There might be a lot of companies stating that netbooks are just a fad, and that the whole thing will pass (Sony, Apple), but that isn’t stopping several chip companies from putting serious effort into improving the performance of these small netbooks. NVIDIA, AMD, and VIA are all hard at work at improving several aspects of netbook computing.
One of the most important weaknesses in all current netbooks is the lack of a decent graphics chip. Most netbooks are powered by Intel’s Atom, paired with Intel’s 945GSE. While this graphics chip is powerful enough to power the internal display, as well as to run Aero Glass and Compiz just fine, the chip starts to show its shortcomings as soon as you hook up an external display: you can’t power full HD (1080p) displays.
Thanks to NVIDIA, this is going to change. The company has paired its 9400M chip (also found in the MacBook, for instance) with Intel’s Atom, giving mobile platforms 1080p video decoding, dual-link DVI out, DirectX 10 graphics, CUDA, and OpenCL. Power consumption goes up slightly from 12W to 18W, but that’s still acceptable. This new platform is called Ion, and will be available in the first half of next year.
Last month, AMD announced its ultramobile Yukon platform, which has a Radeon GPU attached to it. This will deliver the same features as the 9400M/Atom combination, but it will draw more power because AMD doesn’t yet have something comparable to Atom. VIA isn’t sitting still either, as it has announced its Trinity platform, which has a VIA Nano processor combined with an S3 GPU. This also offers all the niceties, but power figures were not yet available, according to Ars.
A fad or not, us netbook owners are in for a serious bump in performance with all these new initiatives. In addition, it will give us something we haven’t seen yet in the netbook market: choice. At the moment, you can buy either an Intel Atom netbook, an Intel Atom netbook, or maybe, if you look hard enough, an Intel Atom netbook. Choice is very welcome.