Introducing NVIDIA’s Ion Platform

The combination of two is called the Ion platform and the reference design fits into a pico-ITX form factor:

A Pico-ITX motherboard measures 10 cm x 7.2 cm (3.94” x 2.83”), by comparison a standard ATX motherboard measures 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm (12” x 9.6”). If you’re bad at visualizing dimensions, perhaps this picture will help:

An ATX motherboard (left) vs. a Pico ITX Ion board (right)

The reference motherboard is very simple; you’ve got an Intel Atom CPU and a GeForce 9400M next to each other, a single SATA connector and a DDR3 SO-DIMM slot on the other side of the board. And this little thing is powerful enough to play HD video (8 - 25Mbps H.264):

Click to Enlarge

That's 27% CPU utilization on an Intel Atom processor when playing back a 18Mbps 1080p H.264 scene

Note that this is the very same 9400M that’s in the new Apple notebooks, not a watered down version, the clocks, features and performance are the same (although presumably OEMs could choose to underclock the graphics core for particularly power/heat sensitive applications).

NVIDIA even built an ugly looking reference machine to show you what was possible with Ion:

It's the Ion reference design, OEMs will build prettier looking devices

That’s an entire PC, along with a 2.5” HDD, it ran Windows Vista just fine and had no problems playing HD video. It can even play games although we didn’t get a chance to see any run on it.

It's that small

Ion on top of a Mac mini

Ion vs. Mac mini once more

NVIDIA claims that a netbook running with the Ion platform should have the same battery life as one running on the conventional Atom + 945G setup.

NVIDIA wasn’t able to leave us with an Ion system to test before today’s announcement, but we have seen it operational - it works and it’s tiny. NVIDIA’s vision for Ion extends far beyond netbooks and cheap PCs, systems based on Ion could easily be powerful HTPC front ends connecting to networked storage.

Let me also point out that since this is the same 9400M chipset we’ve reviewed, Ion has full support for 8-channel LPCM over HDMI. That’s even more capable than most ATX HTPCs. If you tossed a 500GB 2.5” HDD in one of these things, you could carry your HTPC with you. That’s probably a silly usage model but it highlights the power and versatility of this platform. Ion is cool.

Index Final Words


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  • MAsterCATZ - Thursday, June 11, 2009 - link

    If only it had an Fibre Optic for sound

    I would be all over it :S

    Even COAX ... I never was to keen on running a cable per speaker to the Decoder

    Add Raid Function and would be nice Torrent / Media Centre

    I wounder if the GPU can Turn off whilst no in use ?

    Any one know whats its power save features are like
    ( Drools over possible new WIN 7 Media Pc .. )
  • MAsterCATZ - Thursday, June 11, 2009 - link


    How did I miss those Connectors :P

    ok Now that Box is looking Mighty fine

    and will order regardlss of price
    ( if it has blue tooth and wireless intergrated :P )
    but I guess i can USB Dongle them in

    ( any Idea if those sata ports support Raid ? )
  • chamcham - Sunday, December 28, 2008 - link

    Resolution is one area where netbooks can stand to improve. The abysmal 1024x600 is often too small to fully read menu dialogs,
    with the buttons below the screen and unreachable.

    In fact, I'd argue that higher resolution is more important to netbooks than gaming performance. Finally, maybe we can have 1280x1024 on an 8.9" screen
  • OBLAMA2009 - Sunday, December 21, 2008 - link

    sounds cool but wait til the product actually comes out. it will be so buggy that it will be too annoying to use Reply
  • Fanfoot - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    Very interesting. I'll take Nvidia's claims about battery performance (which is CRITICAL in a netbook) with a grain of salt until somebody actually rolls one of these suckers out in a netbook, but seems very encouraging.

    Like other I think this would be a very nice HTPC solution. I don't need a DVR, thanks, I've already got one of those, I just need a media tank that can double as a Hulu/ media player. So a little quiet low power box with HD playback capabilities, support for a SATA 2.5" drive, and an HDMI port would do the job. Pair it up with a USB driven wireless keyboard/mouse and you've got a great solution!
  • ianken - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    ...with a 9400 and an atom CPU.

    Also, I have gotten an Eee PC to do 1080i decode and rendering in Media Center on Windows 7 with the 945G. You just need the right drivers, because 945G does support rudimentary MPEG2 decode acceleration. It berly does it, but it does work.
  • ty1er - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    omg, I have been holding out on building a HTPC. The good alway seems to out weight the bad. The cost is one thing, and having a big htpc under my tv is another. I just can't let go of my xbox running xbmc, i love it. But a version of this small powerful device will probably make its way into my living room to replace my xbox. Woot, very exciting! Reply
  • realneil - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    Intel needs a poke every now and then to keep them focused. The business that they're in thrives on innovation and if others are using their parts to come up with something better than they have, they'll take notice and get leaner and meaner. Considering their resources, they should be doing all of this innovating and not trying to (maybe) control the pace of new ideas.
    NVIDEA's little gadget looks like a winner,...I wish I had one to play around with, no matter how it looks.
  • DukeNukemCZ - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    OBR from
    its review before NDA, it was hide again but i have save it.

    Review for download (several html files in RAR):">

    ITS in Czech launguage so use translator or something
  • Visual - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    "NVIDIA claims that a netbook running with the Ion platform should have the same battery life as one running on the conventional Atom + 945G setup."

    This is actually disappointing. The intel chipset is power-hungry and my netbook gets too warm very fast. I applaud the nVidia engineers for managing to fit all the extra performance into the same power envelope, but it would've been much better if it could work with less power when not using features like video encoder/decored and 3d graphics beyond aero level.

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