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Harness the power of Hybrid graphics

Biswajit.HD

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While AMD and Nvidia are battling it out to produce the most powerful (and affordable) graphics solution, there’s a lot of action happening in the motherboard chipset segment as well. It’s been quite a long time since we have seen any new IGP chipsets. The last ones that we saw were the RS780 from AMD and MCP73 from Nvidia. These chipsets were path-breaking in terms of power and the ability to decode high-definition video seamlessly. However, the RS780 had an edge over the MCP73 as it could support hybrid graphics. At present, both the Red and Green teams have a raft of new IGP chipsets supporting hybrid graphics for enthusiasts and mainstream users. And all of these launched in the past two months!

We tested hybrid solutions by AMD and Nvidia and arrived at some very interesting results. Let’s begin with the basics of hybrid graphics.


What is hybrid graphics?

Hybrid graphics is a technology that allows combining the power of the integrated graphics processor (IGP) and a discrete graphics processor for boosting the graphics performance. You simply need to add a graphics card to an IGP motherboard and configure it in hybrid graphics mode.

Do you need a compatible motherboard and graphics card for hybrid graphics?

Yes, you need a compatible motherboard and graphics card for hybrid graphics. At present only Nvidia and AMD have hybrid graphics solutions. However these solutions are only present for the AMD platform. Intel users will have to wait for a month or two until Nvidia rolls out the GeForce 9000 series IGP motherboards supporting the entire range of Intel processors in the LGA775 package.

Both AMD and Nvidia have a couple of options for hybrid graphics. If you’re a fan of AMD you can choose between the 780G and 790GX chipsets depending on the nature of your application. While the former is an entry level solution featuring the Radeon HD 3200 GPU, the latter features the Radeon HD 3300 GPU and is targeted towards gamers and enthusiasts with advanced features such as dual PCI express slots. You can combine these chipsets with Radeon HD 3450, HD 3470 or HD 3650 in Hybrid CrossFire X mode
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Nvidia has a two-pronged approach to hybrid graphics—GeForce Boost and Hybrid Power. If you install a GeForce 8400GS or a GeForce 8500GT on a Hybrid SLI-compatible motherboard, you can combine the power of the integrated and discrete GPUs using the GeForce Boost feature. Alternatively you can use the two GPUs individually for a dual-monitor setup. Nvidia’s Hybrid power technology allows switching off the discrete graphics processor when the processing power is not required. The task is then offloaded to the integrated GPU. For instance, it makes sense to switch over to the integrated GPU while using office applications or surfing the Internet. See the table for Nvidia’s hybrid SLI-compatible hardware.

Why is hybrid graphics not supported with mid-range and high-end discrete GPUs?

If you notice carefully, AMD and Nvidia have added hybrid graphics compatibility only for entry-level GPUs—mid-range and high-end GPUs are absent from the list. This is because it doesn’t make sense getting a meagre performance boost by running mid-range and high-end GPUs in hybrid mode. In fact Nvidia’s implementation of Hybrid Power for high-end GPUs is a clever move.


Why should you opt for a hybrid graphics-capable motherboard?

IGP motherboards cost anywhere between Rs 3,000 for an entry level performer to Rs 5,500 for a mid-range board. Hybrid graphics-capable motherboards don’t carry a special price tag, except that the price range starts at around Rs 4,000 for which you can get a decent board based on AMD 780 G. Though you can get a good non-hybrid motherboard for less, support for hybrid graphics gives you the option to upgrade in the future plus a more powerful onboard GPU. Hybrid graphics also eliminates the need for a more expensive graphics card with dual-link DVI video output for multi-monitor setup.


How to enable hybrid graphics?

On detecting a compatible graphics card the Nvidia Forceware driver automatically displays an additional icon for GeForce Boost in the system tray. You can choose between enabling the integrated and discrete GPUs in SLI mode or running them individually in multi-monitor mode. For enabling Hybrid CrossFire X you have to enable the CrossFire option in the ATI Catalyst Control Center after installing the graphics card. You also have to make sure that the hybrid graphics mode is enabled in the BIOS.


Is there a hybrid solution for laptops?

Nvidia’s new GeForce 9000 series mobile GPUs feature support for hybrid graphics. Hybrid SLI-enabled laptops allow users to switch between the discrete GPU and the integrated GPU. Thus the battery life can be extended by switching over to the integrated GPU when using applications such as word processing and email which don’t require the power of the discrete GPU. Currently there are 12 GPUs in the GeForce 9000 series that support this feature, out of which three also support GeForce Boost.

Source : Chip magazine.
 
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