Graphics developer Nvidia is making a play for the so-called netbook market by unveiling its new Ion Platform, which aims to bring high-performance graphics to low-cost, lightweight portable PCs based on Intel’s Atom processor technology. The Ion platform is based on the single-chip GeForce 9400 graphics processor that originally debuted with Apple’s latest MacBook offerings, and claims to let the comparatively low-powered Atom CPUs play the latest games and tap into operating systems more sophisticated than Windows XP—meaning, Windows Vista and the forthcoming Windows 7.
“Until now, a high definition affordable PC was an oxymoron,” said the general manager of Nvidia’s MCP business unit Drew Henry, in a statement. “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!”
There’s only one problem: Intel only sells its Atom CPUs with an integrated graphics solution on board. For systems manufacturers to use Nvidia’s Ion Platform, they’ll either have to pack two graphics systems into their products—which consumes additional power, adds weight and cost, and potentially causes hassles for users who want to switch between one and the other—or lobby Intel to let them buy a graphics-free version of the Atom to which they can bind Nvidia’s GeFore 9400. Nvidia is hoping industry and consumer demand will force Intel to do just that.
According to Nvidia, the GeForce 9400 offers up ten times the graphic performance of the Atom’s integrated graphics solution with a minimal impact on battery life, packing 16 processing cores and a total of 52 GLOPS of processing power. Nvidia claims the Atom-and-GeForce 9400 setup can run modern games such as Call of Duty 4 and Spore on what would otherwise be considered under-powered systems—and, of course, the ability to support full 1080p high definition video could be a major selling point to consumers, who could envision hooking up a netbook to a HDTV to watch movies and other high-definition content.
When will netbooks start sporting Nvidia’s Ion solution? That’s up to systems manufacturers—and, to an extent, Intel. Nvidia has not announced any systems manufacturers are committed to building its Ion Platform into netbook systems, although the company has reportedly been lobbying manufacturers to get them to pressure Intel into offering a GPU-free version of the Atom.