By Rick Merritt
IC house Nvidia Corp. (San Jose, Calif.) has developed a spec for a standard graphics module based on PCI Express.
The chip maker is delivering board schematics free to Taiwan's notebook PC makers, hoping they will ease the transition to the new, fast serial bus and open up design wins in a market dominated by rival ATI Technologies.
The so-called MXM modules can include any graphics processor riding a x16 PCI Express interface, over a 230-pin connector defined by Nvidia. The modules aim to replace a host of proprietary add-on cards that notebook designers have developed around the current Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) parallel interconnect.
Never A Standard
"There was never any standard for the AGP modules, so you had people coming up with all sorts of crazy shapes," says Jerry Chen, senior product manager for Express-based graphics at Nvidia. "The new modules will help notebook makers more easily mix and match notebook and graphics boards, reducing inventory."
MXM actually involves three sizes of modules: a 70 x 66-mm (2.8 x 2.64-in) module for thin and light notebooks; a 73 x 78-mm (2.92 x 3.12-in.) module for mainstream notebooks; and an 80 x 100-mm (3.2 x 4-in.) module for desktop replacement systems.
The modules will vary in height, depending on whether they use a fan, heat pipe, or other cooling unit. None is expected to exceed 10-mm (0.400-in.) in height.
LVDS, Video, More
The modules support dual 24-bit LVDS (low-voltage differential-signaling) links, VGA, TV-Out, and S-Video-Out, and two DVI (Digital Video Interface) interconnects. The MXM cards are designed for a maximum of 35 watts of dissipation.
Notebook Makers Jump Aboard
As many as nine mainly Taiwan-based notebook makers---including AOpen, Alienware, Arima, First International Computer, Tatung and Wistron---are scheduled to show their support for MXM. The first PCI Express notebooks are expected to ship later this year, depending on when Intel rolls out its first chip sets for Express.
Nvidia provides full Gerber files and design guides for MXM modules based on its GeForce Go 6 series. The soon-to-be-announced family of notebook processors uses Nvidia's latest graphics core and the PCI Express interconnect.
Chen says that most notebook computer makers have at least one or two designs with MXM cards, some using Nvidia and others using ATI Technologies parts. ATI, which supplies the majority of notebook graphics chips, did not make a spokesman available for comment at press time.