NVIDIA’s Optimus technology allows laptops with the latest Intel chips and NVIDIA graphics cards to automatically switch between Intel’s integrated graphics and NVIDIA’s higher performance graphics depending on what programs you’re running. This allows you to get better battery life when you don’t need bleeding edge graphics, while giving you the ability to play high performance video games without rebooting your computer to manually switch graphics cards.
Unfortunately NVIDIA Optimus only officially works on Windows computers. If you’re running Linux you were out of luck… until recently. There’s a new open source utility called bumblebee which allows you to use Optimus graphics switching technology with Linux. The project currently supports Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSUSE, Fedora, and Arch Linux, with support for more distributions in the works.
Bumblebee is still a work in progress. It can automatically shut down the NVIDIA graphics card when it’s not in use, and it can use both Intel and NVIDIA cards at the same time to allow the Intel card to manage your desktop while the NVIDIA card handles more advanced functions. But one of the things that makes Optimus really impressive under Windows is the automatic graphics switching, and that’s something that isn’t available yet for Linux.
Notebooks with compatible graphics cards include the Alienware M11x and Asus Eee PC 1215N, although it’s likely that other machines with second-generation NVIDIA ION graphics should work as well.
Basically when you’re using a Windows system there’s a big list of games and other applications that work better with the NVIDIA graphics card enabled, and as soon you start one of those apps, Optimus switches to the NVIDIA graphics card. Bumblebee doesn’t do this yet, because it still needs a list of games and an application that tells the utility which card to use for which game. It’s probably just a matter of time before someone adds that capability though.
via Hacker News