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Is Nvidia Optimus The Future Of Gaming Systems?

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Optimus Technology

If you're not into gaming or keeping up with the latest notebook computer technology, Nvidia Optimus might be completely foreign to you. For the purpose of this article and your own sanity, we will try and keep this discussion as non-technical as possible.

First, Nvidia Optimus refers to a new technology which lets you seamlessly switch graphics components in your laptop in order for you to save power. For instance, you can switch between Integrated Graphics and Discrete Graphics whenever you need them or which one is best suited to handle the application or computing chore at hand. Having switchable graphics simply means you can get enhanced visuals and longer battery life from your laptop.

Now this is not exactly new, we have had switchable graphics before in laptops but what is revolutionary about Optimus - everything is done automatically behind the scenes, without any interruption and the end-user won't even know a switch has taken place.

In some past systems, the laptop user had to manually switch modes or graphics. Optimus changes that completely, in very simple layman terms, it's like going from a standard automobile to an automatic one; or rather perhaps a better comparison would be to think of hybrid cars, a driver might not know when the vehicle is running on gas or the battery because everything happens automatically in the background. All you know, the hybrid car takes you smoothly from point A to point B.

What is also so significant about Nvidia's Optimus is the overall application of this technology, if a laptop or netbook has an Nvidia GPU and a CPU/chipset with an IGP there is no reason why it can't have Optimus installed. The costs are very low and can be easily absorbed into the cost of the GPU, so you can expect Optimus to appear in ION netbooks, mainstream laptops and especially high-end gaming rigs. About 50 Optimus enabled laptops are coming in the summer of 2010.

Lets face it, for high-performance gaming rigs, one of the main problems has been low battery life, if Optimus can increase battery life, it will be a welcomed addition. Nvidia is making some serious claims with this new technology but if only half of what they're saying comes to fruition, then this is indeed a revolutionary break-through. Just the increase in battery life alone, would make Optimus a big step forward.

Just how does Optimus work?

Perhaps, we will have to get just a little technical. Currently, Optimus will recognize applications based upon the executable file name but it can go a little deeper at recognizing the application or what's called for in order to get the best performance. For instance, general web surfing usually doesn't require discrete GPU but if you come across a Flash Video, Optimus will fire up the GPU and route calls thru the video processing engine. End the Flash Video and the GPU can power down again. Likewise, any time you require DirectX (OpenGL), DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration), or CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) features - Optimus will activate the discrete GPU. If you want a very good and a very detailed technical description of Optimus, I would recommend you read Jarred Walton's excellent article here: AnandTech.

However, what you have to remember, Optimus will do all this work seamlessly in the background and you shouldn't even see as much as a flicker on your laptop screen. Because you're using the right parts of your laptop system to give you the best performance while using the least amount of power, you will save energy and battery life.

One of the first laptops to use Optimus technology is the ASUS UL50Vf, and it's very appropriate that one of the first Optimus laptops is coming from ASUS. Since Asustek has been long recognized as a leader in innovative computer products and laptop technology. For example, they launched the popular netbook category with its first Eee PC back in the fall of 2007. In addition, we have the first 3D laptop also coming from ASUS, which is the Asus G51J 3D gaming laptop which features Nvidia's 3D Vision Technology and one of the first 120Hz LED backlit LCD displays able to handle the twin images required for 3D gaming.

Will Optimus revolutionize gaming notebooks?

It is probably in these power-hungry high performance machines that Optimus could play a major role. Providing extra battery life would be a great benefit, especially if the costs of supplying that longer battery life is next to nil. No doubt, once laptop manufacturers and designers get their hands on this new technology, we will see some novel applications and uses, especially where gaming is concerned.

Seamlessly powering up or powering down, depending on the applications being handled could prove very beneficial in a gaming laptop. Automatically switching from Integrated Graphics to Discrete Graphics or GPU can increase the efficiency of your laptop and save energy. Gamers want power when they need it and any technology which can give them this ability will be welcomed with open arms. While no one can predict the future, but if Nvidia Optimus technology can give gamers and gaming rigs seamless switchable graphics and save battery life, then that future looks very bright indeed.

Related article: NVIDIA Optimus - Is Switchable Graphics The Solution To Low Battery Life?


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