Last week, graphics developer Nvidia announced its Ion graphics platform for so-called “netbook” computers powered by Intel’s low-power Atom processor. Based on the same GeForce 9400 graphics controller currently shipping in Apple’s MacBook line, the idea is to bring strong graphics performance to Atom-based, low-cost PCs, potentially giving them the ability to run modern operating systems, applications, and (yes) games. The stumbling block, however, seemed to be that Intel was only selling Atom processors with its own 945 integrated graphics system on board: in order for OEMs to use Nvidia’s Ion platform, they would either have to somehow rip out the integrated graphics controller, or convince Intel to ship a version of Atom without a graphics controller.
Now, an Intel spokesperson has told InternetNews.com that Atom CPUs are available without graphics controllers, and there’s nothign to prevent OEMs from buying bare Atom CPUs and pairing them with a third party graphics controller.
Industry watchers have noted that binding the Atom CPU to Intel’s own graphics controller may expose the giant chipmaker to legal liability: the company is already the focus of antitrust investigations and suits, most notably from rival chipmaker AMD. However, Intel and Nvidia have been experiencing increasingly a particularly frosty relationship lately, with Nvidia executives denigrating Intel graphics products, Intel looking to move into higher reaches of the graphics market with its upcoming Larrabee video processor, and nVidia moving into massively parallel high-performance computing. Nonetheless, Intel’s denial the that Atom is only available to OEMs with its own graphics controller may offer hope for Atom-powered “netbook” computers with improved graphics performance.