Netbook fans have had their share of ups and downs recently--for example, getting better battery life from the new Intel Atom N450 CPUs, but being herded toward the limited Starter edition of Windows 7 at the same time. Another frustrating problem was the absence of Nvidia's Ion GPU from the latest generation of Netbooks--a situation now rectified by the announcement of Nvidia's new next-generation Ion.
We were big fans of the HD video and modest 3D-gaming capabilities of the Ion when we saw it in fall 2009 in systems such as the HP Mini 311. But changes Intel made to the Atom platform for the current N450 (and N470) CPUs locked the Ion out of newer systems, at least for a while. Until now, the only similar option has been Broadcom's Crystal HD video accelerator, which works well for HD video files, but somewhat less well for streaming Web video (even if you install the latest Flash beta player software), and it also lacks the capability to do 3D graphics.
The new Ion operates differently, as a result of Intel's decision to combine its Netbook CPU and integrated graphics into a single unit. Instead of taking over for the integrated graphics and talking directly to the CPU, the next-gen Atom communicates with Intel's new NM10 chipset, which in turn goes to the processor and then the display.
While it may offer only modest performance improvements over the original Ion (we'll know more after benchmark testing), the new version also works with Nvidia's Optimus technology, which seamlessly switches between integrated and discrete GPUs to extend battery life. That means the Ion chip can switch on when needed, but not drain the battery otherwise. … Read more