The market of inexpensive compact computer systems that belong to the netbook and nettop class has been growing tremendously lately. There are several reasons for that. We certainly have to mention the worldwide economic crisis; no need for high-performance systems if we are talking not about the first computer, but about the second or third one; the users’ desire to replace their narrow-purpose computers with more universal systems. However, we are not going to talk about reasons really, but about an important consequence – the desire of companies that have any sort of connection to computer industry to enter this new market and strengthen their positions in it.
The largest graphics processor manufacturer, Nvidia, is also no exception. As you know, they design and manufacture not only GPUs, but also system core logic sets, including integrated solutions. Nvidia chipset business doesn’t go through its best times these days. AMD and Intel have been promoting platform approach to system building very aggressively and thus have almost ousted Nvidia from the desktop segment. As for the mobile solutions with integrated graphics, their future may also be not so rosy: if processors with built-in GPU come to the market, Nvidia solutions will become not so interesting anymore, to say the least of it. So, it is quite logical that Nvidia considers joining the netbook-nettop race as a possible solution to the difficult situation they may find themselves in one day. Therefore, we were ready to one day see a solution like that introduced by the “green” team.
There were all sorts of rumors circulating around. Some people even claimed that the California developer was working on their own energy-efficient x86 processor. However, so far they have only announced a new concept known as ION. If you have been following the news, you probably know that the idea of this initiative implies expanding the functionality of existing Intel Atom based platforms. They do it by using an advanced core logic set for these platforms, namely, Nvidia’s GeForce 9400M G, which is analogous to their own mainstream mobile chipset. This is definitely a very progressive idea, because the default chipsets for Atom-systems - Intel 945GC and Intel 945GSE - were not only never optimized for this particular application, but are already quite outdated. This actually explains why most of currently selling Intel Atom based netbooks and nettops can only cope with a limited number of simple tasks like web-surfing or online messaging. Many resource-consuming applications are beyond their competence because their processor and graphics subsystem are not powerful enough. Improving at least one of these two key components can give netbooks and nettops concept new life expanding their typical application field quite noticeably.
In other words, Nvidia ION looks very promising in theory already. And if it materializes in widely spread and affordable solutions, then Nvidia will definitely inspire the arrival of new solutions with more attractive price-to-performance ratio that will win the company a significant share of the rapidly growing market. Taking into account how promising Nvidia ION platform is, we decided to go beyond theoretical speculations and managed to get our hands on a system prototype built from available components. This is how our lab received a miniature PC representing new generation of netbooks and nettops. If everything goes as planned, then in the middle of this year we will see the first mass production units from pretty well-known brands, such as Acer and Lenovo. So, let’s see what our good old buddy Intel Atom is capable of together with a new companion – Nvidia GeForce 9400.