Remember when we previewed a piece of software from Lucid called Virtu that promised the capability to combine processor graphics features of the Intel Sandy Bridge lineup with the performance and DX11 support of discrete graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD?  The ideas was pretty simple but it addressed one of our major complaints about the initial Sandy Bridge processor launch: the IGP features like fast video transcode acceleration and ultra-low-power video acceleration were unavailable to users that chose to also use a discrete graphics solution.

NVIDIA Synergy will offer discrete and integrated GPU support on Sandy Bridge - Graphics Cards 3

Lucid’s Virtu software running in our previous testing

Lucid’s solution was to "virtualize" the GPUs and use a software layer that would decide which applications to run on the discrete GPU and which to run on the integrated processor graphics on the Intel CPU.  There were some limitations including the need to have the displays connected to the IGP outputs rather than the discrete card and that the software worked on a rather clunky white-list implementation.  Also, discrete graphics control panels were a bit of a headache and only worked with NVIDIA cards and not in all cases even then.  

Virtu was to be distributed through motherboard vendors starting with the release of the Z68 chipset (as it was the first mainstream chipset to support overclocking AND display outputs) but now it appears that NVIDIA itself is diving into the same realm with a new piece of software called "Synergy".  

Check out more after the break!

Synergy, as VR-Zone has found out, will allow users of the new Z68 chipset, as well as older H67/H61 motherboards, to utilize both the performance of the faster discrete NVIDIA GPU and the features of the Intel Sandy Bridge graphics as well.  Because the P67 chipset doesn’t support any kind of video outputs, it will not work with current board though.  

NVIDIA is apparently going to release the software free to consumers without the need for licenses of any kind and will use basic key and SBIOS checks to make sure you are using an approved motherboard.  You will NOT need to get a special graphics card for Synergy to work, which is good news, and a surprising change from NVIDIA’s usual stance of charging partners for entrance into said programs.

Unfortunately, the requirement to have at least one display connected to the integrated graphics on the motherboard remains, though it sounds like secondary displays will be able to run off of the discrete card.  I don’t have any information on how this will work with technologies like NVIDIA Surround or 3D Vision, but my initial guess is that Surround and 3D Vision are likely out of the picture for now.  SLI support is there on the Z68 chipset – another bit of good news for gamers.

NVIDIA Synergy will offer discrete and integrated GPU support on Sandy Bridge - Graphics Cards 4

This technology will likely work much like NVIDIA’s Optimus software that allows the combination of discrete and integrated graphics in the mobile market.  If you have been reading any of our notebook reviews recently you will notice that Optimus is pretty pervasive and I have to say all of my experiences with it have been very positive.  NVIDIA has been able to create a user interface and set of features that seems to exceed what Lucid’s Virtu can do (with the exception of support for AMD GPUs of course) even before Virtu sees the light of day.