Nvidia Gets Switchable With Optimus Graphics For Notebooks

So Tuesday the graphics chip maker unveiled Nvidia Optimus, a switchable graphics technology that automatically routes notebook PC workloads to either the low-power integrated graphics to extend battery life or the more power-hungry discrete card from Nvidia for more graphics pop when needed.

"Consumers no longer have to choose whether they want great graphics performance or sustained battery life," said Rene Haas, general manager of notebook products at Nvidia, in a statement. "Nvidia Optimus gives them both -- great performance, great battery life, and it simply works."

Previous versions of switchable graphics from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia required users to either manually flip a switch on their notebook or else actively click a toolbar icon, and the switching process caused a system reboot. It was a nice idea in theory, but according to Nvidia's own research, in practice some 95 percent of notebook users simply left their discrete graphics on all the time, sacrificing any battery life gains from switching between GPUs.

Nvidia said its Optimus technology would extend a notebook's battery life by up to two times as compared to a similarly configured PC with discrete graphics. In a demonstration ahead of Tuesday's announcement, Nvidia showed ChannelWeb.com an Asus notebook running solitaire on its integrated Intel graphics, then switching over to its Nvidia discrete graphics without a hitch to run a 3-D video game.

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Optimus represents a relatively simple rejigging of hardware and software that eliminates a series of multiplexers (MUXes) previously needed to connect both the integrated and discrete graphics to the notebook display. The old architecture caused display interruptions when switching between graphics, an issue that's eliminated with Optimus.

The final ingredient in Optimus is Nvidia's own driver work, which detects whether a given workload can be run via the integrated chipset or should be given the full horsepower of a discrete GPU, then automatically makes that call nearly instantaneously. Optimus actually works to run individual windows on either integrated or discrete graphics, so a user can multitask and still receive its benefits.

Optimus is supported in Intel's latest generation Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 notebooks, as well as in some older Core 2 Duo platforms and the Pine Trail generation of Intel Atom netbooks, according to Nvidia. The first systems featuring Optimus due shortly are the Asus UL50Vf, N61Jv, N71Jv, N82Jv and U30Jc notebooks, the graphics chip maker said.