NVIDIA Ion Platform Board  (Source: NVIDIA)

NVIDIA Ion SFF Reference Design  (Source: NVIDIA)
Ion will take netbooks to the next level of Performance

The netbook is driving the PC industry right now -- the little systems are characterized by lightweight, small screens, low purchase price, and low performance for the most part.

NVIDIA has announced a new platform called Ion that should add significantly to the performance of netbooks, small form factor PCs, and all-in-one PCs. The key to Ion is that the platform combines an Intel Atom CPU with a NVIDIA GeForce 9400 GPU. The combination will allow netbooks running the Ion platform to play rich full 1080p HD media and even video games that the traditional netbook couldn't handle.

NVIDIA claims that Ion provides the smallest premium PC experience available today. Big green says that the addition of a 9400 GPU with the Atom CPU in the Ion platform provides a ten times improvement in graphics performance compared to the typical netbook.

Ion fully supports Windows Vista and the upcoming Windows 7 platform. One of the most important facts about Ion is that it is able to integrate the Atom CPU and the 9400 GPU in about half the space of today's current Atom CPU platforms. That should mean netbook users have enough room to add RAM to make a viable Vista netbook.

NVIDIA also says that the additional drain on battery life adding the 9400 GPU is minimal. If designers opt to not increase RAM capacity the smaller size should allow for netbooks with an even lighter and thinner form factor.

NVIDIA's Drew Henry, GM of the MCP business unit said in a statement, "Until now, a high definition affordable PC was an oxymoron. The Ion Platform pairs the GeForce 9400 with a truly great Intel Atom CPU and lets consumers surf the Internet, play top games, edit photos, and watch videos all in high definition. This will really energize the PC market in 2009!"

It is safe to expect to see netbooks using the Ion platform tipping up at CES 2009 in a few weeks. Those planning to buy a netbook may want to wait until ion-based machines are available.

NVIDIA released the 9400 GPU in October. The GPU features 16 cores that are CUDA capable and the GPU takes up half the space of previous integrated GPUs. Shortly after the launch of the 9400 GPU, NVIDIA boasted that it would take the firm to a 30% market share in notebook graphics. With the strength of the netbook market right now, Ion is likely the key to NVIDIA making good on that claim. The 9400M GPU is what NVIDIA leveraged to oust Intel as the graphics provider in the new MacBook systems.

If you doubt the Ion platforms gaming chops NVIDIA claims it will play Call of Duty 4, which we have seen done on a netbook before. Spore executive producer Lucy Bradshaw said in a statement, "Spore looks and runs great with netbook and nettop PCs featuring GeForce GPUs and Atom CPUs. Gamers will be impressed with the Ion platform's power and portability."

Certainly, the games will run at lower detail settings, but at least you will be able to play games. Exactly how much the Ion platform will add to the cost of a netbook is unknown at this time.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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