New Sony laptop goes graphics crazy

Sony is set to announce a new laptop that pumps up graphics performance by putting an unprecedented two graphics chips inside a single machine.

Technical details have proved hard to confirm, but the new SZ4 unit will use the same PCI Express-based Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 chip that appeared in last year's SZ3, a part that can be run in pairs using Nvidia's Scalable Link Interface (SLI) technology.

Although the technology is more commonly found in the high-end desktop PCs beloved of hardcore gamers, the assumption is that Sony's engineers used the design to overcome the laptop blight of poor graphics response. The company claims it is the only machine in the world to feature such a configuration.

Adding such a feature also helps justify keeping the price high -- the SZ3 cost around the US$3,475 mark and the new successor is unlikely to be any different. Reasonably-specified laptops suffered marked price erosion in 2006, a fact that will have worried Sony, depending as it does on high margins and "specialness" to generate a profit.

More mysteriously, the pre-release announcement also claimed that users could "opt for extended battery life or huge graphics power depending on what they need," which implies that the extra performance could be scaled back in some way to reduce power drain. How this is achieved is not clear, but will be made clear no doubt when the laptop is formally announced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The graphics innovation is all the more surprising given the new machine's size -- such power is normally found on laptops with larger screens. The screen is a diminutive 13.3 inches, the carbon fibre body keeping weight to only 1.69 kilograms.

Who will want it? Trailed as a premium business laptop with the unusual combination of power and portability, it still looks more like a travel companion for well-off gamers who don't want to be without their favorite 3D muse.

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John E. Dunn

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