NVidia unveils notebook graphics chip

NVidia Corp. hopes to bring desktop-quality visuals to your next notebook with its upcoming graphics processing unit (GPU), code-named NV17M. In addition to offering its typical graphics prowess, NVidia is designing the chip with another sought-after notebook feature: longer battery life.

Notebooks using the NV17M should roll out in the first quarter of next year; sometime before that the company will christen the product with an official name. For the announcement here at Comdex, NVidia is demonstrating the new GPU's capabilities using prototype notebooks.

NVidia, a market leader in the desktop graphics industry, entered the notebook graphics market a year ago with its GeForce2 Go product. The company hoped the well reviewed product would help establish NVidia as a player in a market where ATI Technologies Inc., NeoMagic Corp., and Trident Microsystems Inc. have long reigned.

The NV17M builds on that product with a list of improvements, chief among them a higher frequency, says Bill Henry, director of mobile products at NVidia. The new GPU runs at 250 MHz, up from the GeForce2 Go's 143 MHz. Another improvement: 32MB or 64MB of built-in DDR (double data rate) memory.

The new GPU also offers four times the antialiasing performance of the GeForce2 Go, he says. Antialiasing technology smoothes the jagged edges of on-screen items, creating a more natural-looking image.

It also includes NVidia's Zcull and Zclear technologies, which recognize when an image has hidden pixels. Instead of rendering pixels that you can't actually see, it eliminates them--which makes the process more efficient and improves the overall graphics performance, he says.

Power-saving graphics

The NV17M NVidia also jumps into the low-power fray with a technology dubbed PowerMizer.

PowerMizer combines hardware, drivers, and a user interface technology to let users decide what's more important, better graphics or longer battery life, Henry says.

Similar in nature to Intel's SpeedStep technology, which raises and lowers a CPU's (central processing unit's) clock speed, PowerMizer can increase or decrease the power you devote to graphics. Through a simple sliding bar you can opt for maximum performance (and less battery life), maximum power savings (and diminished graphics), or a balance between the two.

NVidia says its own frames-per-second testing shows the chip uses 31 watts to run video at 85 frames per second on maximum performance mode. It uses 24 watts for about 58 fps on balanced mode, and about 20 watts for 27 fps on battery mode. (Standard movies display at 24 fps, TV at 30 fps. The human eye generally can't perceive more than 60 fps.)In addition to lowering power consumption through lowered performance, the PowerMizer technology can also turn off idle blocks within the GPU itself, he says. So when it is not using a portion of the chip, it turns it off to save power.

PowerMizer also helps save power by offloading tasks from the CPU, allowing that chip to run less and burn less power, he says. For example, it offloads processing chores from the CPU in connections with transform and lighting effects as well as DVD (digital versatile disc) playback.

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Tom Mainelli

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