We first encountered NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology in February of last year. It has done wonders for laptop battery life on midrange systems, where manufacturers no longer need to worry about killing mobility by including a discrete GPU. Over the past fourteen months, we have seen the number of Optimus enabled laptops balloon from a few initial offerings to well over 50—and very likely more than 100. That sort of uptake is indicative of a successful technology and feature, and while we do encounter the occasional glitch it’s not much worse than the usual driver bugs we deal with.

If you were among those who thought, “This sounds like a great technology—when will they bring it to the desktop?” you’re not alone. So far it has only been available in laptops, and even then we haven’t seen any notebook vendors support the technology with anything faster than a GT 555M (i.e. there are so far no notebooks with GTX GPUs that support Optimus; the closest we get is Alienware’s M17x, which uses their own BinaryGFX switching technology).

Previously, the lack of switchable graphics on desktops—particularly something as elegant as NVIDIA’s Optimus—hasn’t been a big deal. That all changed when Intel released Sandy Bridge and introduced their Quick Sync technology. In our Sandy Bridge review we looked at Quick Sync and found it was the fastest way to transcode videos, providing up to double the performance of an i7-2600K CPU and potentially four times the performance of dual-core SNB processors. Unfortunately, there’s a catch: as we mentioned in our SNB review, Quick Sync works only if the IGP is enabled and has at least one display connected.

This limitation is particularly irksome as the only way you can get the IGP is if you use the H67 chipset (and give up the overclocking and enthusiast features offered by P67). The Z68 chipset should provide both overclocking and IGP support in the near future, but you’re still left with the IGP use requirement, making Quick Sync essentially unavailable to users with discrete GPUs—who are very possibly the most likely candidates for actually making use of the feature.

There appears to be some good news on the horizon. It’s hardly a surprise, as we’ve suspected as much since Optimus first reared its head, but VR-Zone reportsthat NVIDIA is finally bringing the technology to desktops. There’s a name change, as it will now go by the name Synergy (though you may also see it referred to as Desktop Optimus at times). Rumors are that Synergy will see the light of day late next month or in early June.

While it’s true that you can already get access to Quick Sync while using a discrete GPU using Lucid’s Virtu, there are a few differences worth noting. First and foremost, Synergy is software based, free, and requires no license agreement. Any recent NVIDIA GPU (400 or 500 series) should work on H67, H61 or Z68 chipset motherboards. (P67 does not support the SNB IGP and thus won’t work.) You’ll need the appropriate drivers and BIOS (and maybe VBIOS), but that should be it. No special hardware needs to be present on the GPU or motherboard and anyone with the appropriate GPU and motherboard chipset should have the option of using Synergy.

This is in contrast to Virtu, which only comes bundled with certain motherboards and incurs a price premium on those boards. However, Virtu still has the advantage of working with both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs. Owners of AMD GPUs will have to rely on Virtu or wait for AMD to come out with their own equivalent to Virtu and Synergy.

One final note is that both Virtu and Optimus/Synergy function in a similar fashion at a low level. There are profiles for supported games/applications, and when the driver detects a supported executable it will route the API calls to the discrete GPU. Here’s where NVIDIA has a big leg up on Lucid: they’ve been doing Optimus profiles for over a year, and while Lucid now lists support for 157 titles, NVIDIA has a lot more (and the ability to create custom profiles that generally work). You also don’t have to worry about new GPU drivers breaking support with Virtu, as NVIDIA handles all of that in their own drivers.

We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for Synergy and will report our findings when it becomes available. In the meantime, gamers interested in Quick Sync as well as people looking to cut down on power use when they’re not using their GPU have something to look forward to. Now bring on the Z68 motherboards, Intel.

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    If you look at the Sandy Bridge article, you will see that QuickSync boosted the transcoding by up to 100%. It was tested with NVIDIA GTX 460 though, so I don't know how much faster e.g. GTX 580 would be. If I recall correctly, NVIDIA transcoding also suffered from some quality issues (it's been awhile since I read that article so might be that it is fixed or I remember incorrectly).

    We are all entitled to make out own choices though so if you find AMD better, don't hesitate to buy one. Bulldozer looks very promising :)
  • ratana - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Yawn...I keep all my CPUs and GPUs at 100% Folding so who cares? besides, I am in the demographic that doesn't even think about electricity bills.
  • lowenz - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    A question: is it possible a "reverse" approach as Lucid Virtu can do?

    Connecting the output to discrete VGA and virtualize the IGP for Quick Sync.....
  • pubjoe - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    "besides, I am in the demographic that doesn't even think about electricity bills".

    Haha. What demographic would that be? The one who pops to the shops in a hummer or a Lambo?

    Efficiency is ALWAYS a good thing and it's about much more than money (if you're able to stop thinking about it!).

    For one, this technology can dramatically increase the life of high-clocked multiGPU configurations as well as the system they run in.

    But then perhaps the demographic that doesn't care about electricity usage also happily tosses burnt out computers in their local river.

    Well done for folding, but surely you can see that any step toward less wastage of energy and hardware is a very good thing for everybody.
  • erple2 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Curiously, if you're not running your desktop at 100%, it's wasting electricity as it is. You should probably have instead purchased an extremely low power machine (that runs fine on a 150W PSU), and a serious power machine that has the muscle when you need it. Trying to buy for an outside chance possibility is asking for cutting too many corners when it comes to efficiency.

    It's a similar argument made about servers. If the server isn't at near-100% utilization, you've wasted money on overbuying for a use case you don't use.
  • pubjoe - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    I agree.

    Nothing's ever 100% efficient, but steps like this are at least in the right direction.

    For the record, I don't have a beefy gpu by the way.
  • ratana - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Well, I suppose it is my own demo, since i don't have any bills to pay and I have like 200 Tesla 2070s (6GB) running 24/7 in my lab doing DNA matching with a custom C++/CUDA app we built to BLAST and run Smith-Waterman. This is a gov lab, so I don't pay the bills, the US taxpayer gracefully does. Useful stuff too, when I can match a DNA seq between Arabidopsis and mouse in less than a couple of days, i can tell the vaccine guys if they are on target or not, saving the US so we can accumulate more adipose cells on the backside whilst filling the vaccuum between the ears with re-runs of Serenity and Red Dwarf..
  • pubjoe - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

  • bunga28 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Society is paying for it. Humanity is paying for it. Your children and grand children are going to pay for it. Hell, I'm paying taxes therefore, I am paying for it. Your mentality is similar to those in Congress is that, if they don't directly pay for things then they can be wasteful. When are we, as a society, going to take responsibility (and castrate people like you)? As a famous person used to say, "some people should pro-create." And I think that you are a perfect example of that person.
  • bunga28 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    "some people shouldn't pro-create."

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now