Nvidia's three announcements today are perhaps not that surprising if you follow the PC tech rumor mill, but it's nice to finally have confirmation.
First, is the introduction of Nvidia's next-generation chipset, the NForce 700-series. The 780a, 750a, and 730a are AMD-only designs based on the AM2+ CPU interface. They allow for Phenom quad-core chips in SLI systems on the 780a and 750a, and the 780a also supports Nvidia's three-way SLI platform, which lets you use three supporting graphics cards in the same PC. Nvidia made no Intel-based announcements today, which leaves high-end gamers with no means of pairing Nvidia's performance leading graphics cards with Intel's Core 2 Quad 9000-series chips. Until that union becomes possible (or until AMD's higher-end Phenom chips emerge and surprise us with better performance), you should stay away from the $5,000-plus gaming PC. [[Update: Nvidia reminded us that its NForce 780i chipset, which shipped in mid-December, supports both Intel's new CPUs as well as SLI.]]
But more than matching AMD's CPUs with Nvidia's SLI technology, the new chipsets also bring about Hybrid SLI, an overarching term for two new technologies, Hybrid Power and GeForce Boost.
Hybrid Power is aimed mostly at laptop gamers. If you have a Hybrid Power-enabled laptop with both a discrete graphics chip and an integrated graphics chip (which we expect to see this quarter), you will be able to shut off the power-hungry discrete chip and divert basic Windows desktop rendering to the integrated chip. Hybrid Power is exclusive to 780a and 750a chipsets, and will also require as yet unannounced discrete graphics chips to work.
GeForce Boost, alternatively, should interest mainstream desktop gamers, and will have an impact as soon as you get an NForce 700-series chipset. Here you can pair your 700-series graphics chip (which we'll get to) with a GeForce 8400 GT or a 8500 GS (as well as budget cards going forward) and enjoy a boost to overall 3D graphics processing. Nvidia demonstrated a GeForce Boost-enabled system at least running Crysis with a semismooth frame rate in DirectX 10 mode at 800x600. Both this concept and Hybrid Power are similar to ATI's Hybrid Crossfire, announced last month.
Finally, Nvidia also introduced its nominally DirectX 10-capable GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip. You'll find a version of this chip on all of the new NForce 700-series chipsets. In addition to basic gaming, Nvidia says the new chip also offers full PureVideo HD support (Nvidia's video decoding software, which also received an update, mostly by way of automated color and contrast tweaking). With that capability, chipsets that include the GeForce 8200 will also support Blu-ray and HD DVD playback without a discrete graphics card. That opens the door to more HD-capable small-chassis desktops.