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Lucid Virtu Technology

So, our power consumption tests showed that the new Intel Z68 chipset doesn’t disable the graphics core integrated into Sandy Bridge processors even when the system used a discrete graphics card. Of course, if you have a fully-functional graphics accelerator in your system, it results into a frustrating loss of power, but at the same time it has a few indisputable advantages. In order to get to get to these advantages Lucid Company, which specializes on introduction of hybrid video systems, developed the so-called Virtu Technology. The idea behind it is to open access to Sandy Bridge graphics core capabilities even if there is a discrete graphics accelerator in the system.

You may believe that Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 graphics core should hardly be of interest to the owners of high-performance graphics accelerators, because contemporary AMD and Nvidia GPUs provide way higher 3D performance anyway. However, there is one very good reason for the opposite: the graphics core inside Sandy Bridge contains not only traditional graphics units, but also Intel Quick Sync technology, which currently has no analogues from any of the discrete GPU makers.

This technology provides Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 with a hardware encoder and decoder that should encode and decode high-definition video in popular MPEG2, VC-1 and H.264 formats. And the performance of these specialized units is so high that when we use them for video transcoding the performance gets several times higher compared with what we would get using software transcoding with AMD Stream or Nvidia CUDA.

Lucid Virtu technology contains special software that allows interactively switching the load between the processor graphics core and the discrete graphics card depending on the application you are running. In fact, Lucid Virtu is a purely software tool, but at the same time it is closely connected with the Z68 chipset. In Virtu the Intel Z68 chipset supports on the hardware level those multi-GPU configurations that allow using discrete graphics cards together with the graphics core integrated into the processor.

Lucid Virtu technology supports two operational modes:

  • i-Mode. In this mode Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 core is primary and is responsible for the image displayed on the screen. The monitors are connected to the mainboard outputs and the graphics card serves as a secondary accelerator that kicks in only upon launch of selected applications (such as 3D games). During the 3D rendering process, the external graphics card copies all complete frames into the frame-buffer of the graphics core responsible for transferring the images to the screen. Unfortunately, data transfers from the graphics card to the graphics core come at a price: 3D performance will drop compared with what we could get from a discrete graphics card alone. The major benefit of the i-Mode is the power savings, because the discrete graphics card is only involved in 3D. as for the work with the operating system interface, video playback and transcoding - all this is done by the graphics core integrated into the Sandy bridge processors.
  • d-Mode. This mode is of greater interest to 3D gaming fans, because the discrete graphics card is the primary accelerator here. The monitors are connected to the graphics card outs and it is also responsible for visualizing the OS interface and playing back video. Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 core built into the processors is only used in those predefined applications that need to work with Intel Quick Sync technology.

Both these modes use the same software where you should manually select the applications, in which the system should switch to the secondary graphics accelerator. There is a list of applications that require access to Intel Quick Sync in d-Mode, and a list of games that should be rendered on a discrete graphics card in i-Mode.

 

Of course, d-Mode seems to be the most suitable for everyday use. In fact, it simply provides the owners of high-performance graphics accelerators with access to Intel Quick Sync, but at the same time doesn’t impose any limitations on the discrete graphics accelerator.

At the same time Lucid can’t stress enough that i-Mode is not totally useless, but makes a lot of sense in terms of lowering the power consumption, because in this case a power-hungry discrete graphics card is in passive mode most of the time. But unfortunately, the graphics card doesn’t get totally turned off and keeps working in idle mode. Therefore, we can argue about energy-efficiency and power savings in this mode.

Of course, we had to check out Lucid Virtu technology in real life. We were overall pleased by the approach offered by Lucid software developers, however, we were still able to reveal a few frustrating drawbacks. They were particularly obvious in the i-Mode. Some games have compatibility issues in this mode: they would still run on the integrated graphics core despite the Virtu settings, or would simply crash during work. Things are much better in d-Mode in this respect: the system works stably almost all the time in this mode. Besides, there are almost no limitations concerning the graphics cards in this mode: you can even use SLI and Crossfire configurations.

 
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