Of course, there is more to a graphics chip than just raw performance - there are several features worth examining in more detail:
We haven’t discussed PowerPlay before, but it’s worth a look at what this technology does to aid notebook performance. As you know, we are in the age of finding more efficient ways to power even higher-performing products that come with greater power requirements when running at full-throttle. This is where ATI’s PowerPlay technology comes in to play: it’s designed to improve battery life by throttling off parts of the graphics processor that are not required during certain scenarios. For example, you do not need the GPU to be running at its full clock speeds and voltage when being used in a 2D environment – thus PowerPlay lowers the clock speeds and voltages accordingly, to give longer battery life when the user is not stressing the system. We’ve seen this technology before in other forms, but the principle is essentially the same; it improves battery life, which is of a great importance when the user is on the move.
This version of PowerPlay stretches the envelope further, as it is the first version that uses even more advanced power saving technology – in the form of a new feature that is known as Dynamic Lane Count Switching (DLCS). This new technology takes advantage of the PCI-Express link width to enable further power savings when the GPU is not being used in a graphic-intensive environment. In fact, it is capable of switching from a full PCI-Express x16 interconnect, right down to a much less power-hungry PCI-Express x1 interconnect. Along with lane switching taking place when moving to and from a graphic-intense environment, it also takes place when the notebook is unplugged from the mains. Unfortunately, we don’t have a notebook here to test the power savings, but ATI suggest that the savings can be as great as 30% in typical usage scenarios. As you can imagine, DLCS has scope to further improve ATI’s power efficiency within M26 over previous generations of mobile graphics processors.
Aside from PowerPlay 5.0, the Mobility Radeon X700 has a very similar, if not identical feature-set to the desktop version of the Radeon X700 - many of which are new to this segment of the mobile market. This means that it adds Shader Model 2.0b to the existing DirectX 9.0 engine, 3Dc texture compression to make better use of the available bandwidth, Catalyst AI
, MPG and WMV acceleration, and the other architectural features that we listed in our Radeon X700 XT review
- check those reviews if you want to read about these features in more detail.
Rounding things up...
ATI have tabled a very credible offering in the Mobility Radeon X700, offering solid performance finessed in such a way that you won\'t need a wheelbarrow to carry the notebook it\'s mounted in. Of course, the mobile graphics market is just as hard-fought as the war for desktop supremacy is, so except NVIDIA to respond: they already have the GeForce Go 6800 for Desktop Replacements, and the GeForce Go 6200 at the lower end. A mid-range part from NVIDIA to go head-to-head with the MR X700 will be one fight we will certainly be watching carefully.
More and more people I know are buying notebooks, either as a mobile equivalent of their desktop system, or often, as a portable replacement. This trend is set to continue in 2005, and as a result, users are going to become more discerning about what goes under the hood of their notebook - the days of crappy integrated graphics are numbered!
- Tim Smalley