NVIDIA’s Ion Gains Traction

In our latest podcast Kroc and I again talk about the trboules facing netbooks, and we solely place the blame on software not taking proper advantage of the hardware, and OEMs picking the wrong software to begin with. There’s two ways to solve this: better software, or faster hardware. It seems like the industry will move to the latter.

One of the main problems with netbooks is that the Intel Atom platform isn’t as capable a platform as it could be. While the Atom processor is a perfectly fine processor, Intel paired the Atom with a relatively archaic chipset (i945) which simply isn’t very powerful, but does consume a lot of power. The on-board graphical chip on these configurations isn’t very capable either.

NVIDIA provides the answer here with its Ion platform. This platform pairs the Atom processor with the GeForce 9400M graphical processing unit, the same used in recent MacBooks, as well as DDR3-1066 or DDR2-800 SDRAM, providing a much faster alternative to Intel’s default Atom offering, including mainstream gaming and full HD playback. By the way, NVIDIA’s Ion is not to be confused with NVIDIA’s Tegra, which is an ARM-based system-on-a-chip design.

Several manufacturers have now committed to the Ion platform, such as Samsung and Lenovo. Lenovo was the first to announce a netbook using Ion, the IdeaPad S12, slated for August 2009, and Samsung followed suit today. It’s supposed to be called the Samsung N510, and should arrive in July.

NVIDIA's Ion pico-ITX sample board.

With the arrival of NVIDIA’s Ion, the line between a netbook and a notebook becomes so blurry it no longer seems to make any sense to have a distinction at all. “The Netbook term was created by Intel to define a segment offering a limited experience, but with Ion you don’t have those same limitations,” Rene Haas, general manager of notebook products at NVIDIA said, “These systems can handle mainstream gaming, HD video, and new GPU-powered applications. You might as well call them notebooks, because that’s what they are.”

With the N510 having an 11.6″ display, the distinction indeed becomes moot. Netbooks are moving into notebook territory when it comes to performance, which while welcome, is also a little bit disappointing because I had hoped netbooks would force software developers into more performance-efficient coding.

Well, there’s always ARM netbooks.


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