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HyperFormance in motion

We got a quick demo of HyperFormance in action on a gaming rig with a Core i5-2300 and a GeForce GTX 580 graphics card. The system was running Virtu in i-mode, with the display connected to the Sandy Bridge IGP's video output. Lucid chose Modern Warfare 2 for this demo. Because it's not especially CPU or GPU limited, MW2 presents a particular sort of challenge to the display subsystem. In the gun range area at the beginning of the game, frame rates in the on-screen Fraps readout averaged around 330 FPS—way faster than the display can handle. Without vsync enabled, one could see loads of tearing in each screen refresh, with multiple transition lines an inch or two apart onscreen. When Remez turned on HyperFormance, the tearing was banished and yet, if anything, the on-screen motion appeared to be faster and smoother than before. I didn't get to play a multiplayer match or spend enough time with the system to comment strongly on its responsiveness to user inputs, but the HyperFormance-enabled config did seem to be very quick, too.

Jarringly, the Fraps frame rate counter shot up to over 600 FPS with HyperFormance turned on—a consequence of the Lucid software choosing, behind the scenes, to render some frames only partially. Remez pointed out the Fraps count wasn't really a correct number, but he asserted that the higher FPS reading was an indication of responsiveness. I can see where he's coming from there, because the benefits of a technology like this one can be difficult to convey. Still, after all of our recent work in this area, I'm developing an allergy to gaming performance results expressed in frames per second, especially in cases like this one. The key to HyperFormance is delivering the right frame at the right time, not an increased frame rate.

If you're salivating at the prospect of using this technology yourself, remember HyperFormance requires a Virtu setup with both an IGP and a discrete GPU. Although Z68 motherboards are pretty popular, many gamers don't have an IGP in their systems. Also, most laptops have only an IGP and nothing else.

When we expressed our consternation about the IGP + GPU hardware requirement to Remez, he quickly steered us to another demo of an early, in-development software product Lucid calls Virtu XLR8. This program is essentially a stand-alone version of HyperFormance capable of running on a single GPU. Remez said using only one GPU for the whole enchilada adds some overhead (though he didn't use the word "enchilada," sadly), but Lucid is in the early stages of building a solution anyhow.

The Virtu XLR8 demo was running on a laptop with a Sandy Bridge processor and an Intel HD 3000 IGP, again in Modern Warfare 2. Without XLR8, the Fraps frame counter hovered around 30 FPS and, since vsync wasn't enabled, we saw ample visible tearing even at this low frame rate. Worse, the entire setup was slow enough that the game's animations didn't appear fluid, a song heard many times in relation to integrated graphics solutions.

When Remez turned on XLR8 and restarted the game, the whole experience was unexpectedly transformed. Yes, the tearing was suppressed and the Fraps FPS counter shot up, as we'd seen with HyperFormance before. More shocking, though, was how much smoother the entire game seemed to run. When you only have 30 or so frames your GPU can deliver in a second, it apparently pays to deliver those frames at the correct intervals. The Sandy Bridge IGP went from offering a rather poor gaming experience to a borderline acceptable one, thanks to Lucid's algorithm. Both the visual quality of the game and its fluidity were clearly improved.

We want to spend more time with HyperFormance and a later, finished version of Virtu XLR8, but we're compelled by the concept and by the two quick demonstrations of the tech we've seen. The next question many of us will be asking is how we can get our hands on the software. The first place HyperFormance will be available is in Virtu Universal MVP, Lucid's new top-end product in its Virtu lineup.

Lucid issued a press release at IDF announcing, "Virtu Universal MVP is available to system platform manufacturers using Intel Sandy Bridge Z68/H67/H61, and other Intel integrated graphics, as well as many AMD processor-based PCs and notebooks." We're not yet aware of any motherboard or system makers who have licensed Virtu Universal MVP to ship with their products, but we'd expect adoption to take a little bit of time. For most of us, the larger issue is the fact Virtu is sold exclusively as a bundled software package, not as a stand-alone product end users can purchase for themselves.

Fortunately, Remez told us Lucid is considering other avenues for its software sales, given the potential appeal of the HyperFormance algorithm and especially of Virtu XLR8. He confided that his hope was to see XLR8 technology licensed by Intel and built right into its IGP graphics drivers. Such an arrangement would be quite the coup for, say, the gaming responsiveness of Ivy Bridge graphics. Intel Capital helped to fund Lucid, and that relationship was obviously instrumental when Intel pushed Virtu as a solution to the Z68 QuickSync dilemma. Still, the integration of XLR8 into Intel's graphics drivers was just Remez's ambition when we spoke with him, nothing like a done deal. Lucid's other obvious option is to sell its Virtu products directly to end users, including PC gamers looking for an improved experience. As far as we know, nothing has been decided on that front yet, but Lucid is eyeing the possibility carefully.

We'd very much like to see a version of XLR8 that runs on a single, discrete GPU or perhaps even a mismatched team of discrete GPUs, if the overhead of doing it all on one chip is too great. Although we ran out of time before we could discuss this issue with Remez, we're also curious about whether a HyperFormance-type algorithm could be the answer to the multi-GPU micro-stuttering problems we've recently encountered. Of course, Lucid has a different solution, in its Hydra chip, for multi-GPU load balancing. Still, we can't help but wonder if a software-only option for multi-GPU load balancing—with HyperFormance smarts built in—might be feasible.

Regardless, Virtu Universal MVP is already a real product, and the question now is whether key decision-makers in the industry—and end users—will understand the benefits of a technology like HyperFormance. If they do, and if Lucid's software can deliver on its theoretical promise, then we may have a minor revolution in the way we think about GPU and gaming performance on our hands. TR

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