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Integrated graphics adapters have dominated the notebook market for many years thanks to their low power consumption, low cost and the fact that they did not increase the size of notebooks. However, in the last two years mobile graphics processors started to get more popular. According to a high-ranking Nvidia Corp. executive, in 2011 there will be more notebooks with standalone graphics processors than in 2010.

The number of notebook designs that support discrete graphics option this year will be higher compared to that in 2010 and prior years, said Drew Henry, general manager of GeForce business at Nvidia, at the company's financial analyst day. Mr. Henry declined to get exact numbers even about Nvidia's own design wins, but the general trends outlined by the company's arch-rival ATI (graphics business unit of Advanced Micro Devices) and industrial analysts confirm that slowly but surely the amount of notebooks with discrete graphics processing units (GPUs) are gaining ground.

There are a number of reasons why discrete GPUs are getting more popular on the market:

  • Firstly, many end-users are switching from desktops to notebooks as their primary PCs and therefore their demands towards those mobile personal computers are getting higher, which results in requirements of more powerful graphics processors.
  • Secondly, graphics processors nowadays can speed up general consumer applications, not only video games.
  • Thirdly, discrete GPUs can co-exist seamlessly with integrated graphics adapters on one laptop without compromising battery life, size or bringing in high additional cost.

While more notebook designs nowadays physically support discrete graphics processing units, they can also rely purely onto integrated graphics processors. As a result, laptop makers can easily switch from more expensive standalone GPUs to virtually free integrated graphics adapters.

"Nvidia has been successful with OEMs building Sandy Bridge-based notebooks that use Nvidia GPUs and their Optimus technology. AMD too has been successful in the notebook market, especially with their Fusion processors - but they do not necessarily get a discrete mobile GPU attached," said Jon Peddie, the head of Jon Peddie Research.

Still, the success of discrete GPUs in terms of market share may not last too long and the more important question is how high will total available market of standalone mobile graphics chips will get and which benefits they will offer.

"The embedded graphics processors like AMD's Fusion and Intel's Sandy Bridge will eliminate IGPs and due to Moore's law and the slowness of ISVs to exploit the hardware advantages of the new GPUs, cannibalize the low-end (value segment) discrete chips," said Mr. Peddie. 

Tags: Nvidia, Geforce, Optimus, ATI, Radeon, JPR

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