CES 2011: Lucid's Virtu combines Sandy Bridge and discrete graphics features
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 6, 2011 - 09:00 AM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Lucid's soon to be released graphics solution is a complete turnaround from their current generation Hydra chip. Previously they would license a motherboard company such as MSI, to add the phsyical HydraLogic chip to a motherboard in order to allow vendor agnostic multi-GPU systems for those who wanted to use both NVIDIA and AMD GPUs in a single system. Their new solution is software and performs a completely different task in combination with Intel’s new Sandy Bridge product, specifically the GPU portion.
This new solution will act similarly to NVIDIA’s Optimus technology which allows dynamic switching between onboard graphics and a discrete GPU on mobile platforms. Lucid is not targeting the mobile market however; they are interested in the budget and mid-rang desktop PC market. They will be licensing the software to top tier motherboard companies to allow the new H67 (and H61, etc) series of motherboards to take advantage of all of the features SNB has introduced and to also be able to leverage the power of a discrete GPU.
There are two main focuses for the new software. On the one hand they wish to implement power savings by being able to completely turn off the discrete GPU when it is not in use and by working with motherboard manufacturers they hope to be able to put the PCIe slot into sleep mode. By doing so they ensure that the power draw of the discrete graphics card drops to zero. This means you can use SNB’s transcoding abilities or its HD video playback while your discrete GPU is pulling 0W and producing no heat. If you wish to do a little DX11 gaming then Lucid’s new software will detect the executable launching and immediately bring your discrete GPU back to life in order to provide the computational power required to play the latest titles.
Like Optimus, no reboot is required to enable the GPU. In fact both GPUs can be operating in tandem and you can start a transcoding task and then fire up a DX11 game without interfering with SNBs transcoding abilities. In addition it has no problems supporting multiple monitors, though that can be a little interesting seeing as how most H67 boards feature only a single DVI out, meaning the second monitor needs an HDMI connection or a VGA connection. Some vendors also include a DisplayPort output which will make multiple monitor setups a little easier.
On the right you can see the DX11 Heaven benchmark running, along with the Lucid profiling program, and on the left is Serenity playing back in HD.
That's right, the discrete GPU is being used but it's outputs are not plugged in.
Editor's notes: This Lucid technology essentially answers one of our major complaints with the Sandy Bridge processor launch from Intel this week. When using a discrete graphics card, customers were unable to utilize one of the best features of the new architecture: video encode acceleration. Now, according to these demos and what the Lucid team is telling us, we can actually get the best of both worlds.
This software solution works on a whitelist/blacklist method in which the graphics "virtualization" is decided on in real-time by the Lucid software package. In a similar fashion to the NVIDIA Optimus technology, if the Lucid software finds an application that it thinks works best on the Intel SNB graphics, it will do so. If it finds the application will run best on the discrete card - gaming, high performance computing apps, etc - it will run it on the discrete card. NVIDIA or AMD, it doesn't matter.
Whether or not this is 100% reliable has still yet to be seen but we are eager to test out their software implementation very soon and see how it stands up to the stresses of real world environments.