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Why Consumers Should Want Ultrabooks With Discrete Graphics

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Recently, NVIDIA announced their new mobile GPU for notebooks, the GeForce GT 640M with Kepler architecture. This graphics card will find its way into several laptops this year, but most notably it’s designed to go into ultrabooks.

As you saw in my hands-on with the Acer Timeline Ultra M3, it is possible to include discrete graphics that perform well in a thin, light form factor. Since NVIDIA’s Kepler chips are twice as power efficient as the previous generation, you can get great performance without sucking down battery or making a notobook too hot — key factors when dealing with ultrabooks.

Read: First Hands-On: Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Ultrabook (Video)

Ever since the introduction of ultrabooks I’ve been waiting for this development to come along, so you can imagine my excitement. However, Chippy at Ultrabook News is the opposite of thrilled.

Calling all Ultrabook designers, manufacturers, OEMs. Putting discreet graphics in Ultrabooks is not going to help the Ultrabook and it may come back to bite you. Mainstream buyers don’t understand what it means, gamers aren’t interested, video editors use Apple rigs and that just leaves the niche market of mobile geeks that do a bit of gaming on the side, a big bunch of impressionable bloggers and anyone you can tease with marketing, advertising and a bunch of stickers.

Ouch.

Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3

I hope I don’t count as an impressionable blogger, though I will admit that the reason I want discrete graphics in an ultrabook is due to my own personal computing needs. Chippy is right that professional video editors mostly use MacBooks. Whenever I have to attend an event where I need to edit and upload videos fast I bring a MacBook Pro. However, a Pro is not the same as an Air, and while the Airs do all right with video editing, I wouldn’t call them fast.

Speedy video editing on the spot may not be a necessity for most people, even most professionals, but it’s my main criteria for wanting the discrete GPU. And I don’t think I’m completely alone in that.

Even if I am, Chippy appears to miss an important point about ultrabooks with good graphics chips. It’s not about pleasing one specific type of user, like a gamer or a video pro or mobile geeks. It’s about pleasing the much wider consumer base of people who need to get stuff done on their computers.

Call them power users or mobile professionals or whathaveyou, but there are a significant number of people that don’t just have a laptop for checking email, updating Twitter, and watching video. I push my laptop to its limits every day with my 40 tabs across two browsers plus an office program, email program, image editor and music player. Not everyone will have the same combination of programs, but my general use case is not atypical.

For people like me, a discrete GPU isn’t only useful when I need to edit a photo or video, it improves overall performance, too. This is even more important when you consider that the Intel CPUs inside ultrabooks are ultra low voltage models, meaning they aren’t as powerful as the versions found in normal notebooks.

With NVIDIA’s GPU the hope is that I can have my 40 tabs and 10 programs and not worry about lag or crashing. Is it so much to ask that I can have all of this in a 13-inch ultrabook?

I know I’m not the only one who wants a laptop that’s super thin and super light I can carry everywhere. The power users don’t even just include mobile professionals, but also students. And students are more likely to want a laptop they can take everywhere and do everything on, including play games at a decent framerate.

I don’t know how manufacturers plan to market ultrabooks with NVIDIA graphics — maybe they will target the gamers or the video editing pros and maybe those groups won’t be interested, as Chippy predicts. But I think that mainstream users won’t be that hard to reach if you just say to them that ultrabooks with discrete GPUs will outperform those that don’t.

More power, same form factor. Who wouldn’t want that? It goes to the idea that several manufacturers have already put forth: that ultrabooks will be the new mainstream notebooks within the next few years. And no one questions why mainstream buyers would want a discrete GPU in a regular laptop. I hope that soon it will be the same for ultrabooks.

K. T. is a lover of technology, gadgets, and all things geek. As Reviews Editor she has the enviable job of playing with evaluating mobile tech to help consumers separate the digital wheat from the chaff. K. T. rocks an Ubuntu-ified Samsung NC10 netbook. Follow K. T. on Twitter @KTBradford, on Google+ and Tumblr or email her at ktb@notebooks.com.

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