Potential Issues and Final Thoughts
Potential Issues and Complications

We talked about the technology that makes Lucid Virtu tick and demonstrated that for the most part it works as advertised.  By implementing what Lucid calls “GPU Virtualization” on a Sandy Bridge system they are permitting the consumer to finally get what we have always wanted – the best technology from all vendors without compromise.  At least for the most part – we still lose access to the associated AMD control panel and thus any ability to set settings for gaming in that way.  Some users will probably see that as a deal breaker since you won’t be able to enable additional AA methods for things like transparent textures, etc unless the game includes them in its own menus.  I WAS able to access the NVIDIA Control Panel though without it being the primary graphics card, so another reason while the Virtu / NVIDIA combo seems to be the best option out of the gate. 

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Lucid claims that the Virtu technology should work with any GPU in the HD 2000 series and above as well as any GeForce GTX 200 series and above card.  Also, I was told that the driver revision should really not matter either.  I say that though knowing that I personally ran into at least one configuration that didn’t work as expected.  My first test used a Radeon HD 6870 1GB card from XFX and while the AMD drivers and everything were running as they should, the Virtu software was still using the SNB processor graphics for games and 3DMark, etc.  It is possible that there was something wrong with my first 11.2 installation and if I had reinstalled THOSE drivers Virtu would have worked fine, but I didn’t have a chance to test that possibility.   

It was (and still is) the case with Lucid’s HYDRA technology that consumers were very dependent on the driver teams at Lucid to update its software as new games, new graphics cards and new drivers from AMD and NVIDIA are released.  The team at Lucid works hard to stay on top of things but if you ask AMD or NVIDIA how much work it is to stay on top of the PC gaming field, they will no doubt tell you that Lucid isn’t investing enough in HYDRA to make it viable.  Virtu looks like it should take much less continuous work than HYDRA does so we have more faith in the company to keep up with new drivers from the GPU team; but it’s not blind faith.  Consumers are going to want to see Lucid really stick with this program or they risk completely sullying the company’s image.

What I Still Want to See

The Virtu software is pretty good as it is, but there are some easy user interface changes they can be used to make the experience better.  Basically, take some of the features of NVIDIA’s Optimus and just straight up steal them.  My favorite?  The ability to right-click on a shortcut or executable file and choose what GPU to run it on the fly, without having to set a whitelist or blacklist. 

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An NVIDIA Optimus context-based menu option for GPU selection

This context based menu would allow a user to quickly change back and forth between operating GPUs to see which works best and then decide if they wanted to add it to a whitelist for permanent association. 

I would also recommend that Lucid really cleanup the user interface for the Virtu control panel; it just looks clunky and unprofessional to me.  If they are targeting a mainstream audience like they claim to, then they will likely want a solution that doesn’t put as much emphasis on dragons and stuff.  Gamer’s don’t mind, but your mom might. 

Virtu’s Intended Audience…for today

One thing that Lucid was always iterating to me was that Virtu was aimed at the “low end to mainstream” markets and wasn’t really going for the high-end gamer.  The reasoning of course was that only mainstream users would have the H67 or H61 motherboards required for Sandy Bridge graphics while the P67 chipsets of the more enthusiast-class machines don’t have support for integrated graphics at all.  Without the pathways and connections on the P67 motherboards to connect the monitor of your rig to (a requirement of the Virtu configuration) users of those platforms are SOL here – you still cannot take advantage of the features of the integrated processor graphics on your CPU.

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So while I understand Lucid’s target here, the real truth is that users that are most interested in this will be those of you that wait for the upcoming Intel Z68 chipset.  Due in early May, motherboards based on that platform will support BOTH the overclocking and performance features of the P67 chipset in conjunction with the display output support of the H67 chipset.  Word is that chipset will also support keeping the integrated graphics enabled with a discrete solution installed for added multi-display support but I don’t believe Intel has any plans for the “virtualization” technology that Lucid is showing us here.  In that case, the Z68 would be the perfect enthusiast consumer choice and with Lucid Virtu would you allow you to utilize ALL the Intel HD 3000/2000 features as well as enable overclocking support and discrete graphics for gaming.

Although I didn’t get any indication from Lucid on this I would really hope they are pushing this to notebook vendors as well.  Even though NVIDIA Optimus does work for solutions that combine Sandy Bridge and NVIDIA discrete GPUs, AMD-based systems had been left out in the cold thus far and could really benefit from what Virtu can accomplish. 

Lucid’s Business Model

You might have wondered how you will be able to get your hands on this software; maybe even today if you already have an H67 system you are running.  Unfortunately, Lucid is only going to be selling this software to motherboard vendors as a pack in on future sales.  Vendors will be able use the Virtu as a selling point for specific SKUs or to compete against rivals and should be a nice addition to any Sandy Bridge H67/Z68 motherboard when they are available once again. 

This is bad news though both for current users, users that are expecting replacement H67 boards later in March or anyone that picks up a motherboard that simply doesn’t pack it in.  I am hoping that Lucid takes it upon themselves to offer licenses to end-consumers on an individual basis for $30 or something like that.  From a business model perspective, the guaranteed income from a bulk license model like selling to board vendors makes a lot of sense but hopefully they can figure out a way to do both. 

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The trial version of the software that we are using will probably be able to be downloaded by anyone though it will take a specific “key” in the BIOS of the motherboard (implemented by the vendor after purchasing a bulk license) to activate it for use longer than 30 days and to get rid of that annoying logo on the screen.  Users of boards that weren’t included in any bulk buy will either be left in the cold or will find a way around such restrictions (as they often do).

Overall Impressions

Despite an early hiccup in our testing due to the AMD compatibility issue, the Lucid Virtu software has impressed me.  The idea for the technology is well founded and solves one of the few problems we had with the Intel 2nd Generation Core processor family that launched in January.  The architecture of the purely software-based solution is cleverly intuitive and Lucid seems to think they really have solved it for good.  I do still worry that the hardware changes and software updates from Intel, AMD and NVIDIA might throw a wrench into these carefully laid plans, but as of today, it works pretty much as advertised.  I really do wish I was able to get access to a full version so I could be sure that the “whitelist” method application profiling was as simple and as fool proof as Lucid seems to think. 

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In the end, one of the reasons I have more upfront faith in this solution than I do in HYDRA is that Intel has repeatedly backed the claims for Virtu and they don’t do that lightly.  For Intel to show a partner’s solution in its booth at CES says a lot for how much Intel thinks of the problem and the solution Lucid has provided. 

I love it when a small company like Lucid can step and solve one of the “major” problems of current technology and it would seem that Virtu is going to be a success if they can get it in the right users’ hands and machines. 

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