updated 10:00 am EST, Tue February 9, 2010
NVIDIA Optimus switches integrated to dedicated
NVIDIA today formally unwrapped Optimus, a hybrid graphics technology that it promises will solve many of the problems of performance and battery life on notebooks. It can switch from integrated to dedicated graphics and back while the system is still active and logged in, providing a completely transparent experience for power saving; users can run on Intel's integrated graphics to save power but turn on the dedicated graphics in as little as 300ms. It can even turn on the dedicated GPU per app and accelerate certain tasks, such as 3D or a YouTube video, only when the hardware is necessary.
Unlike Hybrid SLI, the technology doesn't need special teamwork on drivers and in fact depends on Intel's system chipset to work whether it uses a Core 2 Duo, Core i7 or even Atom. NVIDIA is also using a new software model that lets at least Windows PCs get updates "pushed" to the system and ensure that automatic switches always occur at the right time, although users can change settings themselves.
The technology is so far only immediately available through ASUS' line, such as the N61Jv-X2; it combines a GeForce GT 325M with integrated video to provide a 16-inch, Core i5-based desktop replacement that still provides a moderate amount of battery life, though ASUS hasn't provided an estimate of its own. Other models are due within the next few weeks, and NVIDIA expects other companies to follow suit.
Although Apple has been a proponent of Hybrid SLI by using it on 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, the company hasn't said whether it will make a switch of its own. It has usually preferred NVIDIA as the integrated graphics option and, while it has used Intel graphics before, hasn't depended on the chipmaker's video since late 2008.