To give us our first taste of Optimus, nVidia has given us an Asus UL50Vf - the first notebook to feature the technology. Handily we've actually already reviewed the non-Optimus version of this machine in the UL50Vg, which had bog-standard switchable graphics. Aside from the addition of Optimus, however, this is the exact same laptop, so we're going to skip over general impressions and performance and get right into our experience of Optimus.
It shouldn't take too long, either: "it works" as much as you need to know. Okay, so we can elaborate a little more, but fundamentally Optimus delivers on all the things nVidia claims. When you launch any application deemed to require the discrete GPU, it is automatically turned on to give you the power you need. And unless you're using the testing tool we've been given which shows the status of the GPU, the whole process is invisible to the end user. There's no switch to flip, no screen flickering, just a seamless transition from one to the other - as it should be.
Things do, however, get interesting when it comes to software since you can still manually stipulate what you want from any given application. This can be done in one of two ways: by right clicking on the application shortcut and selecting what you want from the "run with graphics processor" menu; or by creating/downloading application profiles that are accessed via the nVidia Control Panel.
In the latter case, nVidia will release profiles for specific applications that can then be uploaded to your PC in the same manner as a Windows update or virus definition, thus ensuring you're kept up-to-date. Assuming these 'profile updates' install without a hitch, the end-user experience of Optimus should be very good, particularly if your discrete graphics card has the power to make a significant impact.
Sounds good, where can I get it?
Initially, the Asus UL50Vf is the only system to come with Optimus, but there are several other Asus models that will also ship with the tech, including the N61Jv, N82Jv and U30Jc below - although exactly when they will become available is still to be confirmed.
In addition to these and one other Asus system, the N71Jv, nVidia is expecting 50+ Optimus laptops to ship by this summer. Some of these have already begun to come out of the woodwork, including the Acer Aspire One 532G - an ION2-based netbook.
As for hardware support, demand for the tech has meant nVidia has spread the net fairly wide. Unsurprisingly it's limited to Intel CPUs, but these include not only the new Arrandale (Core i family), but also Core 2 Duo (Penryn) processors and Pine Trail Atom N4xx machines.
Support for Penryn- and Atom-based systems is particularly relevant, since both find themselves relegated to more budget orientated machines, ensuring Optimus won't be the luxury of the most expensive systems. GPU support, meanwhile, spans the GeForce 200M and 300M series, nVidia next-generation GeForce M products and ION2.