A few weeks ago, we were the first people outside of NVIDIA to see the Ion platform reference design shown in the above picture. The idea of Ion is to pair a GeForce 9400 M chipset with an Intel Atom processor to build a system that has a great performance/dollar/size ratio using the Pico-ITX form-factor* (100mm x 72mm). And indeed, it can be much more powerful than current Atom-powered computers, thanks to its graphics and parallel computing capabilities.
Enhanced graphics from NVIDIA won’t surprise anyone: we have seen a demo of Call of Duty 4 that was quite playable, although not with highest graphics setting – but I don’t think that any current Atom-powered computer can run that game decently, if at all. The graphics chip that is currently used with Atom, the Intel 9xx series, is no match for the GeForce 9400 M.
One of the complaints about Netbooks or Nettops is that they are graphically underpowered, for example, some can’t play a fullscreen YouTube video. The Ion Platform plays 1080p video without a hitch. In fact, we’ve seen it in action with “The Dark Knight”. And the integrated GPU can do more than display graphics. With the right software, it can also encode video for example.
But the most exciting thing is the form-factor itself. Thanks to the 2 chip design (chipset/GPU + CPU), it is possible to build smaller boards than those used in current 3 chip designs for Atom-powered computers. NVIDIA says that the thermal dissipation and power usage is comparable to existing products, so there should be no need for a big change in design, except for making things a bit smaller.
This is just a reference design, not a commercial product
From this might bloom a new generation of small, silent but more capable multimedia computers, set top boxes or embedded systems. I guess that ordering parts for my new Media Center PC last week wasn’t such a good idea after all.
*The Pico-ITX form-factor was introduced by VIA to take advantage of their C7 and Eden processors.