updated 10:55 am EST, Wed December 17, 2008
NVIDIA Ion Demo
NVIDIA today let slip details of its proposed platform for netbooks and nettops through Ubergizmo. Nicknamed Ion, the platform combines both an Intel Atom and a GeForce 9400M on a Pico-ITX mainboard. The design lets NVIDIA reduce the number of main chips for such a system from Intel's three to two by merging the graphics, interface and memory controllers into a single chip and creates a reference design that measures just 3.9in by 2.9in even with expansion ports.
More important is performance, NVIDIA argues. Similar to the effect the 9400M has had on regular notebooks, Ion's graphics are claimed to be much faster than Intel's 945 series graphics used today and can offload much of the work from the CPU. A system using an Atom processor is capable of playing modern games such as Call of Duty 4 on lowered settings and can also play 1080p video, neither of which is possible on current netbooks. The universal effects shaders are also capable of certain general computing tasks such as physics or other work that would normally be relegated to the process.
Despite the added speed, NVIDIA doesn't expect a significant increase in power consumption or the resultant heat from existing Intel hardware and suggests that systems may shrink given the reduced footprint.
The chip designer doesn't say how close Ion is to reaching production but is known to be facing resistance from Intel, which normally insists that PC buyers buy both Atom chips and 945 chipsets rather than letting them buy just the processors and match them with competing platforms.
Few companies are currently using 9400M and are mostly limited to Apple and Toshiba.