We’ve seen more than a few Core i5 notebooks recently, all of which have been hamstrung by Intel’s weak integrated graphics. Now, Nvidia’s Optimus enables their discrete GPUs to work in current-generation Intel PCs, whether Intel likes it or not.
Optimus is a new technology that allows Intel’s integrated GPU to coexist with a discrete Nvidia GPU, seamlessly alternating between the two depending on the task at hand. It works with GeForce 200M series, GeForce 300M series, next-gen GeForce M, and next-gen Ion GPUs as well as Intel’s Core2Duo, Core i3/i5/i7 and Atom N450 processors.
At the most basic level, Optimus is similar to the switchable graphics that Nvidia pioneered a few years ago. But switchable graphics as currently conceived are a pain in the neck: you have to switch manually, there’s generally a 5-10 second delay, your screen flickers, you have to shut down certain applications. Optimus still includes a manual option, but otherwise automatically decides what can run on integrated graphics (regular web browsing) and what needs an extra boost (games, Flash video, etc), making the switch for you behind the scenes. It makes the change so quickly by letting the Nvidia GPU handle the processing duties while still employing Intel’s IGP as a display controller, as in the diagram above.
Performance hasn’t been confirmed yet by a third party, but Nvidia posits that Optimus is up to an 8x improvement across apps and games than Intel’s integrated solution. And because it only kicks in when needed, there’s purportedly not much of a battery drain, depending on how often you use intensive graphics.
Nvidia says there will be more than 50 notebooks packing Optimus by this summer, although today it’s launching only on the Asus UL50Vf ultraportable notebook, which houses both a Core2Duo SU7300 and a GeForce G210M.
What we don’t know – but what we strongly suspect – is if Optimus is the solution Apple has been waiting for before refreshing its Macbook line. The hiccup: Currently, Nvidia says that Optimus is only compatible with Windows 7. But with the Macworld just around the corner, We may be seeing Optimus Macbook Pros sooner than later.