A quick guide to Nvidia ION

What is it?
It is the coupling of the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics card with an Intel Atom processor, into one computer that brings, for the very first time, built in high definition video playback capabilities to new netbooks and nettops.

This combination is seen in smaller portable computers adding the sadly missing HD component from the earlier devices, as they were just not powerful enough to handle this type of playback from the likes of Blu-ray video.

Beside HD playback, ION also allows for the playing of computer games with an added dimension that is normally only seen on computers with much higher specifications. All of which is possible inside these low cost computers. The average netbook isn’t capable of any of this, as they are not really designed or geared up to cater for this type of intense graphical processing.

What are the variations of the technology?
It’s been said the ION platform could also be possibly used with other Intel processors and not just with the Atom, where it is currently being used. The other Intel chips are in the form of the Celeron Core 2 Duo and other low powered processors which are all possible variations on the ION theme. These can be used to offer many more capabilities to netbooks and nettops, which are all lacking in the advanced graphical processing power in their earlier versions.

Why should I care?
For the very first time these high definition capabilities, from video playback to editing and encoding will now be possible on an affordable computer – all thanks to the 16 core offering of the ION chip pairing and at 10 times the power of the Atom processor. Also advanced graphical game play with highly intense computer games that need that processing power is possible on these devices, extending the usefulness of the netbook beyond just browsing the Internet and light office work.

The upcoming operating systems from Apple and Microsoft will both have technology built in for utilising these GPU – graphical processing units. Windows 7 and OS X ‘Snow Leopard’ will have what is known as Direct X Compute and Open CL, which accelerates the performance along with Nvidia's own technology for speeding up any graphically intense processing, making any video playback extremely smooth.

ION can accomplish all this without really impacting on the battery life or increasing the overall size of the device, as it is around one half of the current size of the Atom CPU. Therefore, it’s relatively easy for manufacturers to include this new system, offering up even greater benefits that hasn't been seen before.

Computer games such as Call of Duty 4 and Spore, which need a higher level of graphical processing, now have the possibility of being playable on netbooks, all thanks to the GeForce 9400 and the Atom in this ION platform.

What's a good example in practice?
ION has already been seen in the Lenovo S12 netbook, just as it has in Acer's new Aspire Revo nettop. Both of these devices provide the HD video prowess, even up to full 1080p high definition film playback and video processing at a low cost.

For netbooks this is a massive step forward, one in which other manufactures will soon follow. It now adds another string to the bow of the successful low power and low cost smaller computers, as intense graphics processing was simply not possible beforehand.

Is there a competing technology that I should be aware of?
Currently there is no real competition in the market place from anyone else offering such a powerful platform, for the low end systems. Netbooks and nettops are just not capable of any high-end video utilisation, they simply have to defer to their higher specification laptops and desktop computers, therefore making them not really all that versatile.

It’s the coupling of the Nvidia graphics unit and the Intel Atom CPU that provides this better type of functionality and extends the versatility of these devices, which is really only thanks to the coupling of Nvidia and Intel.

What is in store for the future?
There will be new iterations of the ION technologies in the future, at the same time there will be new versions of the graphics chips from Nvidia and new CPUs from Intel – both will still be used together for the next generation of ION.

The future for ION are more netbooks and netops coming out, all based around this technology, from a range of different computer manufactures that can utilise ION to extend their current range and upcoming devices.

With the new operating systems from Apple and Microsoft due out this year, there will be many more increased features and functionality for ION to benefit from.