdrive or set the transmission to “performance” mode if they want that bit of “pep” in the driving, such as for highway runs.

These computers will have a graphics chipset that can perform in a “discrete” manner for performance and use dedicated memory or in an “integrated” manner for power economy and use “spare” system memory. This will be accomplished with NVIDIA software that comes with computers that have this technology and run Windows 7. There is a special program in the software that works like the overdrive or “performance/economy” switch in the car. The program can be set up so the user switches modes manually or can be set to change modes dependent on whether the computer is running on external power or whether certain programs like games or video-editing software are being run.

Further comments

At the moment, the technology has just had its first public airing. This will usually mean that certain reliability issues will surface as the bugs get ironed out. It is also just optimised for laptop use but could be implemented in a “dual-chipset” manner for desktop and similar applications. In the desktop environment, the integrated graphics subsystem could work alongside an discrete aftermarket graphics subsystem and share outputs. This could allow, for example, a “gaming rig” to be less noisy and power-demanding while it is not being used for games and other graphics-intense tasks because the integrated graphics chipset could come in handy for the Windows shell or office applications.

Once this concept is worked out, this would allow users to avoid power and system heat tradeoffs if they want high-end graphics in their computing environment.

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