Nvidia have announced the release of their latest hybrid IGP/discrete GPU solution, Optimus. The idea behind this technology is to allow users to make use of the more powerful discrete GPU only when necessary, decreasing power usage and thus increasing battery life. Being the third generation in Nvidia's switchable graphics technology, Optimus brings a number of improvements to the table.
Nvidia's previous generation technology had a number of issues. One of the main complaints was that it involved a software-based manual switch that took 5-10 seconds to take effect. In addition to this, should an application be using the current GPU, the user needed to close the application first before making the switch. These issues led to the majority of users never bothering to make use of the switching capability.
The new Optimus technology changes all of this. Like the previous gen, Optimus is a primarily software-based solution. However, this time the graphics switch is automatic. The Optimus software is able to detect when the user is in need of the discrete GPU (ie: watching an HD movie or playing a game) and "instantly" power it up. The transition results in a measly 200ms delay, providing a near seamless switch. Once powered up, the discrete GPU takes care of the main graphics calculation and then copies the contents of its frame buffer into that of the integrated chip to handle the actual output.
“The genius of NVIDIA Optimus is in its simplicity,” said Dr. Jon Peddie, President of Jon Peddie Research, a pioneer of the graphics industry and a leading analyst. “One can surf the web and get great battery life and when one needs the extra horsepower for applications like Adobe Flash 10.1, Optimus automatically switches to the more powerful NVIDIA GPU.”
Now, while Optimus is primarily software-based, it does involve the use of one hardware component, the Optimus Copy Engine. This is the instrument that takes care of the frame buffer copying, removing the transfer load from the 3D Engine and avoiding a possible loss in performance. This hardware component makes it so that Optimus will not be compatible with current, switchable graphics-equipped laptops.
Laptops making use of the Optimus technology will soon be available, with ASUS having already announced the launch of a number of models.
Want to know more about the technology? Anandtech has done an in-depth article that can be found here.