Gigabyte, maker of quality motherboards that are recommended by many enthusiasts for DIY builds, has today announced a long term partnership with Lucidlogix to bring switchable graphics to its Z68 desktop chip set based motherboards.
While notebook users have enjoyed switchable graphics technology like Nvidia’s Optimus and AMD’s Switchable Graphics for some time, desktop users have not had a widely available solution. DIY (do it yourself) builds have been even further from a workable solution. Today; however, Gigabyte has stepped up to the plate to offer OEMs and enthusiast builders the opportunity to use switchable graphics by using the Lucidlogix Virtu technology.
So far, Gigabyte has announced three motherboard models that will ship with Lucidlogix’s Virtu technology; the Z68X-UD3H-B3, Z68A-D3H-B3, Z68MX-UD2H-B3, and Z68MA-D2H-B3 specifically. These motherboards support both Virtu and Intel’s LGA 1155 “Sandy Bridge” processors, which include an integrated GPU that Intel dubs “processor graphics.”
While these Intel processor graphics’ gaming capabilities are extremely limited, they do very well running Windows 7’s Aero desktop while sipping power. Dedicated graphics cards on the other hand, tend to draw relatively large amounts of power even at idle. Until now, enthusiasts have had to choose between low power machines that are unable to run the latest games or gaming machines that remain power hungry in everyday non-gaming usage.
What Ludiclogix’s Virtu technology promises for Gigabyte customers is the best of both worlds. By allowing enthusiasts to use both a powerful dedicated graphics card for gaming and a low power card for everyday use, better control, efficiency, and choices become available.
The way in which this switchable graphics technology works is that Lucidlogix presents a sort of virtualized graphics card to the operating system. There is then a bit of logic that determines which graphics card will process the various Direct X API calls. When only using the Aero desktop and IntelMedia processor graphics instructions, the dedicated card can be in a low power state while the integrated GPU handles the workload. When running games or when activated by a user (or their profile settings), the virtualized card passed the dedicated card instructions to process that are then routed out the Sandy Bridge video output connection. This allows enthusiasts the best of both power draw and performance worlds that mobile users have enjoyed for some time.
Another important benefit of the Virtu technology is that it will allow enthusiasts to use programs that benefit from Intel’s Quick Sync technology. Programs optimized with Intel Quick Sync in mind use fixed function transistors in the processor graphics of Sandy Bridge CPUs to hardware accelerate such task as video transcoding. GPU accelerated software such as this is able to generate higher quality encodes at a faster frame rate (using Intel’s Quick Sync) than both current Nvidia and AMD graphics cards. According to Anandtech, when converting The Dark Night from a 12mbps 1080p x264 source video to a 1.5mbps 480p video optimized for the Ipod Touch, the Sandy Bridge’s GPU was able to achieve 264.8 frames per second, which results in Quick Sync being "almost 4x faster than the Radeon HD 6970 and twice as fast as everything else." PC Perspective also found marked improvements in transcoding time using Quick Sync to convert a 450mb Cannon 7D’s video file to an ipad optimized format. In PC Perspective’s testing, they saw a 5.2x faster transcode time using Quick Sync versus without (no gpu acceleration). Until now enthusiasts with high end graphics were unable to use the graphics processor in Sandy Bridge CPUs as it automatically disables itself when it detects that a discrete graphics card is present in the system.
The only drawback for high end gamers lies in issues with setting up multi-monitor rigs as the Virtu technology outputs over the motherboard’s single video output instead of, say, a dedicated card’s traditional multiple video outputs. For single screen gamers; however, Gigabyte motherboards with Virtu technology will be a boon.