Sunday, April 16, 2006

10. All about GPUs (A.K.A. Graphics Processing Unit)

Most from Notebookreview
Most by Lowlymarine, rest by Me.

The cards aren't listed here in order of power, but by type first (integrated or dedicated), then by company, then by series/model number.

IGP=Integrated Graphics Processor
Graphics Processing Unit

Intel owns Intel Graphics Cards.
ATi owns Radeon Graphics Cards.
nVidia owns GeForce Graphics Cards.

Integrated Chipsets
Integrated chipsets suffer from the need to share memory with the main system, resulting in slower performance all around. The other downside is that most integrated solutions lack true support for modern 3D extensions such as Pixel Sharder 2, Vertex Shader, and Hardware Transform and Lighting. The upshot is that integrated cards use very little power and produce almost no heat of their own, allowing for longer battery life and more comfortable use. So you make the choice:
To have more battery and comfortable use=Not as great graphics
Better Graphics=To have less battery and not as comfortable use

Intel Extreme/Extreme 2: Intel's standard integrated chipset for use with pre-Sonoma Pentium-M processors. The official name for these chipsets are the 845GME (Intel Extreme) and the 855GME (Intel Extreme 2). Both of these are about as slow as slow can get. Even the original Unreal Tournament can bog down an Intel Extreme if you turn the resolution up to high. Fewer and fewer computers use these deplorable chipsets as the Sonoma cores become more and more popular. There are barely any that still use these graphic cards.

Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900: The GMA 900 is the standard integrated graphics chipset of Dell's core solo Pentium-M. The GMA 900 is a huge leap over previous integrated graphics processors, with full DirectX9/Pixel Sharder 2.0 hardware support and a PCI-Express interface. The GMA 900 also features the same pitfalls of other IGPs, namely a shared memory architecture and lack of hardware support for advanced features such as Vertex Shader 2. Whereas you may be able to seek out playable framerates from less intensive modern games such as UT2004 or even Half-Life 2 on lowest quality settings, don't expect to play DooM3 or Battlefield 2 on these.

Intel Graphics Media Accellerator 950: The GMA 950 is new for the Napa platform, complimenting the new Core Solo and Core Duo mobile processors. The difference between the GMA 950 and the GMA 900 is trivial, featuring only a slightly faster memory bus as an effect of the increased FSB of Napa. Expect a performance increase only because of this and the faster, dual-core processors accompanying it.

S3G Unichrome Pro/Pro II: The Unichrome is a rare graphics chipset used (thankfully) only in select budget computers by Acer and AVERATEC. The Unicrome is nearly identical to the Intel Extreme chipsets, complete with no DirectX 9 support or hardware support for modern graphics features such as Vertex Shader or T&L.

Mirage/Mirage 2: The Mirage chipsets are again rarely used GPUs seen only in budget notebooks. The differences between the Mirage, the Unichrome, and the Intel Extreme are too minute to talk about.

Mobility RADEON 9000/9100 IGP: The 9000 and 9100 IGPs are the bottom end of ATi's modern graphics cards. Not capable of DirectX9/Pixel Shader 2 features, the 9000/9100 are still capable of outperforming most other integrated graphics chips with ease. These are increasingly rare on modern laptops, however.

Mobility RADEON x200M IGP: The x200M is ATi's newest integrated graphics processor. The x200M uses a 32MB dedicated/96MB shared PCI-E memory architecture and true PS2.0 support to provide the illusion of modern, dedicated video performance. This illusion is easily shattered, however, by throwing a few 3DMark tests at the x200M. Ultimately the x200M just isn't capable of handling demanding 3D games like DooM3 or FarCry. It's a fair card for simple 3D gaming, however, especially if you don't mind cranking down the resolution a notch or two.

nVidia GeForce 6200/6400 IGP: nVidia's rarely-seen answer to the x200M is a superioir card in almost all repsects. Using the same 32/96 PCI-E memory architecture, the 6200 has improved hardware support for a full range of DirectX9 features, providing better performance in modern games. The 6200 is still stopped in its tracks by advanced 3D renedering, but it puts up a decent fight.

Dedicated GPUs
There are only two companies currently manufacturing dedicated graphics chipsets: ATi and nVidia. Both companies have their winners (Go6800, x600) and the losers (*cough*entire GFFX line*cough*). These card tend to feature more hardware support for advanced DirectX 9 and OpenGL 1.5 features. Most importantly, dedicated graphics cards get that name from the fact that they use exclusively dedicated Video RAM (VRAM), ensuring smooth and snappy performance. The primary downside is that dedicated video cards use much more power than integrated chipsets, resulting in shorter battery life more heat.

Note: There are a great many available cards, so I'm doing some heavy grouping here for now, because of time constraints, and, hey, my hands hurt from all of this typing. I promise I'll come back and expand this list.


GeForceGO FX Series: Just about all FX series cards are the same: loud, inefficient, and power-guzzling, but capable of full Pixel Shader 2 support and hardware-accelerated Vertex Shader and T&L. The major complaint against the FX series is that they produce a lot of heat and cause the fans to run continuously to dissapate that heat, earning them a label as "loud" video cards as well. They also don't offer the room for overclocking that most ATi cards do (due to the heat issues), so what you see is closer to what you get.

GeForce Go6600: nVidia's first major PCI-Express dedicated video card, the 6600 is an impressive card, with true PS2.0 and DirectX 9 support, high memory clock speeds, and a powerful core. The 6600 is capable of tearing through most modern games with ease, but consumes a fair amount of power to do so.

GeForce Go6800/Go6800 Ultra: The Go6800 is close to the top of the most powerful currently available notebook graphics card; the Go6800 Ultra is closer to the top. The primary difference between the two is core clock speed; in fact, the 6800 (with proper added cooling) can be easily overclocked to Ultra levels. These cards provide premium performance in modern 3D games - paired with even a moderately powerful processor and a decent amount of RAM, the Go6800 can handle even the most demanding games such as DooM3, HL2, Battlefield 2, and F.E.A.R. on maximum settings. The primary drawback of the GF Go6800 is the huge power requirement, resulting in very poor battery life.

GeForce Go7800/Go7800GTX: So wandering where the honor of the two most powerful notebook GPUs right now went to? Here you go! The 7800, used in the Inspiron 9400/ E1705, is a beast in it's own right, rivalling and often trumping the Go6800 Ultra. But even it pales next to the Go7800GTX. Available only on a few buotique rigs such as the XPS M170 and Sager 5720 (although the adventurous can fit one in their Inspiron 9300), the 7800GTX is the most powerful notebook card around. Both of these cards feature 256MB of GDDR3 VRAM, a 256-bit memory bus, and 24 pixel pipelines, crushing anything that ATi has to offer on the market (so far). The Go7800GTX has even higher clock speeds than the Go6800 Ultra to boot.

GeForce Go7900GTX: This is the GOD of all graphic cards (currently out). It can crush any other card out there. It can run clock memory of 800-900MHz, which is much faster than the ATi MR x1900.


Mobility RADEON 9200: The most simplistic of ATi's MR series, the 9200 nonetheless features limited DX9 support and a powerful graphics core, combined with low power requirements and low heat output. The MR9200 is used primarily in Apple's iBook and some older notebook computers.

Mobility RADEON 9550/9600/9700/9800: The most common of ATi's GPUs, and indeed some of the most popular notebook graphics cards, are those based on the ATi M10-M12 chipsets. These cards offer a good blend of performance and battery life. Even the modest MR9600 can handle modern 3D games with adequate performance; the MR9700 and 9800 provide excellent perfmorance on standard WXGA resolutions in all but the most demanding games. These chips are found in a wide range of notebooks, from the inexpensive eMachines m6000 and Gateway 7400GX series to the Apple Powerbook to the earlier Acer Ferrari and Dell XPS models. These card are gradually being phased out in favor of the newer PCI-E powered xX00 series cards.

Mobility RADEON x300/x600/x700/x800: These are the newer, PCI-E based cores seen in most newer, higher-end machines, such as the Dell Inspiron 6000, ASUS W3V, and Acer Ferrari 4000. These GPUs are generally slightly less powerful than their 9x00 equivalents and rely on the PCI-Express interface to make up the difference. In practice, this theory doesn't work out so well, but the xX00 series cards are quickly replacing the older M10-M12 cores in high-end machines.

Mobility RADEON x1300/x1400SE/x1400/x1600: These chips are ATi's attempt to maintain a stranglehold on the mid-range notebook GPU market. And they're a darn fine one. The x1300 is nearly comparable to an older x600, and the x1600, available with up to 512MB of GDDR3 VRAM, can hold it's own against nVidia's previous stranglehold on the high-end GPU market, the GeForce Go6800, with a smaller power requirement and heat output to boot. These are chips to look for, and can be seen accompanying Intel's new Core Duo processors in a few notebooks, including the awe-inspiring new MacBook Pro.

Mobility RADEON x1800/x1900: ATi had plans for these beasties to bring down nVidia's dominance on the high-end notebook GPU market once and for all. nVidia came out wit the GF 7900GTX, which blew the x1900 away. Featuring 512MB of GDDR3 VRAM and theoretically 48 pixel pipelines on the x1900 side, these cards can topple almost all of the graphics cards except the 7800 GTX & 7900 GTX.

That's all for now, but I'll be coming back to expand the listing from time to time. I hope this helps in making your GPU decision.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic. Never read any comprehensive text about so many GPU's before. Well done!!

LuckMC11 said...

Thank you very much!!