Initial Thoughts

On paper, the launch of ATI's latest 5000 series mobile GPUs looks very good. They won't provide a huge boost to gaming performance, but they should handle video processing at least as well as the previous generation, and we are very interested in the claims of dramatically improved idle power consumption. Unfortunately, until we get a laptop for testing we can't say for certain how well everything will turn out. There are a few flies in the ointment as we see it.


First, there's the question of drivers. To be honest, ATI's drivers on mobile GPUs (outside of CrossFire solutions) have worked well for us. We have an older laptop with an HD 3650 and updating the drivers from a 2008 release to a 2009 release (9.5 Catalyst) didn't improve performance, and we hadn't experienced any compatibility issues. But that was with HD 3000 series hardware, which is now a couple years old. With new hardware, we expect driver updates to accomplish more in terms of improving performance and compatibility. The real catch is that compatibility is almost certain to cause problems once we start seeing more DirectX 11 games. Why is this likely? Simply look at the past.

The first DirectX 10 hardware came out in November 2006. We didn't see many DX10 enabled games for a while, but nearly one full year after the launch we got Bioshock. Bioshock supported DX10, and guess what needed driver updates? That's right: all of the 8800 series NVIDIA cards (and laptops). We see a similar story with NVIDIA's CUDA and PhysX where driver updates are critical if you want to use those features. We are in the infancy of DX11, and we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of DirectCompute or OpenCL. When we start to see applications using these APIs, we can pretty much guarantee both ATI and NVIDIA will need to provide regularly updated drivers. We have no concerns about ATI's ability to do so on the desktop, but right now they don't have any mobile driver plan as far as we can tell, referring you instead to your notebook manufacturer. Most manufacturers stop updating drivers after a few months, and some models don't even get that!

We mentioned earlier that ATI informed us they will announce plans for an improved mobile driver program "very soon". Let's take a moment to make sure ATI knows exactly what we expect. We need, at the minimum, new drivers for all current mobile GPUs released on a regular schedule. NVIDIA has committed to quarterly releases in the past, and we would suggest that is a good starting point. We don't necessarily need complete integration with the desktop driver releases, but that would be the ideal end goal. NVIDIA hasn't managed to pull that one off yet, but they're getting closer. And just to be clear: we know ATI has tried to do drivers like this in the past, and the OEMs said no. Well, OEMs, there's not a chance you can make a good gaming laptop unless you let users get regularly updated graphics drivers from the GPU manufacturer. So get with the program!

And let's not even discuss ATI drivers for alternative operating systems like Linux. Ugh. I'll leave that to Christopher.

The second concern is availability of these new graphics chips. We don't mean being able to go out and buy the chips themselves; we mean the ability to purchase laptops that use the latest and greatest ATI hardware. Ideally, we would really like to see some of the new Arrandale laptops with 5800 series hardware (or even 5600/5700 hardware). We know several such laptops are in the works, and we can discuss them tomorrow, but we still need to see how well they work. Considering Arrandale has built-in IGP, these laptops also better support hybrid graphics. The idle power draw of ATI's 5000 series may be significantly lower than previous ATI mobile solutions, but nothing beats the ability to shut your discrete GPU down completely and run off of a low-power IGP when you don't need the extra graphics performance. ATI supports this, so again this is up to laptop manufacturers to make sure they implement the feature.

Finally, we've talked a little bit about NVIDIA, and we know NVIDIA is working on updated mobile hardware as well. Will they support DirectX 11? We don't know. How fast will they run? We don't know, but it's a safe bet they will be at least 20% faster than their previous generation hardware, which means they could easily match ATI's performance. How soon will this hardware be available? Probably at least a month or two after ATI's hardware, given NVIDIA hasn't announced details yet. That's a lot of questions and very few answers, but we may have more information by next month so stay tuned.

Wrapping things up, what we have today is your typical notebook GPU launch: it's all on paper with very little hardware out there for review. We know there are laptops at CES using some of these new GPUs, but CES is full of products that won't be available at retail for another month or two at least. As soon as we can get hardware in our labs, we will be able to provide an actual review of ATI's hardware. It sounds good, but drivers in particular are still a major concern for us, especially on the 5600 and above. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this launch is that ATI is doing a top to bottom mobile GPU update, rather than the more common high-end followed by midrange and low-end (or vice versa) launches we frequently see. We'd also like to see a new IGP solution that can double the performance of the HD 4200, but that's just us being greedy.

For those who are interested in the complete presentation, below is a gallery of all 34 slides. You can read additional information about Blu-ray support (it works fine on our old HD 3650 laptop, so we're not exactly sure what has changed), ATI Stream, and other details we didn't feel needed a lot of discussion. We also received a link to an AMD YouTube Video showing some of the DX11 vs. DX10 scenes in action, which is pretty cool. Enjoy!

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  • tntomek - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    Does anyone have a hint if these are immediately available? Dell is already selling the new i5 chips but still old video cards.

    Also does anyone have a hint of how the video card works in something like a dell. is the Intel onboard video totally disabled?
    Reply
  • RobotHunter - Saturday, January 9, 2010 - link

    I just ordered one yesterday with a $300 off coupon from HP. Core i5 with the 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5830. Reply
  • bennyg - Thursday, January 7, 2010 - link

    This is what you get when the other mob is rehashing years old tech.

    An evolutionary step thats just "enough" to be better, but much below its potential.
    Reply
  • pcfxer - Thursday, January 7, 2010 - link

    You mean AMD? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, January 7, 2010 - link

    AMD is the parent company, but ATI is the group within AMD making the GPUs, and the GPUs are still called the "ATI Mobility Radeon". So pretty much you can say AMD or ATI and it's correct. Reply
  • SlyNine - Saturday, January 9, 2010 - link

    I think some people tried to transition to saying AMD, but to many were stuck in there own ways and have an infinity for ATI. I know I feel that way, Otho I like Nvidia too. Both companies seem to be the epitome of free enterprise, they are very innovative without all the price fixing, unfair business practices and bullcrap you see in other industries. Reply
  • apriest - Thursday, January 7, 2010 - link

    I have spent the last two months in driver hell trying to get two external monitors hooked up to an HP 4510s laptop with a ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 for an accounting firm. The laptop has an analog and HDMI output, but you can't use both at the same time. So that leaves USB-based DisplayLink adapters. DisplayLink drivers are the worst on the planet and conflict with HP's video driver. You can't use ATI's official driver without hacking it first with Mobility Modder. If you do that, HP's QuickLaunch application will blue screen. If you remove QuickLaunch, you can't control whether your laptop screen or the other ATI video output is the primary screen, nor can you turn the secondary display on/off. Argh! There is no end to the frustration!

    My simple point is, I can't WAIT to have the simplicity of my desktop's triple head ATI 5870 on a laptop using official ATI drivers. If vendors finally allow at least two digital outputs at the same time as the internal screen using official ATI drivers, it will be nervana for some of my clients!
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Thursday, January 7, 2010 - link

    The problem is with the users not the laptops. For one, I find it hard to justify two monitors let alone three, that is what alt-tab is for. Your brain/eyes can't focus on more than one monitor at a time anyway. People who think multi-display lets them become some superhuman multitasker are fooling themselves. If they still demand three monitors, they should be using a desktop not a laptop.

    Reply
  • The0ne - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    I think most users wouldn't have the need for a 2nd or even 3rd monitor for their laptop use but in my case I must have a 2nd and more importantly bigger and larger resolution. My 17" laptop with 1920x1200 doesn't cut it with my spreadsheets. And although the resolution is nice things are tiny and while you can blow things up, that defeats the purpose of having more things in the same amount of space.

    In addition to myself, I also set up dual monitors for technicians that use my spreadsheets specifically. It all comes down to being productive.
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    Total BS, If you believe you can only focus on one monitor at a time why don't you cut a 24 inch hole in a box that is about an arms length deep so all you can see through is the hole in the box.

    Walk around like that and see how easy it is.
    Reply

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