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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  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Reply to both above: yes, I'm sure the OEMs would come up with a HDD+optical solution. This just would have been a no-go if it only had one SATA overall. Hopefully DIY solutions would have two internal SATA ports, however they're implemented (main motherboard or picoITX board.) Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    I'd imagine that all the eSATA, additional USB, sound, etc is provided by additional chips on that larger board. Reply
  • Thorburn - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    I don't believe Netbooks tend to use Poulsbo. This is the chipset used for MID devices (and the Dell Mini 12 I believe), and I think it supports some H.264 decoding (baseline 720p?). It is paired up with Silverthorne Atom CPUs (Z-series) which I don't think support GTL+ front-side bus due to its higher power requirements.

    Most Netbooks use the Diamondville Atom CPUs (N-series), which have a slightly higher TDP, support GTL+ and are paired with the older, higher power, 945GC chipset.
  • R3MF - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    finally the netbook becomes a useful computing device with the addition of CUDA/OpenCL.

    i say this as the owner of a Lenovo S10e.
  • djc208 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    This could be the device that finally makes me consider building a carPC.

    And while the Sage HD extender and Popcorn hour are great for video playback, the added functionality of a full PC in this form factor could make it a winner for HD capable HTPC client machines.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Will this be cheaper than using the Poulsbo chipset? As none of the netbooks seem to be willing to offer Poulsbo for an increased cost, will the 9400M be cheap enough to get some business?

    Looks great for a carputer though.
  • superunknown98 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    How I would have like a NANO in this. Seeing as how even with a Nvidia mobile 9600 the Atom can't play half-life 2. Just look at the Asus N10Jc-A1 netbook. So again what happened to the platform Nvidia said they were designing for the Nano? Did Via just get played? Reply
  • UNHchabo - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Keep in mind that HL2 (and Source engine games in general) are pretty CPU-intensive, with much less emphasis on the GPU than other engines, like those made by Ubisoft, id, and others.

    I'm pretty sure one of these two articles investigates that, but I can't check at the moment...">">
  • SkullOne - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    Wow...very very nice. I say increase the size just a little bit, add a slim BluRay player and kick the MacMini between the eyes!!! Reply
  • crimson117 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - link

    I bet this will drive the next Mac Mini revision. Reply

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