NVIDIA's Optimus Technology - Best of Both Worlds

Testing the Optimus

Testing the Optimus

To find out all about the Optimus, NVIDIA sent us an ASUS UL50VF, a notebook using a Core 2 Duo U7300 CULV processor with 4GB of system memory. Windows 7, with its support for multiple graphics drivers, correctly identifies two different GPUs, the integrated Mobile Intel 4-series chipset and the NVIDIA GeForce G210M, along with their relevant driver control panels.

The notebook also comes with an NVIDIA test tool, a small status indicator to show if the NVIDIA GPU is turned on or off. This test tool will not be found in retail Optimus notebooks because the experience is about seamless, transparent switching. However, we see the value of having at least a status indicator to show what GPU is actually working.

We tried the various pre-installed programs on the review unit, from 3DMark06 to Badaboom. Optimus worked as it should, turning on the discrete GPU for these applications. The discrete GPU was also triggered when we went to check out some YouTube videos and it didn't matter whether the video was HD or not.

Next, we tried installing another program on our own, Media Player Classic. When we tried to play a HD video clip using Media Player Classic however, the NVIDIA GPU failed to run. It appeared that this media player was not listed in NVIDIA's profiles. So, we went to the NVIDIA Control Panel to change the settings manually.

One can always create your own profiles to determine whether the integrated or the discrete graphics does the processing for each application.

In fact, you can even add the choice of integrated or discrete to your context menu by enabling it in the NVIDIA Control Panel. After which you can simply right-click an application and decide which GPU to run it with, integrated or discrete.

There are two ways of doing it, either by creating a new profile in the Control Panel or by enabling the contextual menu option. By doing so, you can right-click the application icon and choose whether to run it with the discrete or integrated GPU. Both methods worked as intended and we got the discrete GPU to run with Media Player Classic. From the user point of view, there's indeed little indication which GPU is doing the work and without the test tool, we would have no idea either, except that HD playback was very smooth. It makes us inclined to favor the presence of a status icon at the very least.

At the bottom right corner is the Test tool provided by NVIDIA to show whether the discrete GPU is on or off. This is for evaluation purposes and it's not found in retail versions since the switching is supposed to be transparent and automatic.

The Optimus technology will support notebooks with the Arrandale or Core 2 Duo processors and even Pine Trail platforms (the latest netbook platform using the new Pineview processor and I/O hub). On the GPU side, NVIDIA's current GeForce 200M and 300M products will support it, along with its next-gen Ion and GeForce mobile products.

NVIDIA states that it has garnered more than 50 design wins among notebook vendors for this technology, with the majority available this coming summer. Launch partner ASUS has already announced five Optimus-enabled notebooks, out of which two models are available in Singapore in mid-March.

It's early days for this technology but an intelligent and automatic switching technology that appropriately brings the best of both performance and battery life from a notebook is certainly extremely desirable. NVIDIA has not ruled out implementing this on the desktop but at the moment, the mobile arena is its main concern. If it's a runaway success, who knows what the future holds?

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