Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Dual Processor Motherboard...CPU and a Graphics Chip?

ISA, PCI, AGP, and PCI Express all have one thing in common: they are bus interfaces that allow you to extend the capability of your motherboard through add-ons such as a graphics and sound system, network connectivity, etc. We've already seen built-in sound and network systems, and basic integrated graphics. However, the graphics system is second only to the CPU in terms of power and performance, and is very relavent to the speed of the computer. The system bus is constantly improving to accomodate for the bandwidth demand of the graphics card. So why isn't such an important component an actual part of the motherboard? Just like we can choose a CPU and replace it when an upgrade is due, why can't we just pop out a graphics chip and replace it with a newer one?

I will admit that many of the newer motherboards are crowded enough as it is, but integrating the graphics chip into the motherboard, along with its own set of memory, would eliminate the bottleneck of the PCI bus (assuming the graphics chip is connected through HyperTransport or a similar technology) and make the graphics system a more regular and cost-effecient upgrade. All that would have to be replaced is the graphics chip; no board or memory to increase the cost.

Although a nice solution, there are a few negative aspects to consider.

- First of all, if the graphics chip ever changed in size, the motherboard would have to be replaced. However, if this method was ever adopted, the lifespan of the graphics architecture would be about the same as the CPU, so an upgrade should entitle some sort of processor upgrade as well.
- This option would be a limiting factor for people with older systems. AGP has been around for at least 5 years, a lot longer than a typical upgrade.
- The graphics interconnect system would be limited to the technologies present on the motherboard. On current graphics cards, the speeds between the graphics chip and the memory are typically "the latest and greatest". I believe some graphics cards use DDR2 and have a 1 GHz bus, which may be about right for current PC's, but using a graphics chip on an older motherboard would limit the graphics system.

From a technology standpoint, having the graphics chip on-board would be a more efficient solution overall. However, the positive aspects have to outweigh any negative ones, and in this case, the race is close. I guess we'll see what happens in the future, especially when Intel comes up with a solution similar to HyperTransport.

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