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The Start Of Something Beautiful

XGP, or eXternal Graphics platform, is a new standard for connecting graphics cards to notebooks. It uses a similar system to that employed by the exciting but thus far unavailable Asus XG Station. Essentially, a graphics card is housed inside a stand-alone box that you then connect to your laptop via a cable. When connected, the notebook uses the external graphics card to enhance its gaming performance and add additional functions like multi-monitor support, and video decoding. The key difference between the XG Station and this new invention is XGP uses a completely new connector that's about the same size as a DVI socket and uses eight PCI-Express Gen 2 lanes, whereas the XG station used the existing ExpressCard slot, which was limited to just one PCI-Express Gen 1 lane. What this means is the new standard has 16x the bandwidth of the XG Station enabling far more powerful graphics cards to be used in the external boxes.

A number of different configurations will be possible with these new boxes. The first and most obvious application is to have one, or a number of, desktop monitors plugged into the XGP box which you then use instead of the notebook display. Secondly, the box can be used simply to accelerate the notebook's graphics and pass the result back to the internal display. Lastly, you can plug a monitor into your notebook, rather than the XGP box, and have the display routed out that way. There will also be the opportunity to have USB, and other peripheral, connections on the XGP box, enabling you to have a complete desktop setup with monitor, mouse, keyboard, speakers(?), and whatever else you need all connected to your notebook through one neat cable.

Also, as the connection is essentially just an extended PCI-Express slot like you would get on a motherboard, it is perfectly possible for any graphics card to be used in the external boxes. What's more, AMD is claiming it will openly embrace the uptake of this connection as a universal standard so there is no reason why nVidia, S3, and Intel can't offer their own XGP boxes. Whether they will choose to embrace the standard of a competitor remains to be seen but the technology is certainly there.

Indeed, AMD also assures us that these boxes (and accompanying notebooks) will be arriving soon so this isn't just a paper launch. That said, we've not had one arrive yet…

This first batch will be equipped with RV635, or HD 3670 XT chips. While the RV635 isn't the fastest graphics chip, mobile or otherwise, to have its power tucked neatly away in a box ready for gaming, when you return home after a hard day's work roaming the streets with your ultra-portable notebook, is a real boon. In fact, it's this vision that I can see changing the way we game, forever.

For a while it's been conceded that CPUs are not a limiting factor for games and that what has been holding back gaming on notebooks is graphics grunt. So, with graphics potentially now taken care of, what role does the humble desktop PC now have? Sure there will always be people that require masses of storage, the fastest CPUs, and truly insane graphics but just as we're seeing notebooks devour the home desktop market, could notebooks become the new mainstream gaming platform?

Is this the death of the desktop PC as we know it? Are you excited about the prospect of XGP? Or, do you think it will end up being another great technology that falls by the wayside? Let us know in the comments or the forum, we'd love to know.

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