With more of the PC market going to mobile platforms, the graphics gurus are pulling out big guns to ensure that the action remains hot and heavy as the machine stays thin and light.
Nvidia Corp. and ATI Technologies moved further ahead in the mobile graphics space, adapting their desktop graphics cores for use in notebook PCs. Nvidia shifted its GeForceFX 5200 and 5600 cores into the mobile market, improving the video core while using new power-management techniques to reduce power consumption. ATI, meanwhile, is expected to announce its Mobiliity Radeon 9600.Both of the Nvidia and ATI announcements capitalize on the sudden interest in notebook applications, prompted by the launches of the Intel Centrino and the AMD Athlon XP-M processors on Wednesday. Nvidia has also succeeded into pushing its GeForceFX into the high-end and mainstream segments in both the desktop and notebook markets in just over 100 days.
"What this tells me is that mobile is becoming more and more important," said Tim Lau, product manager for AMDs mobile group. "When buying a PC more people are inclined to go the mobile route than the desktop route."
From an architectural standpoint, Nvidias GeForceFX Go 5200 and 5600 are essentially the same as the desktop models
the company introduced last week. While the desktop GeForceFX models process 8 pixels per clock, however, the mobile chips process only four, using four rendering pipes. The GeForceGo chips have also been downclocked to save power, and the color and Z-buffer compression features have been removed.The cores include the pixel and vertex shaders "2.0+" that Nvidia included on the desktop GeForceFX chips; the 5600 includes the Intellisample 2.0 technology, which improves antialiasing. Both of the cores support the AGP8X chipset, which will be added in a mobile version of the Intel Springdale chipset by the end of 2003, Lau said.
Nvidia also reworked the video engine inside the new cores, smoothing the video by treating it as a shader technology. The GeForceFX Go cores include support MPEG-2 encoding as well as decoding, video antialiasing, and can output its video on an HDTV display. Currently, the GeForceFX Go cores only support dual-monitor output, such as a CRT and laptop display. "The honest answer is that theres not a lot of HDTV content out there," Lau said. "But by the end of 03, and moving into 04, we believe thats going to change."According to Jon Peddie Research, 30 percent of laptop users play games while on the road, while 45 percent play videos back on their laptop. Electronics Arts now tests its games on Nvidia-based notebooks to ensure compatibility, Lau said.Nvidia also improved its video de-interlacing capabilities, moving from the Microsoft-approved "bob and weave" technique to a new adaptive deinterlacing mode which detects the type of image being displayed, and applies the interlacing appropriately.Nvidia also worked to lower the GeForceFX Go cores power consumption through its "PowerMizer 3.0" mechanism, which attempts to even more aggressively gate the power used by the core. The GeForceFX Go 5600 takes advantage of this more efficiently than the 5200 model does, as the 5600 is manufacturered on a 0.13-micron process technology. Nvidia fabricated the GeForceFX Go 5200 on a 0.15-micron process.The GeForceFX Go chips only use 64 Mbytes of memory, either in a multichip module (MCM) or packaged externally through a 128-bit interface. Samsung and Nvidia are developing 8Mx32 mmeories, which will allow a 128-bit 128 Mbytes product refresh to be offered at a later date, Lau said. While running a 3D screensaver, Nvidia found that the GeForceFX Go consumed less than four watts, and about two to three watts on average.Nvidia is launching the part with multiple OEMs and Asian ODMs, Lau said. A Toshiba notebook with a GeForceFX chip built in will be on stores shelves in April, Lau said.ATIs Mobility Radeon 9600ATI is also expected to announce the Mobility Radeon 9600 at the CeBIT show in Germany. ATI officials were unavailable to explain the inner workings of the 9600, although they did provide a product brief describing its capabilities.The 9600 will be available in three models, using a 32-, 64-, and 128-Mbyte frame buffer. Both of the versions using the larger frame buffer will also include a 128-bit memory interface.It was not known whether the Mobility 9600 represents a direct translation of the desktop Radeon 9600 into the notebook space. ATI said the mobile Radeon Mobility 9600 can process 16 textures per pixel and 12 pixel shader operations per clock cycle.ATI has ported its Smoothvision 2.1 and Smartshader 2.0 technologies to the mobile space, while adding support for the Graphics DDR-2 Mobile (GDDR2-M) memory co-developed between the company and DRAM maker Elpida.The GDDR2-M work was the culmination of two years of co-development, according to Jim Sogas, vice-president of sales and marketing for the company. The DRAM uses an on-die termination scheme, different than the DDR-2 memories being developed for the main memory within a PC. Sogas said it "was hard to put a number" on the amount of switching power saved, but that the technique also allows memory bus speeds to be pushed higher, both in the desktop and notebook spaces."It uses a data inversion technique," Sogas said. "Normally, when you send a command down the memory channel of a 256-bit bus -- assuming the worst case -- all of those bits flip and change state. That draws a lot of power. (GDDR-2M) minimizes the switching noise, and allows you only to flip half of those."The technology also represents Elpidas return to the graphics memory space, Sogas said.ATI did not state how much power the new Radeon Mobility 9600 chip consumes, or when it would be available.