Perhaps the most intriguing news for gamers coming out of CES this year is NVIDIA's "Hybrid SLI" and AMD's "ATI Hybrid Graphics Technology".
Going by the info that's currently available, these hybrid modes will allow users with sub-par integrated graphics chips - that is GPUs built into the motherboard - to pump better visuals at faster speeds with the aid of a discrete chip. The InfoWorld article on AMD's implementation states that AMD's tech will ship with notebooks (not so unusual) based on the company's "Puma" platform. Yet the only way a notebook could benefit from this would be if it contained both an integrated and discrete GPU (very unusual). The only way this is going to actually work is if AMD gets its Fusion CPUs off the ground. Fusion will couple a general purpose processing core and GPU core onto the same die. A discrete GPU could then be plugged into the motherboard, allowing use of the hybrid mode. AMD's main goal with this is power saving - use just the integrated GPU for easy 3D loads, and activate the discrete chip in tandem for heavy 3D processing.
Great for gamers? Not really. If I was going to buy a laptop for gaming, I wouldn't purchase something with integrated 3D. Ever.
How about business users? Again, if you're only going to use the system for word processing and PowerPoint, why do you need the option? It's just going to add to the price.NVIDIA, on the other hand, is interested in the mid to high end with its Hybrid SLI - at least for now. There's no hard numbers, but the Ars Technica article on the tech quotes NVIDIA boasting an up to 40% performance increase.
Of course, you won't be able to just plug any old card into any old motherboard - both pieces of hardware will need to support the hybrid mode - which means this isn't going to be a cheap way to upgrade for at least 6-12 months.
On an unrelated note, there's also this snippet from the InfoWorld story that sounds strangely familiar:
Boot times and program launch times in Puma notebooks will improve with on-board flash technology called HyperFlash, Shutter said. The flash technology will store important bits of information needed to boot a system quicker, reducing lag time usually associated with reading data from hard drives. It will be available on the board, or as a separate modules for motherboards.
This sounds almost exactly like Intel's Robson technology on its Santa Rosa platform, which has been around for at least a year now. Performance gains of the technology in real-world applications is still debatable, so an interesting move by AMD to embrace it.