Graphics on the go

If you’ll be buying a laptop anytime soon, which GPU will it need for you to enjoy the latest games? Windows Middle East tells it like it is...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  September 14, 2006

|~|Dell-power-user---m.jpg|~|Windows' current gaming fave, Dell’s XPS M1710 notebook features nVidia’s GeForce Go 7900 GS GPU.|~|The graphics processing unit (GPU) inside notebook computers is, as with desktops, where a system’s display power comes from. And again, as with desktop PCs, there are two forms of GPU currently used. At the least demanding end of the graphics spectrum come ‘integrated’ GPUs, as offered by ATi and Intel. These are available in PCI-Express (PCI-E) or advanced graphics port (AGP) versions (depending purely upon the data bus they employ), and are built into the mother-board’s chipset. Although these are well suited to everyday work tasks and general internet/application use, they’ll struggle with fully-blown game titles. In contrast, ‘dedicated’ (or ‘discrete’) GPUs are separate components that manufacturer’s slot onto the motherboard, in much the same way as you might install a dedicated graphics card in your desktop rig. Again these discrete solutions can be AGP or PCI-E based (the latter type of bus offering more data bandwidth and therefore faster graphics performance). As mentioned, when checking out new notebooks you’re most likely to come across three brands of GPU: Intel’s integrated graphics chips, which are okay for general use but gamers should avoid, plus ATi and nVidia’s mobile offerings. nVidia groups its notebook solutions into five categories: enthusiast, performance and multimedia, thin and light, mobile workstations and business (find the firm’s full list of GPUs, and see how they fit within these categories, at www.nvidia.com/page/mobile.html). If an nVidia GPU has a ‘Go’ in the title, such as the firm’s current top-end GeForce Go 7900 GTX, then this means the chipset has been designed with mobility in mind, meaning it should place less demands on your notebook’s battery. Ready to rock As far as gaming goes, nVidia’s ‘enthusiast’ chipsets and its higher end ‘performance and multimedia’ GPUs are all well placed to handle the most demanding new and future game titles. As for its ‘thin and light’ family, these can deal with light games, but will likely slow to a crawl if you try to enjoy the latest FPS on them. Meanwhile, over on ATi’s side of the fence, its mobile offerings have ‘Mobility’ in their name, and it’s these chips that go head-to-head with nVidia’s ‘Go’ chips. For the most future-proof laptop gaming, ATi’s Mobility Radeon X1800 and X1600 series GPUs are where it’s at. Its X1400 and X1300 versions meanwhile should serve you fine with current games, but might not hold up as far into the future as the X1600 and above. From ATI’s X800 GPU downwards, you’re really heading into what we’ll term ‘light gaming’ territory. Your choice of GPU should be based then on the type of games you’re into (in other words, if you’re more a Solitaire player than a F.E.A.R. addict, the Mobility Radeon 9200 will do you just fine). To view ATi’s full and current GPU list, log onto www.ati.com/products/mobile.html. Last but not least, when considering which laptop to buy, consider its GPU and how it fits in relation to the machine’s screen size. Put simply, the bigger the screen, the higher its native resolution will be, and therefore the more powerful GPU you’ll need to run games on this display. It’s no good having a 17-inch wide-screen LCD for instance, with a native resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels, if the machine’s GPU can’t run quick graphics adequately at this. If in doubt, the native resolution is the highest resolution a laptop offers (head for Windows’ Display/Settings dialog to check this out). If you have any further questions or buying recommendations of your own, we’d love to hear them. Mail them through on windows@itp.com. ||**||

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