Why Discreet Graphics for Ultrabooks could be Counter-Productive

Posted on 27 March 2012 By


600M-GT-Acer640M-Performance (2)Calling all Ultrabook designers, manufacturers, OEMs. Putting discreet graphics in Ultrabooks is not going to help the Ultrabook and it may come back to bite you. Mainstream buyers don’t understand what it means, gamers aren’t interested, video editors use Apple rigs and that just leaves the niche market of mobile geeks that do a bit of gaming on the side, a big bunch of impressionable bloggers and anyone you can tease with marketing, advertising and a bunch of stickers. Well, maybe that’s what it’s all about; the ability to market a product. I still think it will hurt the Ultrabook though.

 

I understand there are reasons to have discreet graphics options (and Patrick Moorhead makes a good case for that in his article here) and I say ‘good luck’ with your differentiation, marketing and targeting but there are currently limits to what can be done in 1.5KG. Anyway, wouldn’t you manufacturers rather serve a real gaming rig to a gamer and a proper video editing PC to a video editor?  Why would you even attempt to offer ‘gaming’ on an  Ultrabook if 1) It’s never going to impress a gamer. 2) The battery life will be short and the device will get very hot and noisy? The experience will be disappointing and it could come back and bite the Ultrabook brand with bad reviews and reports. It will water-down the definition of an Ultrabook. It could be counter-productive.

There are, I agree, some advantages in being able to tease a buyer by allowing them play their latest games but 155fps isn’t the way to do it on an Ultrabook. 30fps and ‘just enough’ settings is where it needs to be capped for efficiency and heat’s sake. ‘Just enough’ is exactly what Ivy Bridge could be offering so why throw in a complex add-on?  Keep Ultrabooks clean, light, efficient; Understandable.

Nvidia have a GT640M series design win in the Acer M3 but this is a classic example of why it’s wrong in an Ultrabook. The Acer M3 is all over the place in terms of messages. Is it a thin and light laptop? No, it’s double the weight of some Ultrabooks. Is it a gaming device? No, it pulls some good peak frame rates but it’s nothing like the gaming experience that gamers are looking for. Is it going to help video editors? No, I doubt you’ll see high-end video editing software being used on Ultrabooks. Mainstream video editing is where it’s at and Quick Sync Video is doing an excellent job there. [Laptopmag proves that even Kepler doesn’t beat it. Link below] Does it help with ‘GPU accelerated’ browsing? Nope. At least not that any customer would notice. Is it going to improve video playback? What Ultrabook customer is looking for 1440p or 50Mbps playback? Stretching the Ultrabook over these markets is going to make it rip apart.

Not only is the solution going to disappoint those that it’s targeting, it hurts the very root of the Ultrabook – a pure, easy to make, easy to design, sealed, thin and light unit. Adding a discreet GPU makes the design process more complex, the manufacturing process more expensive, the product line longer, the possibility of failure higher and the power efficiency lower. It also increases the weight – in components and thermal solutions.

Nvidia will tell you something else of course.

“NVIDIA Optimus™ technology enables extra-long battery life by automatically switching the GPU on and off so it runs only when needed” – Actually, adding a discreet GPU into an Ultrabook, or any laptop, can only reduce battery life.

“[Nvidia 600M series] will be the most popular discrete GPUs used with Intel’s upcoming Ivy Bridge processor.” The competition, AMD, might not get in at all in this round. Indeed, Nvidia GPUs could be the most popular discreet GPU and in real numbers, I wouldn’t expect more than 10% of Ultrabooks to be Nvidia-enabled devices, as high-end options. 4 or 5 solutions is our guess.

“The following manufacturers will be shipping Ultrabooks and notebooks based on the GeForce 600M family of GPUs: Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.” – From what we’ve heard at UBNews, that’s Acer and Samsung that will be shipping Ultrabooks with discreet GPUs. Maybe Asus will have an option too. The rest will likely be ‘notebooks.’

“Available soon from all retailers and e-tailers, these Ivy Bridge-powered ultrabooks are worth waiting for.” – No list of Ultrabooks given.

I don’t dispute that Kepler is an awesome bit of technology and that for Ultrabooks, there need to be a few ‘options’ but it really has little place in driving the Ultrabook brand. Get Kepler in a smaller notebook and put a larger battery and fan in it along with all the ports required but don’t call it an Ultrabook for the sake of it.

Of course, if the definition of an Ultrabook already includes 2.3KG laptops with DVD, numeric keypad and discreet graphics then I guess the pure design of the Ultrabook has already been maimed and maybe the ‘Ultrabook’ is already suffering but I’m sure that’s not what Intel would like to see over the next few years and I hope they will try to stear it back towards mainstream, simplicity and style.

Nvidia GeForce 600M microsite.

Laptopmag tests 600M Keplar.

Update: CNet also highlight the dilution of the Ultrabook brand in a different way.

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  1. #1 by michael on March 27, 2012 - 13:37

    The majority of ultrabook buyers want portability and thin and light are prime importance, as well as, long battery life. Not many are really bothered about graphics.

    Majority of ultrabook users just merely surf the Internet, a bit of light Office (word, excel, powerpoint) stuff and e-mail.

    Lets face it, if you sit at the airport, Starbucks etc, do you see people doing graphic intensive or CPU intensive tasks? Most people just go home to their primary PCs at home to do all the cpu intensive stuff like gaming, CAD, video editing etc.

  2. #2 by steliosgr on March 27, 2012 - 16:07

    That’s not totally true to be honest; if there was an ultrabook that could do some basic gaming like WoW in 1080p and at reasonable quality settings I would buy it and use it as a “tower” at home with external keyboard/monitor and as a normal ultrabook at work and during travel.

    A low/mid-range dedicated graphics card should allow for this option (maybe even the upcoming ivy bridge GPU itself)

  3. #3 by Sheumiei on March 27, 2012 - 16:46

    The vocal minority of gamers might not be impressed, but they never are. This is a group of people stuck in the past & never want anything to change. But the reality is, consoles are dying, PC gaming is accelerating, mobile gaming is absolutely exploding. For PC’s to continue to compete against the ARM invasion they are going to have to target laptop/UB GPU’s & external GPU options.

    Desktops are becoming irrelevant & have absolutely no profitable future ahead of them (just like consoles). The proof is in the pudding, look at how much the new release cycle has dramatically slowed down. AMD/NV have all but abandoned the desktop GPU market & consoles life cycle speaks for itself. These are not coincidences, these are modern trends.

    Your a smart guy Chippy, if PC’s want to avoid the slow death the console market is facing than they have to evolve. In order to profitably evolve they have to keep intact their entertainment angle as well. If PC’s just become productivity devices they will sell in MUCH lesser numbers & become far more expensive.

    • #4 by James on March 27, 2012 - 20:14

      I would have to disagree about desktops becoming irrelevant. The role of desktops may be diminishing but they are far from going away.

      Really, neither AMD or Nvidia have abandoned the desktop GPU market but rather are lumping everything together with scalable solutions that can be made from high to low performing solutions as needed.

      There are still plenty of applications where a laptop is either too limited and/or too expensive compared to a desktop.

      While laptops also don’t offer the range of upgrade-ability and flexibility of configurations as desktops do.

      All of which is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

      Rather, the more likely trend will be a eventual convergence where each device category can work with all the others and usability and design would be as flexible as needed.

      MS trying to patent the ability to have a mobile device switch to a more powerful processor when docked is an example of that growing convergence and blurring the lines between device categories to just form factors.

      On the point of discrete graphics, I agree with Chippy that while such options should be available for those that want it but it should not be driving the Ultrabook market as a whole. At least not at this time when so many compromises are still imposed and they are still struggling in establishing the market.

  4. #5 by EtherType on March 27, 2012 - 22:36

    Yeah, dedicated GPUs don’t fit the original concept of ultrabooks but that definition has been thrown out the window for a while now. Ultrabooks are just thinner notebooks and nothing more. I think the term ultrabook has lost all meaning and these new devices can just be clumped into the notebook category.

    Size and weight are going up (I’ve been hoping for more 11.6″ designs). Battery isn’t any different or sometimes worse than non-ultrabooks. There’s just no benefit to ultrabooks other than being pretty notebooks.

    I guess I’ll just forget about having an ultraportable notebook when a regular notebook isn’t needed and just stick with a single 13″ – 14″ Thinkpad, Precision or EliteBook where I can slap on extended batteries when needed. Of course, I will always still have a desktop since my line of work can make use of all available resources.

  5. #6 by DavidC1 on March 28, 2012 - 00:21

    There’s nothing that says dedicated GPUs aren’t allowed in Ultrabooks. As long as the responsiveness criteria is met and thickness is under the guidelines it counts as an Ultrabook. Oh, and with “mainstream” pricing.

    The Acer Kepler laptop is getting pretty good battery life anyway, and at 0.79 inches meets the size restrictions. It also uses an SSD.

    At 11.6 and 13 inches there’s not much choice but to go with integrated graphics. But naturally bigger screen versions will have thermal and mechanical headroom to do so.

    Also to the contrary to most beliefs there’s no weight restrictions. Yes, that means if you want a light one stick to an Ultrabook 13 inch screen or less.

    • #7 by DavidC1 on March 28, 2012 - 00:24

      I also forgot, 17W ULV CPUs have to be used.

    • #8 by lowel on March 28, 2012 - 00:26

      Pretty much there aren’t many things that really differentiate ultrabooks from existing thin and lights notebooks.

      • #9 by DavidC1 on March 28, 2012 - 05:34

        Oh no, you are underestimating how much impact just few features can have on the attractiveness of a product.

        Guidelines are important. It sets a certain minimum standard. You shouldn’t need to pay $2000-3000 on a 11-13 inch ultraportable with substantially reduced specs, or be forced to lug around a 10 pound mobile desktop for gaming. That’s how it is today. At the least the Ultrabook movement will make mobile PCs substantially more attractive.

        I’ll also mention that we’re still not out of the 1st cycle in what will be 3 generations of Ultrabooks. If you are seriously considering them, give it some time.

  6. #10 by tsog on March 28, 2012 - 05:37

    There’s nothing wrong with having dedicated GPUs in ultrabooks, but then again there’s nothing wrong with having only Intel graphics since they perform well enough for regular, non-gaming daily activities. Intel graphics have come a long way since the GMA 950s, and Ivy Bridge will raise its profile even higher.

  7. #11 by Hany Hanna on March 29, 2012 - 01:56

    I’m a video editor who would welcome this option. In fact, that’s what I want in an ultrabook, a decent video editing experience. Much of the time I’ll be plugged in at home so battery is not an issue

  8. #12 by Dave on April 1, 2012 - 07:42

    The correct spelling for the graphic subsystem is “discrete”, which means separate.

    “Discreet” means keeping secret or confidential.

    If I got a dollar for every tech web site that misspelled these words, I could afford some nice tech toys.

  9. #13 by Jorgen on April 4, 2012 - 04:54

    I for one will be welcoming the 28nm GPU cores in ultrabook format.

    I have a high end overclocked Sandy Bridge i7 16gb 3×24″ desktop rig, but I’d like an ultrabook to be able to do work / software development on the go.

    I _love_ the look of the Dell XPS 13 (especially the carbon fibre case; being a MTB / roadie rider, I love that material!), however I find that the display resolution is too low, and the lack of a dedicated GPU is also holding me back. When those two boxes can be checked (and hopefully with a more powerful CPU), I’ll make my purchase.

    I’m not in a rush so will be happy to wait. (It wouldn’t hurt if the displays were also touch / win8 compatible,.)

    • #14 by Jorgen on April 4, 2012 - 04:56

      I forgot to say:
      “ultrabook to be able to do work / software development on the go.”
      … that I can also play games on, e.g. Starcraft 2 and the upcoming Diablo 3.

  10. #15 by Greg on April 7, 2012 - 17:04

    Sheumiei :
    The vocal minority of gamers might not be impressed, but they never are. This is a group of people stuck in the past & never want anything to change. But the reality is, consoles are dying, PC gaming is accelerating, mobile gaming is absolutely exploding. For PC’s to continue to compete against the ARM invasion they are going to have to target laptop/UB GPU’s & external GPU options.
    Desktops are becoming irrelevant & have absolutely no profitable future ahead of them (just like consoles). The proof is in the pudding, look at how much the new release cycle has dramatically slowed down. AMD/NV have all but abandoned the desktop GPU market & consoles life cycle speaks for itself. These are not coincidences, these are modern trends.
    Your a smart guy Chippy, if PC’s want to avoid the slow death the console market is facing than they have to evolve. In order to profitably evolve they have to keep intact their entertainment angle as well. If PC’s just become productivity devices they will sell in MUCH lesser numbers & become far more expensive.

    Sheumiei you’re hilarious dude. What are you smoking? in dollar terms consoles slaughter PC gaming. The facts are PC gaming is on the decline and console gaming is on the increase. Ask anyone selling any for of PC gaming hardware, they will tell you it’s niche and turning a profit is like drawing blood from a stone. You might want to believe its the way you say it is, but my friend the reality is quite opposite. Gaming sales records are constantly being broken because of console game sales mainly 360 and PS3. PC gaming sections in any retailer is non existent. And 80% if not more of PC gamers are pirates anyway. Ahhh cocaine is one hell of a drug, I suggest you get of it.

    On the actual article, I agree ultrabook manufacturers should be concentrating on the mobile/home/office experience where most productive people use them for work, not to waste time playing games. Ultrabooks should be about 3 things. Easy of use, portability and finally battery power. If you can’t get a full 12 hours of full on work from an ultrabook before requiring a charge then to me they are still a big FAIL! until they achieve this I see no advantage over them to having a lightweight regular laptop with more grunt and storage space. PC Gaming should be left to those broke ass geeks who want to build gaming PC’s upgrading their graphics cards every 2 months and have nothing better to do than play and mod PC games. The rest of normal civilisation uses consoles to play games every so often at home on a rainy day when they have a bit of spare time.

  11. #16 by jacob c on June 26, 2012 - 23:10

    I am a gamer, but I hate how bulky gaming laptops are, so discrete graphics in a ultrabook sounds like a great idea. In particular, I would want an ultrabook with a gt630, gt640 or gt650 card to compliment the intel solution.I would not use this as a “gaming rig”, but simply an everyday pc that can play games when I am away from home. However like in the Acer Timeline S3, this gpu should be mostly disabled when not plugged in (for battery life). While the the Acer did get the internals correct (such as the gt640, i5 and 20gb cache SSD) it is still not a desirable solution due to the lackluster display (very important!), build quality and keyboard/trackpad. If another company improves on their design, they will get business from customers like myself.

  12. #17 by Keegan on June 27, 2012 - 17:35

    I stopped reading at “Discreet”

  13. #18 by Darkfangex on August 24, 2012 - 02:23

    WRONG its called nvidia optimus that shuts off the dedicaated gpu. afterall there are integrated graphics on the cpu itself these days…

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