Nvidia’s latest product, Optimus, may sound like something out of a sci-fi film. What it is though, is Hybrid SLI switching done right.

In the past, both an IGP and discrete GPU were present in select notebooks, offering both a boost in performance, as well as the ability to power down the discrete GPU to save power. However, switching between the GPUs was not as easy as it seemed, often involving irritating reboots.

Nvidia Optimus resolves this issue – making switching between the IGP and the discrete GPU seamless.

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Nvidia’s latest product, Optimus, may sound like something out of a
sci-fi film. What it is though, is Hybrid SLI switching done right.

In
the past, both an IGP and discrete GPU were present in select
notebooks, offering both a boost in performance, as well as the ability
to power down the discrete GPU to save power. However, switching between
the GPUs was not as easy as it seemed, often involving irritating
reboots.

Nvidia Optimus resolves this issue – making switching between the IGP
and the discrete GPU seamless.

Taking advantage of Windows 7’s updated WDDM 1.1, which allows using two drivers at the same time, Nvidia Optimus’ software constantly monitors the applications running and its processing demands, and seamlessly switches between the GPUs. Therefore, the notebook runs on the IGP for most desktop applications. The moment a flash video is opened, or a game is switched on, the more powerful discrete GPU comes into play. The real advantage is this process is seamless, transparent and automatic – without the need for manual switching and reboots.

However, it is unknown of SLI is part of or compatible with this technology – where both the discrete GPU as well as the IGP work in SLI to boost performance.

On paper, the technology sounds promising, and finally the right balance of performance and power for notebook GPU needs. However, Optimus is totally dependent on the software which detects what applications are running and what kind of processing requirements it has. Nvidia promises to constantly update the software, but there are bound to delays and incompatibilities for newly released softwares. The same drawbacks as SLI, one would suggest, excepts there are several times more software than games released every day. Also, what if a high processing requirement is needed of a software that Optimus detects as IGP sufficient?

Optimus will be compatible with all 40nm GPUs – that is, the lower end and mainstream of GTX 200M and GTX 300M series, as well as the upcoming GTX 400M series, when it releases on notebooks.

At the end, Optimus is a major step forward for hybrid graphics, overcoming the clear flaws of Hybrid SLI or Hybrid Crossfire when it came to GPU switching. It remains to be seen how well it works in practice, and also, AMD’s response to Optimus.

Reference: Xbitlabs