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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  • 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
  • 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!
  • 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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