NVIDIA's GeForce 400M Mobile GPUs: 7 New Fermis Introduced

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: September 2, 2010
Product Name: NVIDIA GeForce 400M
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Optimus: An Ace up NVIDIA’s Sleeve

There has been quite a bit of talk over the last few months about NVIDIA’s latest technology for notebooks called Optimus. While we didn’t have the opportunity to give you the complete picture when it was first released, we are nonetheless excited about the possibilities it brings to the table for notebook and netbook users alike. It is also a technology that NVIDIA will be bringing to all of their upcoming notebook GPUs.

No matter what kind of mobile user you are, battery life is most likely one of your primary concerns. In the past, there always seemed to be a tradeoff between battery life and graphics performance but there were initiatives to strike a balance. We have seen some technologies which switch between discrete and IGP graphics yet they were anything but seamless; often requiring a system reboot to function properly. Meanwhile, NVIDIA’s Optimus promises to do exactly what previous lacked: a truly seamless transition between the power savings of an integrated graphics processor and the power of a dedicated GPU.

In order to do this on the Intel’s latest platforms, the IGP acts as the display controller so in effect it handles all of the output to the notebook’s monitor. When the dedicated GPU isn’t needed, it shuts off and allows the more efficient on-chip IGP to take over the tasks associated with displaying images on the screen.

Once Optimus detects additional graphics performance is needed, it switches on the GPU. Meanwhile, the IGP still acts as the display controller to the system’s screen but if output is done through an external source via HDMI, it will be the discrete graphics chip that directly outputs the video signal. This is all supposed to happen seamlessly and without the user knowing it is happening behind the scenes. However, it can also be manually switched on and off if you want to fine tune control a bit more.

This dynamic load balancing between the GPU and IGP results in some downright amazing performance to be eked out of a notebook while maintaining extremely good battery life. In their own internal testing, NVIDIA claims they have seen near-equal performance between a notepad without a dedicated GPU and one equipped with a dedicated GPU and Optimus switching capabilities.

Below is our full video review of an Optimus setup. We encourage you to check it out since the features this technology provides are eye opening to say the least.


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