Five Reasons Nvidia ION Will Supercharge Netbooks

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Netbooks are cost-effective and cute….but "powerful" and "business-friendly" aren't exactly words that spring to mind. Well, over the past few months since Nvidia first unveiled the Ion platform, we're finally seeing some headway in a next generation netbook capable of getting the job done.

What's the Ion platform? Basically, take Intel's affordable Atom CPU, Nvidia's GeForce 9400M GPU (as seen in the new MacBooks) and marry the two together on a single picayune Pico-ITX motherboard. The big news is that as of this morning, Microsoft is officially backing Nvidia's play by certifying it as Windows Vista-ready. As in, you'll see newer Netbooks that will be able to effectively run Windows Vista Lite…er….I mean, Windows 7. How can this impact the way you do business? Let's count the ways.

1. A Really Affordable Ultraportable. 300 bucks will soon buy you decent performance at a low, low price. Now stating a starting price, nVidia spokespeople claim Ion-based mini-notebooks and compact desktop PCs will hit store shelves this summer.

2. Opening More Windows. Mike Ybarra, Microsoft's general manager for Windows, says that "What many people call a 'netbook' is really a small notebook -- and users expect it to perform like one." The Ion-platform reference unit that we recently received in the offices proved that it could run Windows Vista (Enterprise Edition, no less). Granted, it wasn't exactly smoking fast -- scoring a 38 in PC WorldBench, but it was fast enough. For a little perspective, current netbooks running Windows XP (a -ahem- slightly less demanding OS) score an average of 35 in WorldBench. So, one can only assume that Windows 7 -- a supposedly leaner OS -- will run a little faster than Vista on the platform.

3. Fighting Insecurity. XP has many security holes and Vista was partly an answer to them. So long as you look past all those annoying UAC pop-up warnings. Well, having a netbook that'll be capable of easily running a more secure, relatively easy-to-manage OS is certainly enough to ease concerns of paranoid IT types. I'm talking about Windows 7. Hopefully.

4. Death to Integrated Graphics. Not exactly a shocker, but Intel's 95G -- the pathetic integrated GPU -- has about as much backbone as a jellyfish. It isn't much help in decoding HD video and can't handle DirectX 10 at all. Enter the 9400M. Not that you'll want employees playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on their business netbooks, but it can make photo editing feasible -- and faster -- on these micro machines. Want to output fancy-pants PowerPoints with 3D imagery? At least now, it's possible on a netbook. Just don't go trying full-blown CAD programs yet.

5. It's a Second CPU. Don't forget about the significance of nVidia's big pushes behind CUDA. It allows the GPU to get tasked with tasks commonly associated with the CPU. While it's mostly being used for academic purposes (check out the CUDA Zone for some of the more fascinating projects) Nvidia likes trotting out Badaboom -- one of the few commercial applications to show off the potential of the GPU as doing more than just pushing pixels. The big "B" is a GPU-driven video encoding tool and runs circles around CPU-bound transcodes. And this is just the beginning.

The only big "if"s right now revolve around when Windows 7 will show up on the scene and how smoothly the final product will run on new netbooks. Only time will tell.

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At a Glance
  • Nvidia Ion Platform Reference Board

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