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NVIDIA Shows Off "Optimus" Switchable Graphics For Notebooks 102

Vigile writes "Transformers jokes aside, NVIDIA's newest technology offering hopes to radically change the way notebook computers are built and how customers use them. The promise of both extended battery life and high performance mobile computing has seemed like a pipe dream, and even the most recent updates to 'switchable graphics' left much to be desired in terms of the user experience. Having both an integrated and discrete graphics chip in your notebook does little good if you never switch between the two. Optimus allows the system to seamlessly and instantly change between IGP and discrete NVIDIA GPUs based on the task being run, including games, GPU encoding or Flash video playback. Using new software and hardware technology, notebooks using Optimus can power on and pass control to the GPU in a matter of 300ms and power both the GPU and PCIe lanes completely off when not in use. This can be done without being forced to reboot or even close out your applications, making it a hands-free solution for the customer."
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NVIDIA Shows Off "Optimus" Switchable Graphics For Notebooks

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  • VOODOO (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hodr ( 219920 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @01:53PM (#31074738) Homepage

    I knew if I just held off upgrading my Orchid Righteous 3d (Voodoo 1) card long eoungh discrete 3d cards would become relavent again. You guys with your fancy Banshee cards can suck it.

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      oh happy memories.
      I'm sure you're finding the massive 640x480 resolution just as awesome as I do.

      • Re:VOODOO (Score:4, Funny)

        by Tetsujin ( 103070 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @03:37PM (#31076570) Homepage Journal

        oh happy memories.
        I'm sure you're finding the massive 640x480 resolution just as awesome as I do.

        Well, you're clearly not aware of the nature of the sham that pervades high-resolution graphics.

        For instance, graphics hardware manufacturers will happily tell you that a resolution like 1920 x 1080 has nearly seven times as many pixels as 640 x 480. But what they don't tell you is that all of these pixels are a whole hell of a lot smaller than the ones on your good old VGA monitor! With my monitor, I may not have a lot of pixels, but I'm damn sure I'm getting my money's worth out of every single one!

    • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

      Pfft. Everyone knows the Monster3D was where it was at! [wikipedia.org]

    • Please wake me when a company has brought the GPU on die.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Khyber ( 864651 )

        Why? So when my GPU fucks itself I have to buy a whole new cpu/GPU combo?

        No thanks, I'll stick with discrete individual parts - makes repairs and upgrades so much easier.

        • In a CPU/GPU package the odds of JUST the GPU failing are pretty small. Plus you save alot of money/space/power by not having to make a whole new PCB board for the GPU.
        • On your MB? What about your discrete USB ports?

    • Voodoo2 had pass through too. Voodoo 2 SLI + S3 Virge VGA w/ passthourghs = wiring nightmare in the back of the case.
  • Crap (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Transformers jokes aside

    This article is ruined for me :(

  • I guess when they have dual CPU notebooks with full size keyboards and 21" displays, I might be more interested in them. But I'd also want solid state hard drives and hdmi cables to wire them to the TV...

    these guys are close...

    http://hothardware.com/News/Eurocom_launches_QuadCore_XEON_Based_Notebook_/ [hothardware.com]

    But oddly, I would like to have an SSI EEB desktop case, that lies flat, like old PCs used to...

    • http://www.tadpole.com/products/notebooks/bullfrogv2.asp [tadpole.com] there you go. Dual processor, and even has a full-size PCI slot.
    • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:03PM (#31074900) Journal

      What all the cool kids are doing is dropping cases altogether. Thats right, nothing looks more badass than your motherboard laying on the desk with silicon chips sticking up in the air, with a giant fan overhead to help keep things cool and circulated. Your friends will be so jealous at all the blinking lights.

      As for the Optimus, I think its a great idea. This change can come for desktops as much as it has for notebooks, if there is enough demand for such a product.

      Think, you had to factor in the power supply when you bought that new Graphics card. So imagine how much power its actually eating up. Imagine if your desktop didn't have to use that much power when it didn't have to?

      • Thats right, nothing looks more badass than your motherboard laying on the desk with silicon chips sticking up in the air

        That technique is also helpful for troubleshooting and verifying laptops before putting them back together, because it's much more of a hassle to do so. And you don't even need a big fan as long as all the motherboard fans are attached, just make sure everything is laid flat on an ESD mat or other protective surface.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        NO NO NO! You can't do that! You'll fry the thing with static electricity, coffee, and dust. Everyone true nerd knows you've got to brown bag it. That's right, a quick trip to the feed supply for a burlap sack and you are working with some serious overclocking potential. It is breathable, protects from dust and light spills, and you can hatch chick on the heat sink...
      • What with nVidia's unceremonious exit from the IGP market thanks to Intel's licensing, and the introduction of every-Intel-chip-comes-with-a-GPU, tech like this is a shrewd, and pretty essential, move by nVidia in order to remain relevant in the middle tiers. If people, whether on a laptop or desktop, can get the power savings of an Intel IGP with the ability to fall back on to a decent GPU, they'll claw back a good deal of marketshare from "prosumers" and the like. Conversely, ATI has made incredible impro

    • A twelve pound notebook? Sounds like a niche product.

      • A twelve pound notebook?

        By my estimation{ GBP12 = NGN3,000 - I hope its as good as OLPC!

        • Yes, but that computer wasn't competing with lighter devices. If you wanted an IBM PC that could be easily moved, the Portable PC was (or was close to) your only option. Now, we have laptops, netbooks, tablets, pdas and so on. If you were a field engineer/scientist, and had, say, a ADC PCI card or a General purpose GPU that you needed to use, there are options. Niche options

          But the lighter a computer is, the more often it will be carried around. Even eight pounds can be a burden, presenting the user with a

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:22PM (#31075274)

      I guess when they have dual CPU notebooks with full size keyboards and 21" displays, I might be more interested in them. But I'd also want solid state hard drives and hdmi cables to wire them to the TV...

      But... But ... But ... Marketing told me you guys wanted postage stamp size touch sensitive screens, batteries that last two hours, and 3 second e-ink refresh rates. And its gotta use a cloud, whatever that is. And an app store, gotta have an app store. I guess you must be wrong.

      • by tjstork ( 137384 )

        I guess you must be wrong.

        Here's the crazy part. I don't even care about battery life or even having a battery. I just want something I can plug in wherever.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Chris Burke ( 6130 )

          Here's the crazy part. I don't even care about battery life or even having a battery. I just want something I can plug in wherever.

          Sounds good, as long as we don't let the folks in the adult novelty department get word of it.

    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      You can plug keyboards and displays into a notebook.

      Hdmi is currently only somewhat available, and SSDs are a tough trade off if you are concerned about the amount of live space (without an external drive).

      Dual CPUs no, but multiple cores yes.

      And they cost more.

      Still, the number of people with needs that are not met by an $800 laptop is shrinking pretty fast.

    • I like my desktop too. But I can't carry it on the plane with me, it's a pain in the ass to haul to a friend's house when we want to do some LAN play, and I can't bring it other places I go so I still have a place to offload photos and such.

      Desktops are great as long as you never leave your house, or never need or want a computer when you do so.

  • by DJCouchyCouch ( 622482 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @01:59PM (#31074858)
    But that's my Prime form of entertainment!
    • by twentynine ( 984768 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:59PM (#31075952)
      You might wanna Jazz up that joke a little bit...
    • Yes, we can talk about hardware without making a bunch of stupid jokes about its name*.

      One of the great features of the Optimus chipset is its pipelining architecture, called the "Convoy". With this system a number of pending GPU tasks can be stored into containers, and the GPU hardware will process them quickly, moving the data to its destination, transforming it as necessary, etc. But the hardware apparently kept dying on them during the demonstration: they were able to get it up and running again each

  • by s2theg ( 1185203 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @01:59PM (#31074862)
    "Optimus can power on and pass control to the GPU in a matter of 300ms"

    That's good. I'm tired of finishing before my video player can render the first frame.
  • MacBook Pros (Score:2, Informative)

    by Stele ( 9443 )

    I believe the latest model MacBook Pros have been doing this for at least a year.

    • by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:10PM (#31075020)
      For years, the proprietary NVIDIA drivers for linux have been using a feature called powermizer that changes the performance of the GPU based on what the PC needed. E.g., under normal conditions, the GPU is underclocked but when you run an openGL window or run a game, the GPU bumps up into full speed. In principal it sounds like a great idea, but it's been really annoying to wait around for what seemed like at least a year for NVIDIA to get it to run well enough with a composite manager like compiz. For a long time, things like highlighting text in firefox and then dragging it led to flickering of the screen, or the new kde has composite things built right in which didn't work well. During that period we had to do things like fool the GPU into running full tilt all the time because NVIDIA didn't give us an option to switch powermizer off until AFTER they fixed the problems with it.
      • Little different from swapping between a low-power "integrated" GPU and a high-performance discrete GPU, which is what I read the article to say this technology does.
      • by lab16 ( 416283 )

        "For a long time, things like highlighting text in firefox and then dragging it led to flickering of the screen, "

        I had a monitor that would flicker whenever I opened up certain windows only while compiz was enabled. It didn't seem to flicker if the window was too small, or for anything else other than large windows with compiz enabled, and seemed to be due to the "beam-up" animation that was displayed whenever new windows were opened. After it first flickered when opening the window, it would not flicker w

      • Weird. I used a embedded nVidia chip (7050PV) last year, and I never had those problems. Did you forget the following options in your xorg.conf?

        Option "AddARGBGLXVisuals" "true"
        Option "UseEvents" "false" # This option must be either undeclared or false, in order to avoid periodic short-term freezes on beryl and other OpenGL intensive programs

    • Re:MacBook Pros (Score:4, Informative)

      by Vigile ( 99919 ) * on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:18PM (#31075178)

      Nope, not really. I have one of those and the video on the PCPer article shows the process on a MacBook Pro. You have to change a settings in the control panel and then logout of the system to change GPU modes.

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      Nope, they cannot, just an effect of OSX's security permissions and driver model. Rebooting is required.

      Besides, what's the point of having dual GPUs if you can't use both simultaneously for really heavy data processing?

      Oh, that's right - Intel IGP, nVidia Discrete - you couldn't SLI it anyways without some serious hardware and software workarounds.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Belisar ( 473474 )

      The new thing seems to be that you can actually switch between the onboard and 'real' GPU on the fly and fast while everything is running.

      The previous laptops with switchable graphics, such as my Sony Vaio which had a Geforce and an Intel chips, did have to at least reboot the graphics system (on OS X) or reboot the whole computer (Windows) in order to go to the power saving mode.

      In my experience, I usually was too lazy / didn't want to close my work and kept using the good GPU all the time. The only times

  • by planckscale ( 579258 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:02PM (#31074896) Journal
    ...I'm all for it. But by how much will it extend the battery life? And when they say it will "Drastically" change the notebook market I doubt that; netbooks folks won't care about 3D and Desktop Replacement folks don't care if their machine is plugged in. Mabye in a smaller segment of mobile gamers this will make a difference.
    • by itof500 ( 239202 )

      It is actually pretty nice to have the long battery life during the work/meeting day, and then plug it in and boost the graphics in the hotel room to participate in the guild raid that night.

    • Ah but you can use hardware acceleration in your desktop environment, but you might not always want it on. Playing video, running something like photoshop - theres a bunch of stuff that uses the video card that isn't a video game. Just FYI. So if you are sitting there browsing slashdot for an hour, it can switch to the Integrated low power one, but as soon as you boot up Media Player or something, it can switch to your full blown power monster.

    • ...I'm all for it. But by how much will it extend the battery life? And when they say it will "Drastically" change the notebook market I doubt that; netbooks folks won't care about 3D and Desktop Replacement folks don't care if their machine is plugged in. Mabye in a smaller segment of mobile gamers this will make a difference.

      I'm one of the "netbooks folks", and the prospect of being able to play video, or even basic accelerated games without running out of juice in less than half the regular time sounds great to me.

    • Actually, with my newest desktop using 350W under full load I could use this.
  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @02:05PM (#31074936) Journal

    I would have thought that, instead of switching between a 'low power' video chip, and a 'high power' GPU, they would have concentrated on just making the Nvidia graphics cards use lower power when not doing things like rendering 3D graphics, or decoding video? I mean, mobile CPU's have some smarts built into them to allow them to vary how much power they consume, can't they do that with GPUs?

    • They do but nVidia doesn't seem to be paying much attention to it. I had to enable this myself on my 8800GTS, using video memory as a measure. [slashdot.org]

    • by MBCook ( 132727 )

      Not entirely. While you can do that, the chip in a laptop still has some real limits. You can't put off more than X watts of heat, because the laptop just can't dissipate it.

      But if the GPU used for high intensity activities (such as games) is external to the laptop, you can have it give off 150 watts of heat because it can provide the necessary cooling capacity.

      I'd love something like this. I have my MacBook Pro which I really like, but don't do much in the way of 3D. I'd love to be able to plug in a goo

      • Sounds like a new style of docking station with a high-end GPU built-in would be a good direction to go in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by billcopc ( 196330 )

      The problem with GPU throttling is it's far more visible (pun intended). If your CPU is rapidly switching between 3.0ghz and, say, 1.2ghz, you probably won't notice at all, but if your game or video app has uneven framerates or the dreaded micro-stutter, you will feel the overwhelming urge to smash your laptop against the nearest brick wall.

      GPUs typically have two power modes: power-saving (idle), and full-blast (gaming). Your device drivers kick it into high-power mode whenever you launch a 3D app, so th

      • Sometimes while playing WoW ill lower my settings so my GPU( ATI 4850) fan doesnt spin up. For some reason, the frost path that Skadi lays in Utgarde really taxes my GPU, more then anything else in the game. Once that fist pass comes my GPU is LOUD. For awhile the frost was bugging and would remain long enough for Skadi to make a second pass and i thought my GPU was gonna pop.
  • Now give this to me in a 10" notebook.
    • by Vigile ( 99919 ) *

      From what I am told that is coming sooner than you might think. Expect to see something by April!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The current progress of Linux hybrid graphics. [blogspot.com]

    There has been a lot of progress in this area the past few weeks. Wonder if this will let NVIDIA switch gpu's without restarting X.

  • I see a lot of hacking that will be necessary to make something like this work. It doesn't seem like something that would automate easily unless it used some kind of profiles system.
  • ..but dont ATI cards ALLREADY do this if you set up the CCC right?
    • Yep. Mine halves the core and memory clocks when full 3D power is not required (or at least it claims to). Though it still see the need to have its cooling fans going on minimum during normal operation so either this doesn't save as much power as I think it should or the fans don't actually have an "off" state (or my case's airflow is insufficient, though I do not believe that to be the case as nothing gets ridiculously hot under prolonged heavy load).
  • I have suffered from one of the multiple-display-device solutions, in the form of an Alienware M15X, so Optimus sounds like a huge step forward.

    While in theory it was nice to have both a battery-friendly Intel GMA and a reasonably powerful Nvidia GeForce card in one (relatively) portable package, in reality it was lousy. As suggested by TFA, you had to reboot to switch between them, whether running Windows XP or Vista. That would have been bad enough, but wait, there's more!

    This effectively meant that I c

    • But you really shouldn't have to reboot to switch devices.

      Video devices are not something that has previously been needed to be "hot swappable" so unlike many other things the driver model for graphics hardware probably doesn't allow for devices to be turned on and off. In the case of your Intel/nVida combo I'm guessing that the BIOS enabled one or the other at boot and relied on Windows to detect this and switch drivers on next start. While Windows can work with two distanct graphics cards of different types they both need to be running at boot and until shutdown

    • The real solution to this problem is to reduce the base power consumption of the GeForce. Dual-GPU switching is a kludge, nothing more. A crutch for an inefficient GPU.

      • The thing I find amusing is that I've never had any problem with Powermizer. Even my "unsupported" GTS240 does it fine. I haven't used it under Windows because XP won't install on my Gigabyte motherboard (their response is that it works for them) but I've had no problems under Linux. Previously, I had other cards with powermizer, including laptops with 3700FX and before that 1500FX Quadro chips, and it worked fine on them, too. So I got a low-power video card (the GTS 240) and I'm rocking out with a 460W po

  • So, on one hand you have a powerful graphics notebook when its primed (aka Optimus Prime). And on the other hand, you can turn it off and it becomes a cab over semi truck.
  • I am a Thinkpad T500 owner with switchable Intel/ATI, and it is a nice feature even that I need to reboot and change the mode at the BIOS to use one or the other chipset on Linux (I have not tried the recent X server restart experiments), I use more than 95% of the time the Intel IGP, but I still consider this software switching a horrible hack. Why do not design efficient chips (ATI/NVIDIA) able to power down parts of it when not using advanced features?

    This is like putting two processor like the most powe

    • This is like putting two processor like the most power hungry Intel chip and an Intel Atom, and build software to switch from them when needed...

      Shh, don't give them any new ideas.

  • Where is it? External PCI-Express slot on the laptop - some kind of high end, many many pin plug to go to an external, powered '3D brick' nothing eventuated :/

  • This is a total no brainer. A definite buy. What else can a transfan ask for? Kudos, Nvidia. 50 cents per post. $)
  • ATI already has high-powered GPUs like the 5870 that drop to 27-35W when not gaming (which is probably not too far off the power consumption of these GPUs) without having to switch to another GPU. I guess this switching thing is probably designed to compete power-wise with ATI.
    • by lintux ( 125434 )

      27W. Wow. That's only about four times as much as my whole laptop (with Intel graphics). Definitely very low-power! :-P

      I sure hope they have a mobile version of that chip...

  • This is good in principle but i doubt nvidia can actually execute it successfully. Even in their chips now they have something called "powermizer" that is suppose to throttle the GPU up and down depending on load... the problem is when it is set to "low" it runs like garbage and it takes too long to change to high -- most likely after you needed it -- like to open a giant window, or drag windows. its garbage really.

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.