Nvidia announces seamless graphics switcher

Nvidia has devised a way to combine long laptop battery life and powerful graphics without the chore of manually toggling between graphics cards.

The company’s Optimus technology automatically routes a computer’s workload to either a discrete graphics processor, which is best-suited for high definition video and gaming, or integrated graphics, which saves battery life but can’t handle much more than Web browsing and word processing.

Nvidia likens Optimus to the way a hybrid car switches between gas and electric power as needed. The change is seamless, so unlike existing computers with automated switchable graphics, there’s no flicker or temporary shut down of the screen. Earlier computers with switchable graphics were even more obnoxious, requiring you to restart the computer when moving between discrete and integrated graphics. According to PC World, Nvidia is eliminating these woes with Optimus.

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Asus laptops will be the first to use Optimus, starting with the Asus UL50Vf, N61Jv, N71Jv, N82Jv, and U30Jc notebooks. I’m surprised not to see the UL80Jt in the line-up, as automated switchable graphics is supposed to be a key feature of the high-end laptop.

I currently use an Asus laptop with switchable graphics, and while I appreciate the option of long battery life or gaming muscle, the switching process leaves something to be desired. The screen usually goes blank when I switch modes with a dedicated button on the notebook, but not all the time. Then I get nervous, wondering if the switch actually took effect. And when I run the setting that detects power use and switches automatically, it seems like I get less battery life even during basic tasks.

One other gripe: Switching graphics cards on my laptop often results in drastically different color and brightness settings. Hopefully NVidia’s technology will minimize this affect and make switchable graphics much more palatable overall.