Nvidia Unleashes Optimus Graphics Technology for Notebooks

Nvidia Optimus Graphics Co-Processing Technology Saves Battery Life

by Anton Shilov
02/09/2010 | 04:06 PM

Nvidia Corp. on Tuesday announced the technology that promises to marry performance of standalone graphics processing units (GPUs) with low power consumption of integrated graphics processors (IGPs) seamlessly to the end-user.


“Consumers no longer have to choose whether they want great graphics performance or sustained battery life. Nvidia Optimus gives them both – great performance, great battery life and it simply works,” said Rene Haas, general manager of notebook products at Nvidia.

Nvidia Optimus is a combination of hardware and software means that detect instant requirements towards graphics processing horsepower and assigns either IGP or GPU to perform the task. Technically, an Nvidia GeForce graphics chip is plugged to Intel’s central processing unit with integrated graphics core via PCI Express bus, special Optimus arbiter software constantly monitors which applications are launched by the user, which resources they demand and, based on the special database, enables or disables GPU. When playing 3D games, running high-definition videos, or using GPU compute applications the discrete GPU is utilized, but when using basic applications, like web surfing or email, the integrated graphics processor is used. The result is long lasting battery life without sacrificing great graphics performance.

“Optimus is switchable graphics done right. No toggles, no reboots, no thinking. Finally, there is an optimized notebook solution that painlessly gives notebook users both the performance they want and the battery life they need,” said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group.

When switching to GPU, Optimus transfers the display surface from the GPU frame buffer over the PCI Express bus to the system memory-based frame buffer used by the IGP. Nvidia claims that Optimus Copy Engine performs the display transfer without negatively impacting 3D performance. At present Optimus Copy Engine is supported by the company’s chips made using 40nm process technology, including GeForce 200M and GeForce 300M, in future it will be features on the next-gen GeForce 400M as well as next-generation Ion.

Nvidia Optimus is largely based on software and determines software that is included into a special automatically updated data base that Nvidia promises to constantly update via the Internet. As a result, even new programs should be supported by notebooks featuring Optimus technology. In case certain software is not supported, end-users can create their own profile that determines whether discrete of integrated graphics core is used.

Unlike in case of various switchable graphics technology, Nvidia Optimus works seamlessly to the end-user and does not require manual switching or rebooting thanks to Windows 7’s WDDM 1.1, which allows to install two display drivers at the same time.

Since Nvidia cannot control Intel’s IGP, whenever the GPU is used, the integrated graphics also functions and consumes energy. Still, Nvidia claims that the overdraw power is not very high. Moreover, hardly anyone would play a video game knowing that he or she should preserve battery life.

“The genius of Nvidia Optimus is in its simplicity. 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,” said Jon Peddie, the president of Jon Peddie Research.

Notebooks with Nvidia Optimus technology will be available shortly, starting with the Asus UL50Vf, N61Jv, N71Jv, N82Jv and U30Jc notebooks. By Summer 2009 there will be 50 Nvidia Optimus-enabled notebooks available, the company promised.