NVIDIA has just made its next-generation Ion graphics processors official. You might have heard that Ion-Next was slower than the first generation Ion… well this is wrong. In fact, there are two versions of Ion, a 16-core and an 8-core versions. Obviously, rumored performance had been benchmarked on the 8-core version. Anyhow, the next-generation Ion still has the same quality than the first one: it bring high performance graphics to Netbooks, without battery life compromise when compared to a plain vanilla Netbook with Intel integrated graphics. NVIDIA is talking about 15x graphics performance against Intel’s graphics chips (GMA 945GSE, Intel’s GMA 3150) or 7x faster in video conversion (GPU-Badaboom versus CPU-iTunes).
Technically, Ion went from being a chipset with an integrated graphics processor (GPU) to being a discrete GPU in this new iteration. Despite this fundamental difference, NVIDIA has chosen to keep the same name because Ion has become a brand that is synonymous with high-performance Netbook, so NVIDIA wants to keep going – it’s a good decision. You should also note that Netbooks with Windows 7 Home Starter won’t benefit from all the graphics features of Ion because it lacks the Aero Interface, Windows Media Center and HD Video support.
On the battery front, Ion will kick-in only when demanding graphics applications are used. For other tasks, the system will switch back to the slower integrated graphics chip, thanks to NVIDIA’s Optimus technology. The transition is seamless, and you can check our previous post about it if you want to know more.
The fast version of Ion with 16 cores is supposed to be used for 12″ Netbooks, while the slower version will go into 10″ Netbooks – it’s a good thing to remember, because we are talking about doubling the shading performance here. Both version will support a maximum of 512MB of dedicated video memory.
All in all, this is solid release in the Netbook world, and I hope that computers using CULV processors will also be built using Ion. If you are getting a netbook, you should definitely look at Ion-powered systems, the difference in performance is simply too great to ignore.
Here are a few computers that are scheduled for release: Asus Eee 1201PN, Asus Eeebox 1501, Asus ET2010PNT, Lenovo C200 and the Zotac Zbox. Because it’s really a discrete GPU, the new Ion will also be available as a standalone card – although we would have loved to only see fan-less versions.