Gateway intros four new gaming desktops

via Engadget by Darren Murph on 2/25/09

While Gateway‘s been on the laptop bandwagon of late, it’s good to see the company doing its thang on the desktop front, too. Kicking things off is the bargain-priced LX6810-01, which houses 8GB of RAM, NVIDIA graphics, a built-in TV tuner and a $799.99 price tag. The even more affordable DX4200-11 gets going at just $609.99 and features an AMD quad-core CPU, ATI Radeon graphics, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive. Stepping things up quite significantly is the FX6800-09, which sports a Core i7 CPU and a $1,649.99 sticker. Rounding out the bunch is the $1,299.99 FX6800-11 and the currently unpriced entry-level FX6800-01e. If any of these caught your fancy, head on past the break for a look at the full release.

Continue reading Gateway intros four new gaming desktops

Confirmed: Apple Can Enable Dual GPU and On-the-Fly Switching in MacBook Pro

via Gizmodo by matt buchanan on 10/22/08

Nvidia dropped by today to demo some of the awesome things that the GeForce 9400M in the new MacBooks can do that Intel’s integrated graphics just can’t touch, and to discuss a few technical points. Besides confirming that you’ll see it in other notebooks soon, they definitively answered some lingering questions about the chip’s capabilities: It can support up to 8GB of RAM. It can do on-the-fly GPU switching. And it can work together with the MacBook Pro’s discrete 9600M GT. But it doesn’t do any of those things. Yet.

Since the hardware is capable of all of these things, it means that they can all be enabled by a software/firmware/driver update. Whether or not that happens is entirely up to Apple. While you can argue that Hybrid SLI—using both GPUs at once—has a limited, balls-to-the-wall utility, being able to switch between the integrated 9400M and discrete 9600M GT on the fly without logging out would obviously be enormously easier than the current setup, and allow for some more creative automatic energy preferences—discrete when plugged in, integrated on battery. Hell, you can do it in Windows on some machines.

But since it’s Apple it’s also entirely possible we’ll never see any of this to come to pass—GPU-accelerated video decoding has totally been possible with the 8600M GT in the previous-gen MacBook Pros, and well, you know where that stands. [Apple & Nvidia Coverage@Giz]

GeForce 9400M to hit notebooks from five major vendors, mock Intel

via Engadget by Samuel Axon on 10/22/08

Now that NVIDIA’s GeForce 9400M has made its debut in Apple’s new MacBooks, Technical Marketing Director Nick Stam says that five major notebook vendors are planning to ship systems with the chipset — though we don’t know if that includes Apple or not. Stam expects NVIDIA will carve out 30 percent of the integrated graphics market for itself, partly by improving other experiences besides games — Google Earth, photo editing, day-to-day video encoding, and other activities performed by people who use keys besides W, A, S, and D. Frankly, we’re just thankful we’ve evolved past the days when we needed a 19-inch monster to perform high-impact 3D tasks without sacrificing to the sinister gods of screen tearing.

Mid-Range Graphics Card Showdown: Nvidia 9800 GTX+ Slides Past ATI Radeon HD 4850

via Gizmodo by matt buchanan on 6/20/08

Poised and waiting for ATI’s latest graphics card to hit, Nvidia immediately fired off the 9800 GTX+, a nimbler version of its behemoth 9800 GTX, aggressively priced at $229 to put serious pressure on the $199 HD 4850. Benchmarks comparing the two weren’t available yesterday, but PC Perspective has ’em up now. In short, while the HD 4850 can mostly keep up with Nvidia’s older, regular 9800 GTX, the steroid-injected 9800 GTX+ has enough juice to edge it out in almost every single benchmark. The Radeon HD 4850 has about a month on the shelf to itself before the 9800 GTX+ hits though. Check out PC Perspective for more graphs and numbers than your brain wants to deal with on a Friday.

[PC Perspective via Engadget]

New NVIDIA 8700M GT Rendering Looks Better Than Xbox 360

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NVIDIA has just released their new top of the line GeForce 8700M GT, just in time to remind you that no matter how cool your new MacBook Pro or Sony VAIO are, you are not the King of the Hill anymore.

Not only that: NVIDIA says that now your Xbox 360’s graphics have been officially overtaken by a notebook GPU, as you can see in the gallery. The new 8700M GT has been first appeared into the Toshiba Dynabook Satellite WXW, which just got announced in Japan.

The 8700M GT has the same 32 Stream Processors of the 8600M GT, but it has increased the frequency of the GPU to 625MHz from 472 MHz. The shader processor has also seen an increase, from 950MHz to 1,250MHz, the same as the memory bus, which now clocks at 800MHz instead of the 700MHz with a maximum 512MB on board.

This new specs push performance quite a bit, jumping from a 7.6 gigatexels per second Texture Fill Rate to reach the 10 gigatexel/s mark. All quite stunning for a mobile graphic chip, matching the performance of some of the best desktop cards last year.

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Other than the new graphics processor, the Toshiba Dynabook Satellite WXW is your usual top of the line Santa Rosa laptop. It comes with Core 2 Duo T7300 at 2GHz, 1,680 × 1,050 pixel screen and 120GB hard drive. It also comes with your usual ports plus HDMI out, S/PDIF digital audio and a fingerprint sensor. The NVIDIA 8700M GT, however, comes with just 256MB of RAM.

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Good specs, fugly design.

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Asus’ XG Station Cracked Open, Easily Upgradeable

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Asus gained lots of brownie points back in January when they demoed their XG Station. (The unit was essentially an external video card for your lappie). Well, now they’re getting even more props ’cause thanks to the guys at 4Gamer, who got the chance to crack one open, we now know that the unit is upgradeable. Inside sits an ExpressCard-to-PCIe adapter board with a default Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS. Swipe the 7900 with any other PCIe video card and bam, instant video upgrade for your lappie.

Asus XG Station [4Gamer.net via Gadget Lab]

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Review: Toshiba Satellite P105 gaming notebook

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For a long time, the notion of a “gaming laptop” was a contradiction in terms. After all, everyone knew that notebooks had to compromise on features and performance to achieve maximum portability, right? And even with advances in chips that make it possible for today’s laptop PCs to outpace the desktops from 12 minutes ago, you’re still faced with awkward controls and a screen that’s too small. Am I right?

“Dude, you’ve been misinformed,” is what Toshiba would say to that. The notebooks in the company’s Satellite series are designed with gaming in mind, as the P105-S9722 shows. It sports a 17-inch widescreen LCD monitor (1,440 x 900 pixels) and some serious multimedia hardware, including an Nvidia graphics card with 256 MB of memory and dual-core processing power. We’re way beyond Pong here.

Not everything’s in the specs, though. When it’s all said and done, the P105 has one simple mission: Convince me that a laptop can serve as a primary gaming platform. After all, if you’re spending 2 Gs on a rig, it damn well better not be a “secondary” one. Let’s see how it did.

Flat Tax

Turning on the Toshiba for the first time, I was greeted by a dialogue box asking me if I wanted to disable CD burning in case I wanted to record on DVD-RAM discs, obviously referring to the built-in SuperMulti drive, which can write data to any of the five recordable DVD formats floating out there. Um, awesome, but I’m not interested in burning DVDs right now, thanks. Let’s just hit Cancel. Oh, you mean that box is always going to come back to greet me every time I restart? Great. Although I’m sure there’s a way to remove it permanently, who wants to bother with this right out of the box? In fairness, this is more of a Windows problem (XP, not Vista) than a Toshiba problem, but it sure made me immediately long for my MacBook.

One way-cool perk on many of Toshiba’s Satellites is the built-in fingerprint reader to the right of the mousepad. After you set it up, it provides a nice way to speed up any logins and add security to your computer. It also has the effect of making you feel like James Bond for a few seconds. Even though it sometimes took two or three swipes to work, I’m a fan.

A bit further down my list of “noteworthies” is the Dual Mode mousepad, which adds some extra functionality via a few “virtual” buttons. They light up when you touch the pad in a specific spot and do things like call up Outlook or a turn up the volume. Three of the buttons are customizable, though they can do only simple stuff like launch applications or skip tracks in a media player. I was hoping I could make them do fancy gaming actions like switching weapons or skipping a turn (depending on which game I was playing), but not so much. Plus the pad is just kind of small — or maybe it only looked that way right next to that brightly colored sticker touting the P105’s features. Nope, it really is tiny. Strike three: the pad seemed to click things from time to time when my finger hadn’t gone anywhere the mouse button. Yeah, not a fan here.

Game Time

Okay, the gaming. After a quick install of Guild Wars: Nightfall, I was ready to save the people of Elona with my party of warriors while accepting a quest… you get the idea. To fully get your war on, the Guild recommends a 2-GHz Pentium 4 processor, an Nvidia GeForce FX5700 graphics card, and a gig of RAM to play. Since the Toshiba is equipped with a pair of 2-GHz Centrino chips, an Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS card, and 2 GB of RAM, I think I was well covered. And with a colossal 200-GB hard drive, you’ll never run out of room for saving games.

Gameplay was as silky smooth as you’d expect from such a system. Guild Wars is an action-packed fantasy role-playing game; not only does it have a lot of elements moving at any moment, but also a fully customizable “camera” view that you can change on the fly. The P105 handled every spear throw, axe strike, and magic spell deftly. To be completely honest, when my party came to a village with dozens of online players present, there were some hiccups, but this was probably due to the speed of the network connection, not the hardware.

The only issue I had was that tiny mousepad. It could be just my style, but it was just too small and awkward to play a dynamic game like Guild Wars as effectively as I’d like. And, hey, if the monitor’s widescreen, why doesn’t the pad match its aspect ratio? Sure, you could hook up an external mouse, but then you might as well have a desktop. Whether or not this is a deal-breaker depends if you think you could get used to it. For me, it would take a while.

At the End of the Day…

There’s no question the Toshiba P105-S9722 has tools to impress. It’s no Dell XPS tower, but the guts of this baby will run most anything you can throw at it — even Vista. The performance is impressive given the price tag. A big, bight screen and other perks help to make you forget it’s a laptop, although eventually you’ll run into some inherent limits of portable computers. Stil, if you need to ditch the desktop for a notebook, the P105 won’t stop trying to win you over. Given enough time, it may even succeed.

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Co-opting GPU for CPU Tasks Advanced by NVidia

Earlier this week, engineers at nVidia put the finishing touches on version 0.8 of its Compute Unified Device Architecture system for Windows and Red Hat Linux. CUDA’s objective is to enable C programmers to utilize the high-throughput pipelining architecture of an nVidia graphics processor – pipelines that are typically reserved for high-quality 3D rendering, but which often sit unused by everyday applications – for compute-intensive tasks that may have nothing to do with graphics.

Today, the company announced its first C compiler – part of the CUDA SDK, which will enable scientific application developers for the first time to develop stand-alone libraries that are executed by the graphics processor, through function calls placed in standard applications run on the central processor.

NVidia’s objective is to exploit an untapped reservoir on users’ desktops and notebooks. While multi-core architecture has driven parallelism in computing into the mainstream, multi-pipeline architecture should theoretically catapult it into the stratosphere. But applications today are naturally written to be executed by the CPU, so any GPU-driven parallelism that’s going to happen in programming must be evangelized first.

Which is why the company has chosen now to make its next CUDA push, a few weeks prior to the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco. The greatest single repository of craftspersons among developers may be in the gaming field, so even though games already occupy the greater part of the GPU’s work time, it’s here where a concept such as CUDA can attract the most interest.

“The GPU is specialized for compute-intensive, highly parallel computation – exactly what graphics rendering is about,” reads nVidia’s latest CUDA programming guide (PDF available here), “and therefore is designed such that more transistors are devoted to data processing rather than data caching and flow control.”

Huge arithmetic operations may be best suited to GPU execution, nVidia engineers believe, because they don’t require the attention of all the CPU’s built-in, microcoded functions for flow control and caching. “Because the same program is executed for each data element,” reads the CUDA v. 0.8 guide, “there is a lower requirement for sophisticated flow control; and because it is executed on many data elements and has high arithmetic intensity, the memory access latency can be hidden with calculations instead of big data caches.”

For CUDA to actually work, however, a computer must be set up with an exclusive NVidia display driver; CUDA is not an intrinsic part of ForceWare, at least not yet. In addition, programs must be explicitly written to support CUDA’s libraries and custom driver; it doesn’t enable the GPU to serve as a “supercharger” for existing applications. Because the GPU is such a different machine, there’s no way for it to take a load off the CPU’s shoulder’s directly, like an old Intel 8087 or 80186 co-processor used to do.

So an application that supports CUDA thus, by definition, supports nVidia. AMD also has its own plans for co-opting GPU power, which it made immediately clear after its acquisition of ATI.

The CUDA programming guide demonstrates how developers can re-imagine a math-intense problem as being delegated to processing elements in a 2D block, like bestowing assignments upon a regiment of soldiers lined up in formation. Blocks and threads are delegated and proportioned, the way they would normally be if they were being instructed to render and shade multi-polygon objects. Memory on-board the GPU is then allocated using C-library derivatives of common functions, such as cudaMalloc() for allocating blocks of memory with the proper dimensions, and cudaMemcpy() for transferring data into those blocks. It then demonstrates how massive calculations that would require considerable thread allocation on a CPU are handled by the GPU as matrices.

“This complete development environment,” read an nVidia statement this morning, “gives developers the tools they need to solve new problems in computation-intensive applications such as product design, data analysis, technical computing, and game physics.”

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NVidia Now a Supplier for MP3 Player

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In a move that may very well have saved the assets of a once-venerable US media chip producer from being auctioned off, graphics chip maker nVidia announced this morning it is acquiring San Jose-based PortalPlayer, a producer of embedded media processing chips for devices such as SanDisk’s Sansa MP3 player, in a stock purchase plan totaling $357 million.

PortalPlayer had been struggling to regain its footing as a producer of multimedia processing chips after the customer that essentially put it on the map, Apple, dropped it last April without much warning as its key supplier for its video iPod. Up to that point, Apple had reportedly accounted for 95% of PortalPlayer’s business. Its replacement was Samsung, which apparently offered Apple a discount on flash memory to sweeten the deal; PortalPlayer is not a flash producer.

The PortalPlayer design has actually been considered quite innovative, and worthy of its presence in the iPod, were it not for Samsung’s package deal. Prior to winning the Apple contract, Samsung executives had publicly dubbed their proposed replacement “the PortalPlayer killer.”

Despite rumors of the company’s imminent death, PortalPlayer did manage, against all odds, to remain in the black. Two weeks ago, it reported net income for its fiscal third quarter 2006 at $1.5 million, up $100,000 from the previous quarter. That blank ink came at a cost, however: the layoff of 14% of its workforce in June, and the scaling back of operations and expectations.

As part of its comeback plan, PortalPlayer had staked a name for itself in a burgeoning new market for embedded components: secondary, miniature LCD displays for notebook computers. Its design, called Preface, consists of low-power displays on the outside of the clamshell, that can remain switched on even while the rest of computer is on standby. These displays can register the time, check the current box scores, present the weather forecast, and even show recent e-mails. Microsoft has vowed to support the concept behind this technology in its upcoming Windows Vista.

Preface could be a lucrative new technology for nVidia, which now knows it’s going up directly against AMD — no longer just ATI — in the production of new platform technologies for notebook computers.

There may be new momentum behind nVidia’s move. A recently released Merrill Lynch analyst’s report projects that, in its last fiscal quarter, the company’s market share in the entire graphics chip market increased a staggering eight points, to 29%.

Its share of the integrated chip market alone, the report also states, leap-frogged in size over that of its nearest competitor, Intel, although embedded graphics is generally known to be a low-margin business.

Yet the news of today’s acquisition does throw cold water on rumors that nVidia is seeking to be acquired by Intel. With an integrated graphics chipset business of its own, Intel doesn’t need nVidia the way AMD needed ATI. Meanwhile, with Intel also firmly positioned as a provider of embedded chipsets as well, it needs PortalPlayer even less.

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PureVideo HD from NVIDIA

PureVideo HD from NVIDIA

The high definition video market is quite a jungle, and it’s absolutely not certain that your computer is capable of playing high definition video. NVIDIA has announced a a new chip called PureVideo HD that is capable of producing great high definition end results. More information inside.

Full press release from NVIDIA:

NVIDIA Enables an Outstanding HD DVD and Blu-Ray Movie Experience With Newly Released NVIDIA PureVideo(R) HD Technology

NVIDIA is First Graphics Company to Enable Users to Build or Upgrade a PC to Play HD DVD and Blu-ray Movies

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Nov. 2 — Movie lovers can now build a PC to enjoy a spectacular HD DVD or Blu-ray experience with the release of new NVIDIA ForceWare(R) drivers featuring NVIDIA PureVideo HD technology. PureVideo HD technology combines high-definition video decodeacceleration and post-processing to deliver extraordinary picture clarity, smooth video, brilliant color, and precise image scaling for high definition movies(1). The drivers are available now from NVIDIA.com.

This is a milestone in PC entertainment,” said Scott Vouri, general manager of multimedia at NVIDIA. “NVIDIA is proud to be the first graphics processing company in the world to make it possible for consumers to build or upgrade a PC to play HD DVD and Blu-ray movies.”

PureVideo HD technology is included with all 7-series NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards. However, there are several requirements for building or upgrading a system to enjoy protected high definition content. To enjoy the ultimate HD DVD or Blu-ray movie experience on a PC, consumers will need:

  • A PCI Express graphics card with NVIDIA GeForce 7 Series HDCP-capable GPU, secure HDCP CryptoROM, and 256MB graphics memory (see list here).
  • WHQL-certified NVIDIA ForceWare drivers that feature PureVideo HD technology (http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp).
  • An optical disc drive that supports Blu-ray or HD DVD movie playback
    Blu-ray or HD DVD movie player software from CyberLink, InterVideo, or Nero
    An HDCP-compliant display.
  • A dual-core CPU with 1GB of RAM PureVideo HD provides hardware acceleration for decoding H.264, VC-1, WMV, and MPEG-2 movies to display crystal clear images that have up to six times the detail of standard DVD movies. In addition, the PureVideo discrete video processing core offloads the CPU and 3D engine of complex video tasks, freeing the PC to run multiple applications simultaneously. PureVideo HD delivers the ultimate high-definition movie experience on a PC.

PureVideo HD-compliant graphics cards include required content protection circuitry (HDCP) for playing the new Blu-ray and HD DVD movies at the highest quality possible, and are directly integrated with the leading HD movie software players. For more information about building or upgrading a system to support Blu-ray or HD playback, go to:
http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_pvhd_build.html.

1) As HD DVD and Blu-Ray are new formats containing new technologies, certain disc, digital connection, compatibility and/or performance issues may arise, and do not constitute defects in the product. Flawless playback on all systems is not guaranteed.