Ion SFF Reference Design  (Source: Nvidia)

Nvidia Ion Platform Board   (Source: Nvidia)
Nvidia gears up to challenge Intel

Virtually all netbooks shipping today feature integrated graphics by Intel as a cost-effective and easily implemented solution. Intel's integrated graphics, while providing a minimal amount of performance, are adequate for most netbook buyers who are looking for an affordable and portable secondary or tertiary system.

Nvidia has wanted to challenge Intel in this growing market, which will ship 35 million netbooks this year. The first step was the release of the 9400M GPU in October, featuring 16 CUDA capable cores and taking up half the space of previous integrated GPUs. However, to replace Intel's integrated graphics, Nvidia needed to replace the entire chipset, which they are planning to do with the Ion platform, featuring the 9400M. NVIDIA expects that designs using Ion will be much thinner and smaller than current systems. It will be used in sub-notebooks under twelve inches, netbooks under ten inches, and small form factor desktop and media PCs.

Microsoft has now certified the Ion platform as being Windows Vista Capable, as its graphical capabilities allow the use of Windows Vista's Aero interface or the upcoming Windows 7.  It has also qualified WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) drivers for the Ion platform. Currently, most netbooks run Linux or Windows XP Home Edition.

Netbooks using the Ion platform are expected to be available in the summer. It will face strong competition from the next generation Atom platform, codenamed Pineview.

Pineview Atoms will integrate a GPU core and a memory controller into either the die or chip package. It will be produced on Intel's low power 45nm process, and feature an extremely competitive price at a much smaller form factor. Ion will have to be extremely price competitive, even though it offers much better graphical performance.

Whichever the market chooses, netbooks will be cheaper, faster, lighter, and have longer battery life this summer. The winner will be consumers.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive
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