Or you can’t ever get what everybody wants. That seems to be the conclusion drawn about the new line of Intel CPU-GPU combination chips, which, to my way of thinking is a great thing.

In an article over at Betanews, the details of the combination chips are given, including the fact that the GPU capabilities of the chip are not something AMD or nVidia should ever get worried about. The graphics are not much, if any, more powerful than the current Intel offerings found on separate chips.

The benefits I see, are the savings in power, and the ability to switch on or off the output of the video, in software, without a reboot. Working on a term paper? Use the integrated graphics, while saving energy, and stress on your monster nVidia or AMD external card. As soon as playtime comes, you do the software switch and the gaming can take place with little time being wasted and no major interruptions.

What could be better?

Well, the naysayers are saying this is simply the start of Intel locking out the other manufacturers from getting onto motherboards with Intel CPUs. So what? Anyone not running a server would quickly ditch any motherboard so equipped, because there are many things that simply don’t work well, or correctly, with Intel graphics, and I’m not talking about first person shooters.

We’ve seen integrated graphics from Intel for several years, integrated into the chipsets of value-priced desktop and notebook PCs. Intel’s 3D rendering capability has never been superior to that of discrete GPUs such as Nvidia’s or ATI’s but it’s never had to be. But today, adhering to a plan set out by Intel in September 2008, that integration moves one step further, moving the company’s 45 nm iGFX graphics processor onto the same die along with the 32 nm Core processor.

That means integrated graphics is not just for motherboards any more. Using the high-k-plus-metal-gate lithography process breakthrough announced in January 2007, which premiered during the previous 45 nm “Nehalem” generation, Intel’s new “Westmere” generation CPUs for Core i3, i5, and i7 will feature a graphics processor clocked as high as 900 MHz — essentially the same one used in Intel’s previous integrated graphics chipsets.

Right away, this means that even the least expensive systems using Core i3 processors will include Intel’s on-board facilities for streaming video — what the company branded today “Intel HD Graphics.” Intel will not preclude customers or OEMs from installing discrete graphics cards on their systems, to be used instead of the iGFX processor core (just as before). But now, as Intel spokesperson George Alfs told Betanews this afternoon, mobile (not desktop) editions of “Westmere”-based systems will include a feature called Switchable Graphics, which will enable them to “hot-switch” between integrated and discrete graphics without rebooting. Alfs stated this feature will be compatible with both ATI and Nvidia mobile graphics cards.

It has already been shown that the GPU makes more difference for many games, and so, for most all gamers, a quick switch to an AMD motherboard wouldn’t be a big deal. For that matter, if Intel decided to lock other GPU out of their motherboards, nVidia could, and probably would whip up something. (Opening the fabled can of whoop-ass!)

So until something bad happens, I think this is a win for the consumer, and for people designing PCs, like the people at Alienware/Dell, the newest designs allow all the power with improved battery life when not on the wall juice!

Leave it to Alienware to put ‘gaming’ and ‘netbook’ in the same sentence, let alone the same room. But that’s basically what Dell’s gaming venture has done with the unveiling of Alienware’s 11.6-inch M11x ultraportable.

Of course, netbooks are all about battery life, and towards that end, the M11x boasts switchable graphics. Want to browse the Web or compose an email? Then there’s no need to tap into the Nvidia GT335M GPU. But once you’re finished being productive and ready to kick-back with a bit of small-screen gaming, just flip the hot switch to turn on the faster graphics (complete with a 1GB frame buffer), which will load in under two seconds, according to Dell representatives. And by doing so, Dell claims you’ll be able to run Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at over 30fps in full-HD mode and settings cranked up to high.

Other details remain elusive, such as what kind of supplementary hardware the M11x is packing. We do know it comes with a DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA ports, but other than that, we’ll have to post an update when more details emerge.

Dell says it plans to ship the gaming netbook sometime this spring for under a grand.

This would seem to be one of those all gain, no pain, scenarios where we all win. There are too few of these in real life. Let’s all rejoice when they come along.

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Sometimes it seems that way with Intel, but not today. These combo chips are the promise of good things to come!




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