by Anton Shilov
06/05/2008 | 06:43 AM
ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, has unveiled its external graphics platform (XGP) that is designed to boost graphics performance on mobile and small form-factor personal computers. ATI XGP involves several years of research and development (R&D) work and sports numerous exclusive technologies. Nevertheless, the platform has chances to become industrial standard.
There is always a dilemma whether a mobile computer should be powerful, but big, or small and lightweight, but with moderate performance. Nowadays mobile computers may carry powerful quad-core microprocessor and enthusiast-class graphics adapter, but this makes them heavy and bulky, which automatically reduces popularity of such mobile computers among traditional road warriors. On the other hand, a lot of people nowadays want to use their notebooks not only on the go, but also at home, thus, they appreciate advanced functionality and will hardly be satisfied with integrated graphics core. In order to satisfy such users, ATI developed its XGP technology, which adds powerful graphics processing capabilities to any notebook based on AMD’s new-generation platform and equipped with a special connector.
“With ATI XGP technology, notebooks can switch between everyday computing and hard-core gaming with a simple plug-in that’s also portable enough to bring powerful 3D performance on-the-go. This technology allows users to choose notebooks with slim, lightweight and elegant designs, yet enjoy the full performance of a traditional desktop gaming rig wherever it’s convenient,” said Matt Skynner, vice president of marketing at graphics products group of AMD.
Possible usage model of ATI XGP
ATI XGP module includes its own graphics processor with memory pool, for example ATI Radeon HD 3870 with 512MB of GDDR4 memory, power supply unit, USB hub to connect peripherals like TV-Tuners if necessary as well as other logic, if required. If an actual manufacturer of an ATI XGP unit decides, it may install two graphics adapters to provide even higher performance. Moreover, as technology matures, small form-factor desktop makers may also take advantage of ATI XGP technology to improve gaming performance of their systems.
External ATI XGP modules are connected to the notebook via a specially designed self-latching, easy-connecting PCIe 2.0 cable from Japan Aviation Electronics Industry. The cable and connector technology was developed by ATI based on PCIe 2.0 specification, which supports PCI Express hot-plug support. AMD’s ATI unit has exclusive rights to the connector and cable technology for one year after the first product shipment is made, whereas JAE has exclusive rights to supply it in that time frame. After one year on the market, other companies will be able to license and use the technology, with the interest of promoting it as an industry standard.
Possible designs of ATI XGP-compatible host systems
Theoretically, any platform or chipset can support ATI XGP provided that it supports PCI Express native hot plug and meets PCIe 2.0 signal specifications. However, due to Windows Vista limitations, the system can only feature one driver for graphics cards and therefore ATI XGP-compatible machine should either feature ATI/AMD core-logic with built-in graphics core or ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card. Additionally, system BIOS and drivers should recognize external graphics adapter. Advanced Micro Devices is currently discussing possibility of supporting ATI XGP on non-AMD based laptops with undisclosed partners.
“Our initial launch is with the AMD chipsets, but we have been discussing [possibilities of ATI XGP support] with some of our partners, [who design on other core-logic sets],” said John Swinimer, a spokesperson for AMD.
External PCI Express 2.0 x8 connector by ATI and JAE
ATI XGP supports up to 2 meter cable with full-speed (5.0GHz) PCI Express 2.0 x8 or x16 lanes. According to the developer, this is a result of properly made connector, which practically avoids signal loss or crosstalk
“The reason that the XGP solution works is primarily due to the extreme care in the XGP connector and cable designs. The signal loss is very minimal, crosstalk is fully controlled, even the grounding method and points in the connectors are tuned to make the connectors nearly invisible to the signals. The other substantial difference is that in a normal design PCIe has to go through either the low quality edge card connectors or an MXM type connector, both of which degrade the signals substantially. This is compared to the virtually invisible XGP connector,” said Mr. Swinimer.
External graphics cards based on ATI XGP technology are hot plug devices that can be live plugged into a Windows Vista-based platform at any time, on or off, will be automatically detected and any attached monitors will automatically be enabled. To remove the unit, the user will need to use the Remove Device icon in the system tray, the same method as for USB drives. The operating system will unload all the drivers and resources and notify the user that it is safe to remove the hardware.
AMD’s graphics product group is also looking forward to enable its multi-GPU ATI CrossFire technology on mobile platforms via ATI XGP. The company has tested such a configuration internally and can assist its partners to develop appropriate products.
“[Dual-chip XGPs] are planned. […] We have been testing with dual GPU for over a year with the XGP systems. The partners have all the reference material that they need to design such a system,” said AMD spokesman.
Possible configurations of ATI XGP units
Actual manufacturers of ATI XGP products may design them in a way that allows upgradeability, which means that once bought, the ATI XGP box can be used for some time, provided that internal power supply unit provides enough energy for a new graphics processing board.
Fujitsu Siemens of the first-to-market with its Amilo GraphicsBooster that uses PCI Express 2.0 x8 external connector, is powered by ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 and sports USB as well as various video outputs.
“Powered by ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 in an external Amilo GraphicsBooster, the ultra mobile Amilo Sa 3650, with ATI XPG technology, takes on two very different but equally compelling personalities. Use it for your daily computing with the internal graphics for outstanding mobility and battery life. Dock it to your Amilo GraphicsBooster when coming home, in a hotel room or at a LAN event and now your gaming and multimedia performance is in another world,” explained Björn Fehrm, head of consumer strategy and innovation in EMEA at Fujitsu-Siemens.
Pricing of Fujitsu Siemens Amilo GraphicsBooster is unclear.