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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  • 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.
  • 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">

    But your other points are valid.

    Still, this could make one heck of a portable media center if you put it into a laptop.
  • 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):">

    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):">

    these player play all kinds of formats, and can do up to 1080P HD video.
  • 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).
  • 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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