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NV17M Mobile GPU Preview
By: Mike Chambers - November 12, 2001

Introduction

Today NVIDIA will be announcing their next generation mobile graphics processor code named NV17M. However, unlike their initial mobile solution, the GeForce2 Go, the NV17M core was designed from the ground up. With the NV17M, an entirely new architecture was developed which incorporates the following key features:

  • Extended battery life
  • Multisampling antialiasing
  • Unrivaled 3D performance
  • New packaging technology

Announced at Comdex 2000, the GeForce2 Go has been a successful product for NVIDIA as their customers included major notebook manufacturers such as Dell, Fujitsu Siemens, Gateway, and Toshiba. Although we didn't review a notebook based on the GeForce2 Go, I had an opportunity to use the Dell Inspiron for a few days earlier this year.

Dell Inspiron w/GeForce2 Go

Outfitted with a 1GHz Pentium 3 processor, the Inspiron ran the default 3DMark2000 benchmark and scored close to 4500 3DMarks. Equally impressive was the performance of Quake 3 Arena. Using the standard high quality settings at a resolution of 800x600, the laptop managed to hit 80 frames per second. This type of performance put the GeForce2 Go close to the performance offered by a similarly configured desktop system with a GeForce2 MX.

Key Features

Extended Battery Life

Battery life has always been a concern for notebook users and the NV17M contains a set of technologies to address power management. The updated transform and lighting graphics processor will offload geometry calculations from the CPU to the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). Likewise, a dedicated Video Processing Engine (VPE), offloads MPEG2 decoding from the CPU as well.

The PowerMizer feature, which works in conjunction with AMD's PowerNow and Intel's Speedstep, is capable of turning off idle GPU blocks. With dynamic clock gating, portions of the GPU can be placed in an idle state resulting in no power being consumed. PowerMizer also features dynamic processor and memory clock scaling which automatically adjusts clockspeeds and operating voltage depending on how the GPU is being utilized (2D, 3D, or DVD).

PowerMizer Applet

PowerMizer can be configured via an applet that allows the user to choose between maximum performance, maximum battery life, or a combination thereof. If maximum performance is selected, the system will run at maximum CPU and GPU utilization in order to provide the highest possible frame rates. Setting PowerMizer to maximum power savings results in the longest battery life as clockspeeds and voltage are held to their minimum settings. Even with maximum power savings enabled, frame rates (30 vs. 90) may be acceptable for smooth gameplay.

The following table illustrates the amount of power and the associated frame rates on the NV17M while running a 1,000 frame 3D application. The results are based on PowerMizer documentation that was provided by NVIDIA.

Power Saving Mode Performance

Mode Average
Amps
Consumed
Frames
Per
Second
Maximum Performance 1.6 92
Balanced Mode 1.2 55
Maximum Power Savings 1.1 26

The NV17M extends battery life during DVD playback by utilizing the MPEG2 decode stack of the Video Processing Engine. Similar to the power savings for 3D applications, the VPE results in less than 15% total CPU utilization during DVD decoding operations.

Multisampling Antialiasing

Taking a chapter from the GeForce3, the NV17M contains hardware-assisted multisampling antialiasing which is beneficial in smoothing out jagged edges from 3D scenes. As with the GeForce3, 2X, Quincunx, and 4X modes of antialiasing are offered. Multisampling antialiasing "smooths" jagged edges by sampling colors of neighboring pixels to determine the final color of an antialiased pixel. Whereas a pixel may have been black or white without antialiasing, antialiasing may change the color to gray or a shade thereof. The image below, which shows aliasing on the left, and antialiasing on the right, is representative of the blending of pixel colors to provide a smoother looking appearance.

Aliasing vs. Antialiasing

The reason aliasing occurs is that today's monitors and LCD's don't have the necessary real estate to make, for instance, a diagonal line appear smooth. Over 80% of existing notebooks ship with XVGA displays and are limited to a resolution of 1024x768. A 15-inch XVGA LCD contains close to 86 pixels per inch, which results in a relatively large size of pixels and causes the effects of aliasing to become more pronounced.

Aliasing vs. Antialiasing

An alternative method to reduce the effects of aliasing is to use a higher resolution display. For example, laptops with 15-inch UXGA (1600x1200) displays have 133 pixels per inch, which results in pixels that are almost half the size of an equivalent 15-inch XGA display. However, UXGA laptops currently make up a small percentage of the total number of laptops and they command a premium price.

In documentation provided by NVIDIA, you can get an idea of the expected antialiasing performance of the NV17M compared to the GeForce2 Go. These series of tests were run on a 1.4GHz Pentium 4 with 256MB of memory using Windows XP. The resolution was set at 1024x768 using 32-bit color and 2X antialiasing.

Relative AA Performace - NV17M vs. GeForce2 Go

Application Relative Performance
Quake 3 5X
Max Payne 3.5X
3DWinBench 2000 5X
MDK2 4X

With antialiasing done in hardware, the NV17M is showing performance gains of 3.5 to 5 times to that of the GeForce2 Go.

Unrivaled Performance

The NV17M will undoubtedly provide the fastest mobile graphics performance in the industry. The increased performance over the GeForce2 Go can be attributed to two significant advances. The first change is a result of moving from a 0.18 to a 0.15 micron fabrication process as the processor clock speed of the NV17M increased to 250MHz compared to 143MHz on the GeForce2 Go. At this clockspeed, the NV17M is capable of rendering 30 million triangles per second and 500 million pixels per second (250MHz x two pixel pipelines).

NV17M vs. GeForce2 Go

  NV17M GeForce2 Go
Core Clock 250MHz 143MHz
Memory Clock 250MHz (DDR) 143MHz (SDR)
Memory Bandwidth 8.0GB/sec. 2.6GB/sec.
LMA Yes No
AA Fillrate 5X 1X

Another significant change is that the NV17M supports dual data rate (DDR) memory as opposed to single data rate (SDR) memory which was used on the GeForce2 Go. Along with a faster memory clockspeed, memory bandwidth has increased threefold. In addition, Lightspeed Memory Architecture, which debuted on the GeForce3, ensures that graphics memory is utilized effectively.

Mobile AGP Package - MAP

With the NV17M, NVIDIA has basically designed an entire graphics subsystem on a single 30x30 mm chip by combining both the graphics processor and up to 64MB of memory frame buffer. This unique packaging will allow multiple configuration options for notebook manufacturers and supports future upgrades. In fact, NVIDIA has stated that the NV17M will be pin compatible with their next mobile graphics processor.

Mobile AGP Packaging - 2xx Series

The 2xx series of the NV17M will contain 32MB of graphics memory while sporting a 64-bit interface.

Mobile AGP Packaging - 4xx Series

For maximum 3D performance, the 4xx will consist of a 128-bit memory interface and 64MB of graphics memory.

Drivers for the NV17M are based on NVIDIA's Unified Driver Architecture and contain DirectX 5.0 thru 8.0 (Windows) and OpenGL 1.3 (Windows and Linux).

Laptops based on the NV17M are scheduled to begin shipping sometime during first quarter of 2002. Additional details on the NV17M can be found at NVIDIA's web site.

GeForce4 440 Go Performance

Updated: March 19, 2002

I had an opportunity to test the performance of the 32MB version of the GeForce4 440 Go on a 1.10GHz Pentium 3 Toshiba laptop. The system was outfitted with 512MB of PC133 SDRAM along with Windows XP Professional and version 27.42 of the Detonator drivers. Testing 3D graphics performance under OpenGL was done using the initial version of Quake 3 Arena (v1.11), which I installed on the laptop. I had planned on updating Quake 3 to the latest version, but couldn't establish a network connection from the laptop to my Linksys Cable/DSL Router. However, the Quake 3 results I received are close to those obtained by GamePC in their GeForce4 440 Go review. For performance under Direct 3D the original edition of 3DMark2001 was used.

Sound and vsync were disabled with PowerMizer set to maximum performance. I ran a series of benchmarks that included high and maximum quality (high geometry and maximum texture detail) at resolutions ranging from 800x600 to 1600x1200 with trilinear and anisotropic filtering. These results are followed by antialiasing performance at 800x600 and 1024x768 with trilinear and anisotropic filtering. I also disabled texture compression which is the default setting for the latest version of Quake 3.

Non-Antialiased Performance

Quake 3 performance on the GeForce4 440 Go was remarkable as the results at 1600x1200 surpassed 60 frames per second under high quality settings. The OpenGL performance of the GeForce4 440 Go is unmatched in the mobile arena and in some cases exceeds the performance of high-end desktop systems equipped with GeForce2 class graphics cards. Boosting the image quality to maximum detail in addition to enabling anisotropic texture filtering results in an impressive 67 frames per second at 1280x1024.

Note the performance with maximum quality settings at 1600x1200 was hampered due to the 32MB framebuffer of the model that was tested. After enabling texture compression, performanced increased from 35 to 63 frames per second.

As with the high-end GeForce4 Ti 4600, NVIDIA continues to improve antialiasing performance and image quality. By utilizing mutisampling versus supersampling, which was implemented on the GeForce2 Go, antialiasing performance on the GeForce4 440 Go is considerably faster and usable.

Antialiasing Performance

At a resolution of 800x600, 2X and/or Quincunx antialiasing can offer compelling gameplay on a laptop along with improved graphics. Depending on ones performance threshold, some may even find antialiasing at 1024x768 an option - especially with less graphic intensive games than Quake 3. And the use of 4X antialiasing shouldn't be discounted as the GeForce4 440 Go yielded 78 frames per second at 640x480 with high quality settings.

Click to Enlarge - 105KB

After a number of gaming sessions using various graphics settings, the sweet spot for me was maximum quality at 800x600 with Quincunx antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. Almost forgot - high quality sound too.

Click to Enlarge - 146KB

3DMark2001 performance was measured at various resolutions and antialiased modes with default settings.

3DMark2001 Overall Results

The overall 3DMark2001 score is based on the four game tests which run at a low (L) and high (H) quality setting with the exception of the nature test. Since the GeForce4 440 Go doesn't support pixel shaders, a score from the nature test isn't included. Assuming the game tests are representative of the performance of today's DirectX 8 based games, the GeForce4 440 Go managed 60 frames per second in all low quality tests at 800x600 and 1024x768 with no antialiasing and at least 49 frames per second at 800x600 with 2X and Quincunx antialiasing.

3DMark2001 Game Results

Test No AA 2X AA QC AA 4XS AA
800x600
Game 1-L 75 63 55 41
Game 1-H 23 21 21 20
Game 2-L 76 56 49 35
Game 2-H 33 29 27 21
Game 3-L 71 59 53 35
Game 3-H 30 29 29 21
1024x768
Game 1-L 73 46 38  
Game 1-H 23 20 20  
Game 2-L 66 40 33  
Game 2-H 32 24 22  
Game 3-L 67 41 34  
Game 3-H 30 25 23  

The Game 1 and Game 3 tests in 3DMark2001 are heavily dependent on CPU ability and speed. With NVIDIA announcing that the GeForce4 Go will soon be available for Pentium 4 based laptops, overall 3D graphics performance will certainly improve.

 

Last Updated on March 19, 2001

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