Serious gaming on Ultrabooks. Seriously

IDF 2012

Lucid's Dynamix software can double gaming frame rates on integrated graphics, giving laptops without discrete GPUs serious gaming chops. Lucid Logix is a tiny company with big ambitions and now its got the software to match that ambition.

We went to see Lucid while we were here in San Francisco, and usually when we say that we mean we saw a representative. Not this time, we actually saw pretty much the entire of company. We think 80 percent of the five-man team was in the room with us as Offir Remez, President and MD of Lucid, took us through the demos of its latest goodies.

We saw its Virtu MVP Mobile software running on a laptop and a concept external GPU setup via a hot-swappable Thunderbolt connection. But it was the new software it had running on an Ivy Bridge Ultrabook that really impressed.

The little laptop, with its relatively feeble HD 4000 graphics, had Crysis 2 sitting on it. While it's not quite the crazy-demanding game its predecessor was it's still a bit of a graphics hog, so on the surface it might seem a bit unfair to put the poor machine through the ringer with it.

And with the machine barely managing to hit 9FPS it seemed like a pretty pointless exercise - nobody is going to play at those frame rates.

That's where the Dynamix software comes into play though. A quick press of a pre-ordained key to enable it - on the fly while still in the game - and suddenly the FRAPS frame rate counter jumped up to around 20-odd.

Suddenly it's playable and much, much smoother. Suddenly it's a credible gaming experience on an Ultrabook.

What voodoo is this?

Well, it's an entirely software based solution, requiring no extra hardware and ¨C in a first for Lucid ¨C is just operating on a single graphics processor.

"We take everything we know how to do," says Offir. "We know every frame going into the pipeline, we actually capture it before, we analyse the tasks, we know what it's going to do, we sometimes distribute it between the CPU and GPU and sometimes different GPUs."

"We said can we use that in a one GPU environment and walk the fine line between quality and performance," he continues. "Would you give up a small percentage of quality - we are playing with pixels here - to double your performance. Let's say 2 percent quality to double performance."

The trade off then is visual clarity. Because it's enabled on the fly you can immediately see the loss of fidelity - there's a faint smudging of the edges, a little like running the game in a non-native resolution.

But when you're switching from unplayable, sharp to smooth and a little less clear is a pretty easy choice. And Lucid hasn't finished optimising yet and is pretty confident it can sharpen things up more in future iterations.

If you want a completely high-end gaming experience you're going to need a discrete GPU, but if you just want to play a 3D title in smooth framerates on your Ultrabook/integrated graphics processor you're not going to be that bothered.

At the moment Lucid is only looking at this in the mobile sphere, but we spoke about whether the same could be applied to small form factor machines, the sort of little PCs you stick under your TV for media functionality.

From the sofa the slight smudging is going to be barely visible, and with Valve and it's big screen gaming Steam initiative, having a wee PC capable of gaming on your TV is actually quite desirable.

It's not something Lucid has really considered though, but then it has only recently started working on this software. Dynamix is based on an idea Intel actually had, and put around games developers, around the time of GDC this year.

But no one picked it up. Except Lucid.

Now Intel is starting to take notice and so are the laptop manufacturers. Lucid didn't really think about just how well-received the software would be and is now being tasked with productising it for the first round of Haswell laptops in the middle of next year.

And if the 2x GPU performance of the 4th Generation Core Architecture holds true that could mean 40FPS in Crysis 2 on an Ultrabook.