NVIDIA's Ion Platform: Hands on at CES 2009

by Anand Lal Shimpi on 1/13/2009 12:00 AM EST


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  • ameatypie - Thursday, January 22, 2009 - link

    I can agree with the Call of Duty 4 bit... terrible game. Reply
  • phusg - Monday, January 19, 2009 - link

    Yes nVidia I want a netbook that will playback all HD video and can output it over HDMI! Get one on the market, the Asus N10J desperately needs some competition... Reply
  • insaneramblings - Friday, January 16, 2009 - link

    Whenever testing a new platform, particularly small form factors, I'd really like to know the media it can handle. Is this suitable for Standard Definition (SD) playback only? Can it handle BluRay? How about MKV high-definition and AC3? Can it be used as a media extender?

    To my mind telling us how this thing handles COD is a waste. Verifying that it can be plugged into a TV to serve all kinds of media would be very useful.
  • nubie - Sunday, January 18, 2009 - link

    "NVIDIA allowed me to benchmark the two systems in a handful of tests"

    I am going to go out on a limb and assume that nVidia didn't let them test it with BluRay.
  • bohhad - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    was that little black box in his hand at the start of the article a mini pc of some kind? sign me up, and a usb dvd drive and a usb tv tuner and call it a dvr Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link


    The box is basically a technology demonstrator for the CPU/GPU combo.

    Would the GPU be able to help with the use of a USB TV tuner? I'm guessing a single-core Atom couldn't handle the load alone, maybe a dual-core version could.
  • mindless1 - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    Don't the typical USB TV tuners already convert it to MPEG, to resolve the matter of bandwidth if for no other reason? In that case it should handle it fine with the IGP assisting. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, January 15, 2009 - link

    I know the one I bought on Black Friday called for at least a 1.86GHz Pentium M, I haven't yet tried it on my laptop to see if it will actually run smoothly and how much CPU is needed. Reply
  • tonjohn - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I'm DYING to have one of these.

    I'm looking for an energy efficient, small footprint computer with HDMI output and this looks like a dream come true.

    Is there any idea as to when products based on ION might be hitting the market?
  • ET - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I've played games on my Fujitsu P1510D, which is probably about as powerful as current netbooks. It wasn't fun, I can tell you, but when you're abroad and that's all you're carrying, it's better than nothing. And I always carry a wireless notebook mouse with my, too.

    In fact, one of the reasons I haven't upgraded my P1510D is that it's hard to get something comparable with good graphics. Hopefully with NVIDIA's help it'd be possible soon.
  • Longboat - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I have noticed that this Nvidia and another pico computer from VIA (Google: Artigo) are being offered in a 5.25" form factor. These computers even have holes drilled for mounting into a drive bay. I am wondering what functionality a "computer within a computer" might have? Is there a device that allows drives to be shared internally?

    I could see an advantage with running this little atom processor to serve up music or check the mail, and then fire up the big rig for heavy lifting, but I fail to understand how this could be cleanly built.

    The only way I can see is to have some wires coming out the back of the case and connecting both the big rig and the pico computer to a KVM switch and to an ethernet switch, and having all shared files on a server, like a windows home server box.

    Am I overthinking this?
  • nubie - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Connect it to the back of the monitor, and make the pass-through part of the Ion system.

    I love the idea of 5.25" bays in a "micro rack mount" in some case that the entire front is bays from top to bottom, you could get 10 systems and a network switch, and another motherboard as a server(run a network boot on all of them and a raided Raptor setup in the server).

    You could play ten player games on one system!

    Or go the other way and have all systems in your house be Ions and only your main Server/Workstation with a hugely fast storage system and processor (4Ghz Core2 or i7).

    In fact, if they could work out a system to stream the video out of the main system and the controls back to it you could stuff the main server with quad video cards and dual 4-core CPUs and play any video game on any PC/Screen in your house. Maybe even multiple games hosted on one server, either way you could put it in a separate room with loud fans and a huge case for cooling without driving yourself crazy.

    Another option would be to integrate this platform on the motherboard or in the CPU of future Intel systems, for browsing the web or playing simple games/watching movies the i7 never even turns on, but once you need to play Crysis 3 or encode a movie it powers up. Imagine an entire desktop system using only 20watts, but fully capable quad-core + Atom Quad core using 150-200watts only when you need it.
  • anonymoose - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Another difference between Atom Z/Poulsbo and Atom N/945(or whatever) is that Atom Z/Poulsbo supports the C6 Idle power state. This state was first introduced with Penryn, and allows the processor to shut off almost completely when idle. Reply
  • Soulkeeper - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I'm wondering how much these would retail for
    if they could be had for 150 buck or so they'd make an impressive gpugrid addition.
    4 threads on the atom is nice even tho 512KB of cache would seem to starve them.

    would be an interesting toy
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    It has been changed quite few months ago to update support for 2GB of memory. Reply
  • nubie - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Am I the only one who wants 4 of those boxes for their house, last year?

    I think the market is ripe for these to be integrated into TV's and projectors, heck even the head-unit on my car, or the backrest.

    I want it screwed into the VESA pad on the back of a few 15-19" LCD's scattered all around my house.

    In short, for browsing the web and playing WoW style games (silkroad, maplestory, some emulation and retro-gaming), this is a godsend, the power consumption and raw power are mind-boggling for something that size. (Kids would gladly watch a movie or play some games on a laptop that small, heck get them a wireless Xbox360 controller and let them go to town.)

    I just wish that Intel would get their act together and make this work. (Or that AMD would release something related to their initiative to bring CPU/Video to a single chip)
  • tonjohn - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Oh, I'm right there with you!

    I have a great need for a product like this and would probably pick up several of them as long as the price is reasonable.
  • yyrkoon - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    As far as I am aware Intel can not keep chipset makers from using atom ( legally ), and making it financially difficult seems to me would impede on the fair use act (or one of these, sorry can not think of the name ).

    Either way, Asus has an nVidia 9300/9400 netbook for sale on newegg right now. Or, at least they did a couple of weeks ago when I read your article. Tis expensive though at ~$700 usd for a freeking netbook . . .
  • Khato - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Heh... Everyone does realize that Intel making it financially difficult to implement the ION platform is no different than NVIDIA not allowing SLI on platforms without a NVIDIA chipset (until they had no other choice in the matter with the Core I7 platform), right? They're both matters of dangling "Here's the product you want." with a string attached that you have no use for.

    As for cutting NVIDIA out of the atom platform entirely, well, that's easy... EoL Diamondville.

    Anyway, Intel's motivation in this matter isn't so much profits actually, the margins are -far- higher on atom than the 945GSE. Rather, it's the limiting of the platform that's key here - with the 945 it's the graphics capabilities, with Poulsbo it's the memory. A chipset without limitations opens up more of the low end celeron/pentium market to Atom, and I expect that's what Intel's attempting to avoid.
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    If history is any indication (see what happened to VIA during the P4 days, and Ati the moment AMD took over them), and how difficult it has been for AMD to even sue Intel over anti-trust allegations, Intel isn't worried a bit.

    Intel loves making money off a processor + chipset. Protecting that revenue stream is very important. Want an Atom processor? Take a crappy chipset with it. Take it or leave it.
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    The asus you are referring to is using the discrete version of the chip. It isn't built into the motherboard like the ion. Doing so saves cost, space, and to some extent heat and battery life. Reply
  • mmntech - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    You're thinking of antitrust/competition law. Fair Use deals with copyright.

    All I can say is the 9400M is a pretty decent GPU for the low power market. It scores about 2000 3DMarks on the MacBook, which is vary respectable for an IGP. Intel's GMAs are pretty much useless these days, especially the 950. This might force them to innovate their platform.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Yes, thanks antitrust/competition laws are what I was thinking, just could not think of the correct term.

    Low powered decent graphics are exactly what I am personally looking for. Something to play most older titles decently, and not draw 5 Mw just to use the darned things. I have an Intel core 2 duo system with a NV 9600GT in it, and while playing WiC it does a great job, but at the cost of like 230W. Since we're solar now, this will not work of course, and I do not expect to play WiC on an atom system, but at least some older, or less demanding games.
  • has407 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Yet the Z5xx (except Z500/Z510) supports VT but Diamondville doesn't? Why would anyone want VT on a MID vs. a netbook/desktop? Would be interesting to hear Intel's rational for the feature mix--silicon/power constrained, or marketing, or simply because they could with little or no penalty? Or does Intel expect VT in the MID market to be important? Or maybe not a MID but maybe a 24x7 very low power home gateway/management/virtual-appliance server? (Been on my wish list for a long time, and why VT support or its equivalent is of interest.) Reply
  • Fanfoot - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    While the Z and N series Atom's may be comparable, as you say the buses are different, so they require different support chips. As far as I know this means that with a Z-series Atom, you are stuck with the Poulsbo chipset. Which means that with the Z-series Atom's you implicitly take on the limitations of Poulsbo.

    Could you clarify what the limitations of Poulsbo might be? Like for example is it still limited to 1GB of RAM? What about the advantages, like the supposed video acceleration and power savings. Have you done any testing that suggests these claims are in fact valid?

    For example, Dell has chosen to use the Z530 in their upcoming Mini 10 model, and I wonder what the advantages/disadvantages might be wrt the Dell Mini 9? Will that 3 cell battery last longer? Will it handle 1080i video playback better (at all) than the Mini 9? Will there be a RAM slot on the back like with the Mini 9? Does a manufacturer have to use Poulsbo to offer HDMI support? What about SATA drives?
  • has407 - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    FWIW... Based on the Intel datasheet, Poulsbo is limited to 1GB (1.8V X 2 or 1.5V X 1, 512Mb or 1025Mb devices), but whether those are silicon or marketing limits is unknown. The part TDP is 2.3W, and Intel shows a system TDP (w/Z500) of 2.95W, which bodes well but obviously assumes the lowest power Z500. Even with that, we might see a solution come in at 20-25W. Whether that provides adequate video performance is more difficult to interpret... both H.264 and VC1 appear to be supported at 1080i/30fps. However, what that means in the real world will likely have to wait until we see hands-on testing. (Of note, the datasheet specifically does *not* mention support for VC1/L4, so those looking for 1080p/30 for all HD may need to look elsewhere... unless the CPU can help make up the difference.) Obviously, some real-world/hands-on testing will be required before a verdict is in. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Poulsbro is no longer limited to 1GB, it is now capable of 2GB.

    They changed the spec and announced it in an update sheet.

    You can check it out by going to Intel's site, finding the "Intel® System Controller Hub US15W" page, and then going to the "Technical Documents" section. The "Intel® System Controller Hub (Intel® SCH) Specification Update" PDF details the change.

  • has407 - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the update (reminder to self: check before posting :) Reply
  • Khato - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Well, the real question on the 1GB limitation is whether it's silicon or packaging. The motivation for it was most likely packaging/target market segment, but due to the targeted design of the chip I wouldn't be surprised if that resulted in cutting any extra address logic from the design. Is 1GB really an issue? No way, so long as you're running a reasonable OS on it.

    As for the media performance of Poulsbo - http://www.anandtech.com/tradeshows/showdoc.aspx?i...">http://www.anandtech.com/tradeshows/showdoc.aspx?i...

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