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nVidia GeForce 9400M Hands-On


nVidia GeForce 9400M Hands-On

With the launch of the GeForce 9400M chipset and GPU combo for notebooks, nVidia is making a pretty big step in the right direction towards stealing a large chunk of Intel market share that has, until now, gone pretty much uncontested. It's quite a testament to the size of the notebook market that even though Intel doesn't have a dedicated GPU solution, discounting the as-yet released Larrabee, it still holds sway as the biggest graphics provider in the market. Largely, in my opinion at least, thanks to the perception Intel has generated that a non-Centrino laptop isn't really worth having at all, the company has managed to make itself the de facto provider of chipsets for most laptop manufacturers.

With the GeForce 9400M, I think nVidia may well have managed to get the one laptop manufacturer on its side that has the badge to take on Intel as regards general public perception - Apple. By getting the folks at Cupertino to adopt nVidia as its platform of choice, nVidia is almost certainly going to benefit from a knock on effect of good publicity. Macs being the aspirational products they are, it seems reasonable to expect that people who can't afford a MacBook or MacBook Pro will still want the tech that's inside them in the system they can afford.

Talking speeds and feeds, as the industry phrase goes, very briefly the GeForce 9400M is pretty much all GPU. It inherits 16 of the same processing cores found in all of nVidia's current generation graphics parts. Nestled onto the same die as those cores are the memory controller, CPU controller, USB controllers, network interfaces and so forth required to control all a laptops various parts. The whole thing has a TDP of about 12W, and as such nVidia reckons we could even see the chip make its way into netbook sized systems. I'll believe it when I see it, though.

In terms of real world application nVidia reckons that for the same power usage the 9400M provides around five times the performance of its rivals, by which it really means the Intel G45 chipset. In essence, this should be the difference between being able and not being able to play games. nVidia is also pushing hardware Blu-ray decoding (including BD Live content) and CUDA-accelerated applications as a selling point of its GPUs, the most prominent of these probably being Photoshop CS4.

Conveniently, nVidia has a couple of systems on hand to demonstrate some of these advantages. Currently the only systems available with a GeForce 9400M are, in fact, Apple's new MacBook and MacBook Pro, although apparently other vendors will have announced systems by the end of this week.

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