If you're looking for notebook power on the cheap and you're not too keen on either using Intel's integrated graphics or paying for a higher-performing, NVIDIA-made workaround (i.e., Optimus), then there's an obvious alternative mobile platform for you: AMD/ATI. AMD is gaining steam in the mobile space due to a combination of low cost and its ATI Radeon graphics solution, with Reuters reporting that the company will better than double the number of design wins this back-to-school season compared to a year ago.
HP, for instance, announced a huge revamp of its mobile lineup on Friday, and AMD was in the bulk of the new models on both the consumer and business side. In fact, many of the new notebooks are available only with AMD—Intel inside is not an option. This is a huge victory for AMD, one that looks to be part of an ongoing winning streak.
Jon Peddie Research's most recent report on the graphics space for the first quarter of 2010 shows AMD taking about six percent of the total graphics market share from Intel, with NVIDIA staying about flat at 31.5 percent. Intel dropped from 49.7 percent market share in the first quarter of 2009 to 43.5, and AMD jumped from 17.1 percent to 24.0 percent in that same period. These numbers are for total graphics market share, which includes both integrated graphics processors (IGP) and the newly launched integrated processor graphics (IPG). Part of Intel's market share loss is no doubt due to the shortage of Arrandale processors. AMD saw its biggest boost in mobile graphics, according to JPR, which suggests that the scarcity of Intel's mobile CPU/IPG combo may have taken a toll.
AMD seems to have some momentum on its side, and it's worth pausing for a moment to think about the chipmaker's advantage here.
IGP vs. IPG
The first quarter of 2010 saw the dawn of a new acronym and the start of a major shift in the PC hardware market—the move from integrated graphics processors to integrated processor graphics. In the former, the GPU is integrated into the chipset's northbridge, while in the latter, the CPU is in the same package or on the same die as the processor (e.g., Intel's Clarksdale and Arrandale 32nm parts, with in-package GPUs).
AMD doesn't have an IPG offering yet, but it doesn't yet need one. The thing that's making AMD attractive, apart from price (and price is a major factor), is that Intel's IPG just isn't that great. It's a lot better than it once was, but it's still no match for IGPs from NVIDIA or AMD.
The problem with having a not-so-great GPU in the same package as the processor die is that if you want to buy Intel's latest and greatest mobile CPU, you have to buy its GPU along with it. So you have to pay for this GPU that isn't very good and that you may not want, and then if you want real graphics performance you have to then go out and pay for an NVIDIA GPU to go with it (via Optimus or Apple's proprietary solution).
NVIDIA's Optimus is definitely a win-win for Intel, NVIDIA, and Intel users, because it gives Intel's customers the option of a better GPU that and a platform that can dynamically optimize its graphics performance to fit the running workload. But if you stack it up against a traditional CPU + IGP combination, like that which AMD offers, it's hard to imagine that all that all the shuffling graphics data back and forth between the GPU's private pool of DDR3 and the framebuffer that sits in system memory doesn't burn extra power.
In other words, from an engineering perspective, it would be better to have a more efficient IGP, where you do all your dynamic power optimization by turning on and off parts of the IGP, than it is to have two IGPs—a weak one and a strong one—and switch back and forth between those two depending on workload. Intel users are sort of stuck with the latter, more coarse-grained, system-level form of power optimization, while AMD can do the former by just focusing on making its single IGP very efficient across a range of performance points.
Ultimately, Arrandale's CPU is just plain better (it's a whole process node ahead, which is key for mobile, and the Nehalem microarchitecture is superior), but Intel has hung a dud of a GPU around its neck and has forced users who want better performance to resort to exotic system-level solutions like Optimus. This misstep has left a door open for AMD to walk right through with a saner and more conventional solution. And because AMD not only offers better graphics performance but is cheaper to boot, notebook makers (and probably users) are increasingly going to opt for the AMD mobile platform.
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Sunday, 9 May 2010
AMD's hybrid graphics @ arstechnica.com
Why AMD's notebook prospects are looking up
Posted by avilella at 01:35
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