Nvidia primes Optimus switchable graphics

The technology, which automatically switches between integrated and discrete graphics to save battery life, will be in 50 notebooks by midsummer
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Nvidia has announced a technology called Optimus that lets notebooks switch automatically between integrated and dedicated graphics to save battery life.

Although switchable graphics have been around for a couple of years, such technology has relied on the user manually switching between integrated graphics and their dedicated GPU, often having to restart applications or reboot their system in order to do so.

Optimus, unveiled on Tuesday, will let the notebook decide whether to aim for power efficiency or high performance, depending on the application being used, according to Nvidia. Integrated graphics is far more energy efficient and therefore less battery-hungry, but dedicated graphics provides more processing power.

The company said automation is crucial to the success of switchable graphics technology.

"Switchable graphics is an expensive feature to put in the box, but actually, most people aren't using it," Nvidia notebook chief Rene Haas said at a pre-briefing event. He explained that users often do not know which setting is required for specific applications, or forget which setting they had most recently chosen.

Optimus uses the notebook's integrated graphics processor as the display controller, a function that was carried out by a software switch in previous versions of switchable graphics. The technology uses preset profiles for types of applications and specific applications to decide whether to use integrated or discrete graphics. For example, high-definition video playback would engage the notebook's discrete graphics processor, while standard web surfing would use integrated graphics.

Haas said that almost every PC manufacturer presented with Optimus has "wanted to do something with it". The first notebook to use the technology will be the Asus UL50vf, which is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday. By midsummer, more than 50 systems with Optimus will be on the market, according to Haas.

"We don't expect anybody not to use this technology — it's just too straightforward," he said.

The technology will be incorporated into everything from netbooks to gaming notebooks, Haas said. The next generation of ION — Nvidia's netbook platform that combines the company's GPUs with Intel's Atom CPUs — will be supported, as will Intel's Core 2 Duo and Core i-series platforms.

Nvidia collaborated with Intel on Optimus's development "to the level we needed to get this done", Haas said.

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