Mobile gaming: once the bastion of Nintendo and various iterations of Gameboy, has in recent years grown up to become big business. Road warriors and gamers alike no longer will accept sub-standard integrated graphics in their notebooks; gone are the days where Solitaire or maybe some 2D RTS gaming was good enough. People now want to copy their savegames to their notebooks and continue their campaigns on the road, whether it’s to while away a long international flight or reduce the load for some weekend LAN action.
Because of their size, power consumption and thermal considerations, the most powerful mobile GPUs such as the Mobility Radeon X800 and GeForce Go 6800, are reserved for Desktop Replacement (DTR) notebooks: these feature top-of-the-range Athlon64 and Pentium 4 processors, massive 17 inch screens, with prices to match, and weigh in a 4-5kg or more. Battery life is an afterthought, and are really designed to be “portable” rather than used on the go.
The next step down the ladder is what is known as “Performance Thin” – powered by Pentium-M processors, notebooks of this ilk are still plenty powerful, but are less opulently specced and thus are lighter on the wallet as well as the back. What they don’t lack is punch in the graphics department, thanks in part to a new GPU announced today by ATI: the Mobility Radeon X700.
[b]Mobility Radeon X700 – where notebook meets desktop</b>
In the past, anyone after decent notebook gaming probably plumped for a model boasting a Mobility Radeon 9700 – a chipset offering some of the best performance available at the time. However, unknown to many users, the MR 9700’s spec was actually much closer to the desktop Radeon 9600XT than the more powerful 9700 Pro that powered many desktop gaming systems at the time.
I’m pleased to report that this sort of marketing sleight of hand is no longer employed, as the MR X700 is just as full featured as its desktop namesake: 8 pixel pipelines and 6 vertex shaders based on the same TSMC 0.11 micron process. We have been informed by ATI that clock speeds will be fairly vendor-specific, however ATI themselves rate the Mobility Radeon X700 at 350MHz core and 350MHz (700MHz DDR) memory.
As you can see from the table, with 50% higher fillrate and nearly double the memory bandwidth of the MR 9700, as well as being freed from the confines of the AGP bus, the MR X700 should provide more than adequate performance, while the twice-as-fast-again MR X800 takes care of the the Desktop Replacement market.
It is important to note that these clock speeds will ultimately depend on a number of design aspects for each individual notebook using the M26. These include, heat, power and most importantly space – there must be adequate space to implement a cooling system that is up to the job of cooling the GPU in the most graphic-intense sections of today’s latest titles.
We haven\'t independently tested a sample just yet, but the figures supplied by ATI indicate that Mobility Radeon X700 is essentially twice the speed of the MR 9700 across 3DMark01 and 03, as well as Far Cry and Half Life 2. Of course, we would suggest taking those figures with a pinch of salt, but they are at least a promising indicator of the level of performance we can expect.
Also at the disposal of the notebook vendors is a full family of parts, including packages both with and without integrated memory, allowing for a wide install base – this will enable notebook manufacturers to produce some very interesting Performance-Thin systems. We understand that the Mobility Radeon X700 will come with two different memory footprint implementations initially – with both a 128MB and a 64MB footprints, it should serve well to take over where the Mobility Radeon 9700 left off. At this moment, we don’t really see the need for any more than a 128MB memory footprint on the M26, as there simply isn’t the theoretical throughput, or footprint requirement in today’s titles, with the possible exception of FarCry.