A Look at NVIDIA’s Next Generation ION

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     March 1, 2010

A Look at NVIDIA’s Next Generation ION

It seems odd that a little over a year ago we got our first look at NVIDIA’s ION; a product destined to bring acceptable video performance to a whole generation of netbooks and small form factor PCs. By utilizing the popularity of Intel’s then-new Atom processors, the ION was able to vault onto the public’s radar screen and it stayed there for the remainder of the year and into 2010. When we first saw it, the platform was still in its infancy and was being presented in a black NVIDIA-branded box that provided some very basic display outputs and graphics functionality. This reference design was then refined and expanded upon by numerous manufacturers like ASUS with their Eee PC 1201N, Zotac’s MAG All In One PC and countless others.

The whole reason behind the ION is to provide better video, graphics and functionality than the standard Intel Atom configuration can supply. It was never meant to produce the eye-popping visuals of higher-end dedicated graphics cards since the small form factor market just isn’t concerned with cutting edge performance. Rather, consumers looking for netbooks and small form factor PCs want long battery life and high efficiency coupled with acceptable performance in the functions they used most. NVIDIA thought the Atom provided everything but the latter of these and so, the ION was born to fill that perceived gap. With high definition YouTube videos, demanding Flash-based content and other applications demanding more and more of an already-overtaxed Atom, it was a welcome addition of many.

NVIDIA’s Original ION Reference Design

The original ION combined the functions of both a chipset and graphics core into an easy to implement and cost effective solution which allowed the Atom processors to appeal to a broader market. Unfortunately, while NVIDIA had a license to produce chipsets for Intel’s FSB architecture, the new Pineview-series Atom processors moved towards using the DMI interface while placing most of the I/O functions onto the CPU package. This coupled with NVIDIA’s lack of a license to produce DMI chipsets effectively killed off any chance of the first generation ION supporting the newer Atom processors. NVIDIA needed to come up with another plan. Say hello to the next step in the ION evolution.

What NVIDIA is announcing today is their next-generation ION products that are named….ION. Some of you are probably wondering why NVIDIA didn't name this ION 2 or something else to differentiate it from past generations. Basically, they didn't have to. If you are buying a Pineview-based Atom system, you will be getting a next generation ION anyways since the older one is not compatible with Intel's new DMI interface layout. There are also two distinct products in this new series: an 8-core version destined for 10” netbooks and a 16-core product that targets 12” netbooks and set-top boxes. This may not seem like anything groundbreaking but as you will see on the next pages, NVIDIA has modified these GPUs enough that they could have very well received a name other than ION.

In the following pages we will be giving you an overview of the next generation ION in preparation for an actual review which will hopefully be coming in the next few weeks. All in all, we think there’s a lot to be excited about.


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