NVIDIA’s ION chipset for Intel’s Atom has been around for quite some time now. We are already seeing motherboards based on the ION chipset. The ION has also seen a lot of penetration on the nettop and HTPC segments and users are enjoying usable graphics and HD video at a much lower cost and power consumption. But that netbook manufacturers are taking their time to bring out devices that have the Ion.
We have seen very few ION netbooks from major manufacturers but smaller companies have no problem whatsoever in bringing out ION powered netbooks. One such company is Weibu.
The N10A from Weibu is a 10inch netbook that uses the NVIDIA Ion chipset to give users the power of enhanced graphics and hi-def video on a form factor that has in the past been associated with poor performance and almost no graphics power. The N10A uses an Atom 230 single core processor and packs in 2GB of RAM, a 150GB HDD, an HDMI out and a 1024×600 resolution.
The clear advantage of the ION platform is of course more graphics and video power but the tradeoff has always been power efficiency. With more processing to feed, the battery is depleted faster than non-ION Atom machines. This is one of the reasons cited as to why major manufacturers are not bringing out ION netbooks. However, there is another angle that is being suggested and is worth considering.
Before ION came, the only way to get more processing power was to move up from the netbook segment to the more expensive notebook segment. In such a situation, consumers had a clear incentive to buy a notebook as their primary and keep their netbook as secondary. Now that netbooks can playback HD videos and play basic 3D games, that incentive is no longer there.
But we are seeing a slow roll out of ION netbooks from some of the major manufacturers and there is a lot of demand for it. So we are likely to see more Ion enabled netbooks.
As for the N10A, it is being sold only in Japan for about $556, which only slightly more than an Asus Eee PC.
NVIDIA seems to have confirmed the arrival of ION 2 to the market despite the fact that they have frozen the development of newer chipsets. Their announcement was the main reason why rumors started circulating that we might see the ION 2 early next year or not at all. Those rumors have since been put to rest.
Due to a legal tussle with Intel, NVIDIA has announced recently that they are halting all new chipset development on both Intel and AMD platforms. While there is a licensing issue that Intel is battling out with NVIDIA, halting AMD chipsets is still something of a mystery to the rest of the industry.
The new ION 2 is said to have a smaller die and a much faster graphics processor and more shaders as well. This will lead to richer graphics and probably the ability to play better 3D games on the Atom platform. ION is actually the same as the GeForce 9400M chipset that is used on many portables.
The new ION will not only support Intel’s Pentium 4 chips like the Atom but it will also support Via’s Nano chip, which is aimed as a direct competitor of the Atom. This decision was taken by NVIDIA probably to ensure that the ION 2 sells more than the ION did or is doing at the moment.
NVIDIA’s decision to stop making future chipsets was actually inevitable in a way. Licensing issues already make it uncertain whether the chipsets will see daylight at all and even if they do come out, their presence will be short-lived. As soon Intel brings out Larrabee, a CPU-GPU combo, NVIDIA’s chipsets will see the market suddenly shifting entirely to those chips and nobody wanting to buy NVIDIA chipsets. So in the end, this was just bound happen and it did.
Nividia’s Ion is a chipset meant for Intel’s Atom. It is meant to do what Intel’s own chipset cannot do – provide better graphics and more power. It in fact is capable enough to play a few games and play back 1080p HD movies, which is impossible to do on Intel’s own Atom chipset. Nvidia showcased it at the beginning of this year and released it two months back.
The Ion chipset caught on, as Zotac became the first to bring out a board based on Ion. Zotac’s board has a mini-itx form factor with a few variations to create four different models. They are mainly meant for HTPCs and other such small form factors.
The netbooks market was yet to embrace the Ion publicly at the point when Zotac released its Ion boards. Now however, it is apparent that many manufacturers have been working behind the scenes as usual to adapt this new offering to their netbook lines.
Asus has been the first to come under the focus due to unofficial news of a new Ion based netbook leaking across the Internet. The various advantages of the Ion are easily apparent. Atom devices can now have more than just 1GB of RAM and can also playback HD video. Better graphics power translates to better displays and an overall faster performance.
But there is a downside Ion. Since it has more power, it is not as energy efficient as the Intel chipset. Although the Ion’s energy efficiency is still much better than full-scale chipsets like Nvidia’s other offerings, it is still higher than Intel’s chipset and hence the new netbooks are likely to have shorter battery lives or more bulk due to extended batteries.