Intel has been shipping its Atom processor for months now, although it has been talking about the CPU for much longer. Earlier this year I went through the architecture and unique design approach behind Intel’s first foray into a new approach to chip design since the original Centrino.

While Atom isn’t setting any performance records, it is amazingly powerful for its size and power consumption. In making Atom, Intel made sure to give it an equally impressive chipset: Poulsbo. The combination of Atom and Poulsbo unfortunately uses too much power and is too big to be used in the most attractive of devices: smart phones, relegating them to MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). MIDs aren’t terribly successful, mostly because they are bulky, plagued by terrible UIs and too expensive for what they are. In a couple of years Atom will surely find its way into smart phones thanks to Intel’s push for integration, but thanks to the Netbook segment Atom hasn’t gone unappreciated.

Largely pioneered by the efforts of ASUS and obsession with the letter E, the Netbook market is almost entirely dominated by Intel’s Atom CPU. In order to keep costs down, Netbook manufacturers have paired Atom with a desktop chipset instead of Poulsbo: the Intel 945G. Since Atom’s FSB can work in GTL+ mode, it is compatible with Pentium 4/Core 2 chipsets.

Atom is honestly fast enough for many tasks, delivering the performance of a mainstream notebook from 4 years ago. The problem is that there are some applications that are commonplace today that can’t run on Atom. HD video playback isn’t possible on Atom + 945G platforms because the CPU isn’t fast enough to decode high bitrate video (much less H.264) and the chipset doesn’t support HD video decode acceleration. 

NVIDIA saw an opportunity with Atom. Intel had a very popular CPU, that could be used in many more environments if it could only be paired with a more powerful chipset. Enter the GeForce 9400M.

This is the same GeForce 9400M that’s used in desktops and notebooks, the very same GeForce 9400M that’s in the new MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air...and NVIDIA is pairing it up with Intel’s Atom processor.

Introducing NVIDIA’s Ion Platform
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  • mmntech - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    It's too bad it won't have Blu-ray though should the Mac Mini ever get revised. Most likely it will end up as the CPU/GPU combo for Apple's much rumoured netbook. Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Anadtech, can you please do an in depth article on how Nvidia was able to put a GPU and a Northbridge controller and a Southbridge controller all in one chip PLEASE! I would just really love for someone to dive in and dissect the way this chip works the same way you have for G80, G92 and G94; and Larrabee even though it's not out yet. Those are probably the most interesting articles on this site. PLEASE do one on the 9400M! Reply
  • degeester - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Please see this article. Reply
  • degeester - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Whoops, links aren't working but see under @ Anandtech motherboards, The IGP Chronicles Part 3: Nvidia GeForce 9300 Reply
  • ViRGE - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    "If you tossed a 500GB 2.5” HDD in one of these things, you could carry your HTPC with you."

    Is a 2.5" HDD fast enough for DVR functionality though? There are really two HTPC models as I see it: the DVR model ala Windows Media Center/MythTV where you have a DVR for television that also does a good job playing back recorded media; or the network media tank model ala the Popcorn Hour where it can only play back recorded media. The DVR model means you need space for a TV tuner, and even then the cable industry seems to be doing its best to kill anything that isn't one of their set-top boxes.

    That leaves the network media tank model. If it can only play back things and you're going to run it from a network source, then Ion seems entirely too overbuilt for this purpose. A Popcorn Hour is cheaper and smaller yet, not to mention you don't have to dink with an OS. It has a bit less flexibility than a true computer like the Ion, but it's not as if there are any new codecs on the horizon that the Ion can decode anyhow.

    This strikes me as something similar to a MID; it's too big to be a network media tank, and it's too small to be a full HTPC.
    Reply
  • FITCamaro - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    They make 7200 rpm 2.5" HDDs. And I'm not really sure how fast the hard drives in DVRs are. They might be 5400 rpm. Reply
  • crimson117 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    This would be fast enough:
    Seagate Momentus 7200.3 320GB 16MB SATA 7200 RPM ST9320421AS
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    But your other points are valid.

    Still, this could make one heck of a portable media center if you put it into a laptop.
    Reply
  • strafejumper - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    when i saw the pic of the little box it reminded me of popcorn hour and the Network Media Tanks, here is a pic of one that looks similar to the nvidia box (no internal hdd on this one i don't think):
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3052/3046167058_959...">http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3052/3046167058_959...

    New players using the sigma chipset found in blu-ray disc players (sigma 8635) come out every week, here is one from Western Digital that sometimes hits the $99.99 US price point (the WD box has no network capabilities):
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    these player play all kinds of formats, and can do up to 1080P HD video.
    Reply
  • HollyDOL - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    As long as these devices don't sound like a swarm of spatting bees it could be interesting HTPC.

    The other thing I would be curious about is the quality of sound (MP3, CDDA etc.). If it is supposed to plug in your home theatre system ( != $10 pc speakers) I would expect at least Audigy2 sound quality. Though so far integrated mobo soundcards all sound to me pretty badly (especially if you can compare the same sample just next to it with some sound card).
    Reply
  • glennpratt - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    The DACs will probably be up to the individual solution, but I'm sure that with decent DAC's and any line inputs muted, it will be more then adequate for analog music play back. For me, it supports 7.1 LPCM over HDMI, that's all I need to hear, can't get better then that. Reply

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