AMD Llano Unveiled - A Notebook Platform Preview

Switchable Graphics Made Easy

Switchable Graphics Made Easy

Along with the A-series APUs, AMD will be releasing a new set of driver called the AMD VISION Engine Control Center. In it, you can control the various new features available in the APU and it gives the user greater control of their graphics.

One of the main feature in the driver set is its configurable switchable graphics which lets the user specifically assign if an application should run with power saving graphics or using its discrete graphics for performance. This switching is automatic once the setting has been made when you first run an application. Or if you choose to change it, you could do so later. The good thing about this is the seamless switching which does not require any reboot nor hard switches. You can just pre-set your apps to run in the control panel and it would do it for you without any prompting.

The AMD VISION Engine Control Center lets you configure applications to use either power saving mode (integrated graphics) or high performance mode (CrossFireX graphics).

The other advantage with AMD's version of the switchable graphics is its very seamless use of the GPU resources for computing purposes. As you know, AMD has been a strong advocate of the OpenCL framework which utilizes the GPU for non-graphical computing. With the seamless integration of the discrete GPU with the APU, a lot of these resources can be utilized with ease. Compared with Intel's latest Sandy Bridge (2nd generation Core), the use of its integrated GPU for such purposes can be limited especially when a discrete part is present. However, that has changed recently with the integration of a third party solution using Lucid Virtu's software which enables dynamic switching between the Intel Core and discrete graphics. But the Lucid Virtu solution is only available on the Intel Z68 chipset (and a few limited H67 implementations) for motherboards and we have not yet seen such a solution being implemented in notebooks.

One should note that the acceleration of applications utilizing the GPU core's computing resources is very much dependent on whether the application is written to support it. Intel's very efficient transcoding engine and media acceleration is impressive but apps supporting these features are still rather limited. The same goes for OpenCL accelerated apps. However, both AMD and Intel have been addressing the software developer community to ensure apps are coded to take advantage of the GPU.

For now, AMD does have an impressive list of software partners which include big names like Adobe, Microsoft, Corel, Sony, Roxio, ArcSoft, EA, Codemasters, Firaxis, Cyberlink and DivX. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list but you can see that OpenCL is fast gaining traction in the developer community.

Applications that support OpenCL such as Arcsoft's latest Total MediaTheatre 5 will take advantage of the APU's features for enhanced video acceleration and quality.