A Gem to Hope for?
Speeding Up Notebook Graphics – The MXM Route
Until about two years ago, mobile graphics subsystems have always lagged the mainstream dedicated graphics cards on the desktop, let alone the top-end gaming cards. This gulf in graphics processing capability in the mobile front was solely due to technical and cost limitation issues that revolved around reducing the footprint required, graphics interface as well as cooling the dedicated graphics unit within the notebook. However, advances in semiconductor process, graphics and packaging technologies together with the standardization of mobile graphics modules since 2004 have greatly pushed forth advanced dedicated graphics options in many current notebooks. Case in point is NVIDIA's MXM graphics module.
Ever since the debut of the MXM graphics modules, the time to deliver a mobile GPU that's of equivalent standing to its desktop counterpart has been steadily declining and that's all thanks to the electromechanical specifications laid down for the adoption of MXM graphics modules. By standardizing the module's size, its retention mechanism, the electrical power envelope and cooling requirements, manufacturers need only design their notebooks based on the MXM specifications and can forego grappling with any other technicalities. Thus, it's no surprise to find notebooks offering best-in-class graphics such as the GeForce Go 7800 series, which would definitely leave the vast majority of ready-to-order desktops systems in the dust.
With laptop graphics subsystems rivaling desktop platforms, dual graphics technology is probably the last frontier that's yet to materialize on the mobile front. Although mobile graphics modules have advanced just as fast as the desktop counterparts, the need to further double up graphics processing power on the go hasn’t really existed outside the very niche group of hardcore LAN party users. However NVIDIA has already made known in the distant past that SLI on notebooks is just a matter of time and though it's not exactly to address the benchmark-maniacs, it would serve as an excellent upgrade path whereby consumers having MXM based notebooks, can plug in an additional MXM module of an identical class and they've instantly got themselves an SLI notebook with double the graphics crunching throughput. This greatly extends the lifespan of a notebook from its initial configuration. Now take this very same concept and repackage it for the desktop computers and what you get is our recently previewed MSI Geminium-Go that rides on the PCIe x16 bus and can accommodate up to two MXM modules and have them operate in SLI configuration.
Why MXM On The Desktop?
While most desktop computers have the luxury of space to accept various expansion cards, including graphics cards in all sorts of sizes, they are also unfortunately rather power hungry (or even power-inefficient for some models) and more often than not, come with coolers that spoil the silent computing movement these days. MSI's Geminium-Go attempts to overcome these issues by adopting MXM graphics modules for the desktop space.
You would have to note that the notebook graphics processors and the MXM graphics modules themselves are very highly optimized for low power consumption and low heat output. It is for these reasons that notebook graphics parts cost more than their desktop equivalents for they have to meet more rigorous standards. Given these characteristics, MSI sees that there's a likely market space in the desktop segment who would appreciate the use of mobile graphics modules. In our own view, we already notice the trend in desktop systems reducing in size, form factor and even take into consideration of system acoustics. For those building small form factor systems, power isn't a luxury and the lower the power requirements of the parts that makeup the system, the more reliable the SFF is in the long run where there the reserve power may be put to better use for further expansion in the future.
Looking at this in another perspective, ever wondered why the Intel Pentium-M processor is so sought after by enthusiasts despite the fact it is an expensive notebook processor? Again, the same reasons crop up which include low heat/noise output, reduced power consumption (as opposed to the regular desktop CPUs) and the chance to overclock the processor to ridiculous limits thanks to good engineering.