Nvidia Ion: Intel's Atom combined with Geforce 9400M
Currently Atom based system lack big 3D performance - thereby it's no matter if the Intel chip is used in a netbook or a nettop. Now Nvidia combined Intel's Atom with the Geforce 9400M chipset which is already used in the current Macbook.
Thus Nvidia upgrades the Atom platform where it makes sense. The Intel CPU delivers respectable performance and requires little energy only, but the associated 945G chipset is getting old and doesn't support modern technologies like acceleration of HD video material.
The Geforce 9400M is a single chip design, because of what smaller structures can be assembled compared to the combination of 945G Northbridge and ICH7 Southbridge. In order to confirm this claim, Nvidia fabricated a Pico-ATX motherboard (10 x 7.2 cm) as the default design which offers the following feature:
• USB 2.0
• Dual-Link DVI
• Gigabit Ethernet
The memory is attached via a SO-DIMM slot on the backside of the board - DDR3 notebook memory is used.
A full PC based on the Ion platform can be put into a case with a volume of only 0.6 liters. For comparison: an average ATX PC has a volume of about 45 liters.
Video acceleration for Atom
Due to the Geforce 9400M chipset the Ion platform is able to play Full HD videos with a comparatively low CPU workload. During our own brief tests with a 1.6 GHz Atom and a 9400M the CPU load, while playing a MPEG 4 video (1080p) with a data rate up to 25 Mbit/s, was varied between 20 to 40 percent only. If the CPU had to display the video on its own, the processor had to use its full capacity. Transcoding via Badaboom is also possible, but slower than on a "full” Geforce card of course.
During an Nvidia presentation Call of Duty: World at War ran with reduced settings at about 30 fps - impossible on an Atom with Intel chipset.
Product launch undetermined
Up to now Nvidia only introduced the reference design. If an when final products for end customers will hit the market is up to the OEMs who can get the license to produce "Ion”. They can even decide if they want to adopt the many connectors offered by Nvidia's reference design (7x USB 2.0, 2x E-SATA, 8-channel audio, S/PDIF plus VGA, HDMI and DVI-D).
The combination of Geforce 9400M and Intel's Atom isn't just intended for device like the introduced mini PC, but also for capable netbooks. A longer battery life won't be delivered by the new Nvidia chip though: the power consumption of about 13 watts is on the same level with Intel's 945GX that needs 12 watts.
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