NVIDIA's MXM Graphics Module

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To help keep pace with their desktop counterparts, notebook ODMs (Original Design Manufacturers) need this type of standard to help accelerate the design cycle.  There has typically been a 3 - 6 month lag between a product's introduction and the time it was available to consumers.  This is the case because proprietary modules were created for particular notebook designs, but not for all notebooks.  So a proprietary module for a Dell Inspiron 8600, for example, may not work with an Inspiron 5150M, and each needed to be designed, produced, tested and brought to market individually.


Multiple Designs for Multiple Laptops...

A Dell Designed Graphics Module, one populated with an NVIDIA GPU, the other ATi.

An advantage to having a standard like MXM is that hardware manufacturers like NVIDIA will be able to release reference designs for MXM modules using their latest graphics hardware. This in turn will give notebook manufacturers the ability to plug any MXM reference module into their systems if an MXM connector has been properly implemented on the system's motherboard.  This is the same model used in the desktop space, where any AGP graphics card will work in any AGP slot.


Proposed Thermal Solutions

A component of the MXM standard dictates that an MXM can automatically detect power supply and thermal limitations of the notebook platform and can automatically throttle its clock speeds to stay within the power and thermal limits.  If the notebook's power supply and MXM thermal solution are equal too or exceed the MXM's requirements, the module will run at its full speed.  The MXM system information data contains the necessary information for MXM throttling.  This data can be stored in either the BIOS or in the MXM system information ROM installed on the notebook's motherboard.

The MXM platform has also been designed to work in conjunction with motherboard chipsets that have an Integrated Graphics Processors, or IGP.  A notebook with an IGP that is also designed to support MXM graphics modules will work with or without a MXM graphics card installed.  If no MXM graphics module is present, however, the installation of a loop through card is required to complete circuit paths.

Whether or not the MXM standard gets widely adopted remains to be seen, but considering this is an open standard and NVIDIA already has multiple launch partners on board including some of largest Taiwanese ODMs, there is a good chance we'll see MXM equipped notebooks available relatively soon.  NVIDIA tells us notebooks powered by MXM graphics cards will start appearing later in the second half of this year, coinciding with the move to PCI Express on the desktop.  The big question is weather or not the other players in mobile graphics, namely ATi, S3, VIA and Neomagic, will produce MXM graphics modules.  We haven't been able to get any official comment, but it may not matter what these other companies think of MXM.  There's nothing to stop any of the Taiwanese notebook ODMs from designing their own MXM cards using GPUs from these other companies.  The process shouldn't be much different than what they've already been doing for years.  We're going to be talking with ATi and S3 shortly, and will be sure to fill you in as we find out more.

Tags:  Nvidia, graphics, XM, mod, Graphic, MXM, ICS, AP, id

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