It’s Not Just About Games

NVIDIA would also like to let everyone know, once again, that it’s not just about games. They have CUDA, DirectX 11, OpenCL, and PhysX support, along with various 3D modes (including 3D TV Play). We also have HTML5 enabled browsers supporting GPU acceleration, and other browsers (i.e. Firefox 4) adding WebGL support. Most upcoming browsers are supposed to leverage the power of the GPU a lot more than they do today, making for a more interesting Internet. Let’s take a few of these items in turn, though.

The jury is still out on CUDA encoding vs. Intel’s Quick Sync (note that my quality with CUDA wasn't nearly so bad using MediaEspresso, so Anand may have encountered more of an Arcsoft Media Converter issue), but even if QS comes out ahead Optimus should at least allow NVIDIA to do the sensible thing and use the CPU where it’s better, or their GPU when it’s better. OpenCL is a bit of a gray area as well, since it’s possible to run OpenCL code on a CPU. We don’t have any good OpenCL tests right now, and we can't run it on an Intel CPU, so we’ll just leave that on the table. Even so, Quick Sync might make one of the most common uses of OpenCL redundant.

That brings up another item we should point out as well: unlike desktop Sandy Bridge, nearly all notebooks will get Intel Quick Sync support. The desktop P67 doesn’t work with integrated graphics, and it’s the chipset to get if you want overclocking support—at least until Z67 shows up and provides IGP + overclocking. That means you can’t use Quick Sync (at least not right now—maybe a driver or some other hack could provide access to the necessary CPU/GPU features). In contrast, all Sandy Bridge laptop chipsets support integrated graphics and thus Quick Sync. There’s no PM67 to muddy the waters (at least not yet). The one exception would be notebooks that forego switchable graphics and only operate off a discrete GPU, and Quick Sync would make that a very bad design decision in our book. As I said in the Mobile Sandy Bridge review, SNB is a much bigger deal for laptops than desktops in my opinion.

Next up, DX11 and PhysX are certainly wins, albeit small ones, for NVIDIA. There are games that make reasonable use of both options, and even if you end up disabling the features in most titles for performance reasons (i.e. laptop GPUs are still usually too slow, so you have to choose between higher quality graphics, DX11, and PhysX), such features are still value add-ins. We’ll lump them into the same category as better overall gaming performance and drivers for now.

And that leaves the final two items, HTML5 and WebGL. Internet Explorer 9 Beta and Firefox 4 are designed to leverage the power of your GPU as well, with IE9 focusing more on HTML5 and FF4 adding WebGL into the mix. We decided a quick test of a few current platforms would set the stage, and NVIDIA was even kind enough to list some suggestions in their reviewers’ guide. We went to the WebVizBench site (don’t even try that in something like Firefox 3.6!) and ran their benchmark at 1600x900 on IE9. Our test laptops were the new Sandy Bridge system from Compal/Intel, and the ASUS N53JF sporting an Arrandale CPU/IGP with GT 425M dGPU. We tested the ASUS laptop on both integrated graphics as well as the GT 425M. CPU load was minimal during the tests, so this does appear to be more of a graphics test. Here are the results.

HTML5 WebVizBench

Oh, snap! The HTML5 test on Arrandale appears to work as expected, offering more than double the performance when you switch from Arrandale's HD Graphics to the GT 425M. The problem is that Sandy Bridge with HD Graphics 3000 actually came in slightly ahead of the GT 425M in IE9. Granted, the SNB platform has a significantly more powerful CPU, but as a graphics test we were expecting more.

We also tried the Flight of the Navigator WebGL demo in Firefox 4 Beta 8 and Chrome 9 Beta (measuring performance with FRAPS), but the results on our Optimus system indicate it never tried to use the dGPU. Yes, WebGL, Chrome 9, Firefox 4, and Internet Explorer 9 are all still beta, so we’ll just let things sit and stew for now. We’ll revisit this topic once we have some 500M hardware in our hands, hopefully with non-Beta browsers as well, and perhaps NVIDIA can wipe the egg off their face with a more convincing win next time.

More New Chips! Examining the 2011 Mobile World
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    It looks like the 520M has four fewer pins, but the top of the chips is quite different. NVIDIA didn't disclose any chip names to me when I asked, unfortunately, I have intermittent Internet access, so I can't really do much other than respond to posts right now, but I'll try to look into it later.
  • rjc - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Thanks Jarred for updating the article.

    One small thing though - the pin outs on the GF108 and GF119 i think are identical. The website for some reason though shows the GF119 pads rotated by 90degrees, notice the triangle is in a different position to the equivalent shot for the GF108. The pin outs are very similar and same size to the older GF215 and GF216 chips, with 4 additional pins for the 2 new parts.

    With regard to the GF119 performance, be a bit careful estimating it. As the codename indicates, it is rumored to have quite some advances over the other Fermi chips. For instance the increase from 420m to 520m performance level apparently only consumes 2W more according to the nvidia figures.
  • Dug - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Thanks for taking the time to go through the new chips and explain the differences. Even then nVidia has made it confusing again. I really wish they would just stick with increasing the model number with increased performance.
  • bennyg - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    At this rate Fermi will be in the 600s, maybe the 700Ms; and their next chip design will take them well beyond the 900s.

    G80 and derivatives were the 8000s, 9000s, 100Ms, 200Ms, 300Ms.

    Nvidia's whole point of new model numbers is to HIDE that there is no/minimal increase in performance.

    I won't even begin to consider shedding a fraction of a tear that all the "1Gb Dedicated Graphics" cards will have no reason for existence. They are only ever targeted and marketed to the uninformed and it's clear a company has reached the pinnacle of un-ethics when it deliberately seeks to confuse the marketplace in order to market its products.
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    I find it really funny how the same chip with lower clocks suddenly gets a higher subnumer once it "improved" one generation :p

  • RyanVM - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Firefox 4 doesn't support hardware acceleration with Optimus configurations. It was causing lots of instability.

    Can't speak for Chrome or IE9.
  • Ed051042 - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Amen to the closing statement on laptop LCD quality. 1366x768 is NOT an acceptable resolution on a 14/15/17" notebook. My 10" netbook as that resolution! The currently lack of ability to deliver quality displays is troubling. Dell has "supply issues" with their 1080p panel for the XPS 15, while HP pulled their 1600x panel for the Envy 14. Only the Sony Vaio Z is delivering the goods, with 1080p on a 13" panel.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    "Clock speeds are also up, in this case it’s a 14% increase for the 550M vs. 435M, 20% for 540M vs. 425M, and 20% for the 525M over the 520M—not too shabby" I think you meant "525M over the 420M (not 520M).

    The GT425M at 560core/1120processor/800RAM clocks. That's only 7%, 7% and 12.5% increases. I'm glad for the extra memory bandwidth and would love to see if giving this GPU GDDR5 would let it handle 1080p at least on the lowest settings in games like Crysis or Stalker. I just hope the "new" GT525M costs less than the GT425M cause realistically it won't be much faster if at all so the price should drop. I just really want a 15.6" laptop with a decent quality (Compal/Clevo) quality 1080p screen. i5 2520M, GT525M, 4GB DDR3 1333 for a thousand bucks or less. I REALLY don't care if it includes a blue ray drive, or even a dvd drive. And I REALLY REALLY want it to come with Seagate's Momentus XT Hybrid drive 500GB.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Finally got enough internet speed to be able to update a few bits in the text. The 525M replaces the 420M, which had 500/1000 clocks. The 535M replaces 425M, which is the 560/1120 clocks you mention. But you're right if you compare 525M to 425M. The overlapping names is more than a little confusing!

    I also updated the information in regards to 520M/410M, which use the GF119 core.
  • EliteRetard - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    If we can currently buy a 1GB GTX460 for 150$ any chance well get the GTX485 at a reasonable price? Sure its fully unlocked (why dont we have an unlocked desktop GTX460?), so make it 200$. I want to see laptops with that chip for under $1,000.

    If Nvidia wants $500 for a card like that, whats stopping companies like Asus from just making their own mobile varients? Couldnt they just take the mobile PCI card blank and drop in an actual GTX460 chip and downclock it? Ive been saying all this time, if they can do GTX480 SLI in a laptop with an i7-980x, why the heck cant they just use a GTX460 and go with a much cheaper and more reasonable mobile CPU to make a low cost but effective gaming laptop?

    Thats what I want, a midrange sandy bridge CPU and a switching GTX460 level GPU. Call it an all in one PC if you have to and stick it to a decent 17" LCD. Keep it at 6lbs or less. Id buy that for around a grand. Oh and let us use those larger mobile HDDs...I do need 1TB storage in a laptop and dont want to use 2 drive bays to do it. Keep the second for SSD.

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