The Return of Lucid
Last IDF, Lucid made a splash with a sophisticated, smart PCI Express bridge chip with an embedded RISC processor, designed specifically to enable multi-GPU scalable graphics across disparate GPUs. The message was: mix and match GPUs of differing performance levels and even different manufacturers.
Now Lucid is back, announcing its first design win, with MSI’s “Big Bang” P55-based motherboard. The new board has one of Lucid’s 200-series chips on board. We saw demos of Nvidia and ATI GPUs paired up and scaling graphics performance. One demo, behind closed doors, even showed a GeForce GTX 260 and ATI Radeon HD 4890 not only coexisting on the same Windows 7 system, but actually working together to scale graphics performance beyond what’s capable with a single graphics card. If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t have believed it.
While the technology is very cool, we are a little concerned that the market might be limited. The number of users who actually want to run multiple GPUs is fairly small as it is. Still, from the user perspective, if you have one of MSI’s Big Bang motherboards, when a new GPU comes out, you just add it to your system rather than throw away the old card. You’ll get some benefit by having both available.
USB 3.0 Nears Reality
Already, the first USB 3.0 peripheral has been shown, a high resolution camera from Point Grey. The USB 3.0 Implementer’s Forum was also showing hard drives and optical drives connected via a SATA-to-USB 3.0 reference board developed by Fujitsu. Also on display was an Asus-branded USB 3.0 interface card. With speeds approaching hard drive interface throughput, USB is set to move to a new level, moving large amounts of data at speeds substantially faster than today’s pokey 480 megabits per second.
Infrastructure Makes the Tech World Go Around
As we noted, new CPUs are great, but you can’t make effective use of them unless the underlying support structures evolve along with the CPU. As we move forward with faster, more capable processors and graphics chips, it’s only natural that interfaces like USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/s help the underlying platform evolve.
What will be interesting to watch is how Intel evolves the platform underneath Atom. Will Atom-based netbooks just disappear, replaced by more capable ultra-low voltage CPUs? Maybe, but only if those new systems cost as little as netbooks. Companies like Via and AMD are waiting to step into any low-cost gap left by Intel if they should overlook the netbook market. But that’s unlikely, as Atom-based netbooks have been something of a savior to the PC industry in 2009.
On the display side, DisplayPort looks to be the biggest thing since DVI, and will usher in a new generation of multi-display technology, thinner displays, and higher resolution graphics.
Even technologies that are built into the CPU itself, like Turbo Boost, will help improve performance, which in turn increases the perceived value of the new generation of PCs. We’ll see if Intel and the industry can effectively communicate those improvements.