All Aboard The PCI Express

Canadian graphics giant ATi have today announed several products designed to stir up the market and make an impact. I want to take a very brief look at what we will be seeing hit our shelves and what it's likely to mean.

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Neither ATi nor NVIDIA have been slow in catering to the growing mobile market, which is projected to hit 90 million annual shipments worldwide by 2008 from some 40 million in 2003.

With this kind of growth forecast it's perhaps not surprising that research and development in mobile graphics processors has really started to pick up pace, and today we see ATi announce one of their most significant mobile introductions for some time.

The Mobility Radeon 600, or MRX600, is the first mobile PCI Express (PCIE) graphics chip to make it to market. It's also the first mobile VPU to be created using the new Low-K process designed to offer higher performance with lower power requirements by inceasing the level of insulation between the individual traces within the actual core. A process that's far more complex than it may sound.

4 pixel pipelines and 2 vertex pipelines round off an array of hardware features designed to enhance the mobile user's experience and as you'd expect, ATi are making a lot of noise about their native PCI Express interface and preaching its benefits over NVIDIA's bridged achitecture, and maybe they're right to. Unfortunately, until we get to perform a true, side-by-side comparison there's no way of my knowing wheher the advantages are real or theoretical.

What is real however are the new, integrated technologies....

...and these technologies include:

PCI Express - With twice the bandwidth of AGP 8X plus a scaleable architecture, PCI-Express is beng touted as the future of photo-realistic graphics though, as with AGP 8X, and indeed AGP4X before it, we're likely to see performance increases in low, single figures to begin with, if there are any increases at all. Let's not devalue it just yet though, this is a future technology that should bring with it future benefits and as such is a worthwhile addition to any cutting edge VPU.

LCD-EE - Or LCD Enhancement Engine, is a suite of LCD enhancement technologies designed to hang together and make for the best possible experience when using LCD based screens. The information I have seen is a little basic to be honest, other sites may have seen more detailed information, but it basically consists of:

  • RMX™ III for RMX™ III for higher quality image scaling across multiple display resolutions.
  • LRTC™ which tailors video playback so that it corresponds with the latency of your LCD display. In theory this should mean less blurring and better contrast for moving images such as the news ticker in the example below.

POWERPLAY™5.0 - Version 5 of ATi's POWERPLAY technology has been created to take advantage of the new PCI Express interface. With new, improved PCIE driven power saving modes, MRX600 through POWERPLAY5.0 also offers VARI- BRIGHT™ technology which, as the name suggests, offers power saving through direct control over display backlight brightness levels. This appears to be achieved using PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) which suggests that rather than feeding lower voltages, the display is sent lots of rapidly switched full voltage pulses of power interspersed with periods of no power.

 

Of course, the problem with mobile computing has always been one of flexibility. The price paid for convenience has been to have to learn to live with the technology you bought long after it has become outdated or even obsolete.

The solution to this problem in ATi's case will be AXIOM, or the Advanced eXpress I/O Module:

Interestingly ATi state, and I quote, "AXIOM is a full family of modules – not just graphics". Hmmm, watch this space!

Finally, the new VPU will be available in three distinct flavours. The discrete option will feature the bare VPU while it will also be available with 64MB and 128MB of integrated memory.

With new screen technologies, drastically improved battery life and now PCI Express mobile graphics, there's never been a better time for computing on the move, and I for one can't wait to see some of the numbers from this little gem.

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