Comprising the nVidia GeForce 9400 GPU with an Intel Atom chip, the nVidia Ion platform aims to bring premium performance to small form factor netbooks and PCs. We put an early nVidia Ion reference unit through its paces.

The small reference unit we have in-house won't reach store shelves, but here are the specs for a little perspective. This palm-size black box crams in a Seagate Momentus 200GB hard drive, 2GB of RAM, and a host of I/O ports, along with a 1.6GHz Intel Z330 Atom CPU and an nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor.

It also shipped to us with Windows Vista Enterprise Edition. No joke.

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So how does this nVideo Ion system perform? In WorldBench 6 real-world speed benchmark tests, it scored a 38. Not exactly scorching fast - that is, until you start stacking it up against netbooks, for which that score is a little above average.

This machine, however, differs from the standard netbook configuration of 1GB of RAM and Windows XP. Why Vista? "Because we think people deserve a better experience," quipped one nVidia spokesperson. (We'd rather "settle" for XP and see a faster WorldBench 6 score.)

For the sake of the closest comparison we could muster, the Sony Vaio P, which also has 2GB of RAM, an Atom processor and chip set, and Windows Vista installed, ran nine points slower on WorldBench 6. Okay, nVidia, you've made your point. But we'd wager that having XP installed would probably tack another five to 10 points on to the WorldBench 6 score.

nVidia Ion

NEXT PAGE: gaming on a netbook?

Comprising the nVidia GeForce 9400 GPU with an Intel Atom chip, the nVidia Ion platform aims to bring premium performance to small form factor netbooks and PCs. We put an early nVidia Ion reference unit through its paces.

nVidia Ion: gaming on a netbook?

One other big variable is what the GeForce 9400M GPU brings to the party. Well, it does give the little box the ability to play games - to a degree. You won't see top-notch resolutions, but just the simple fact that games start up at all is a small victory.

See also: PC Advisor netbooks reviews

The nVidia Ion reference machine churns out roughly 25 frames per second playing Call of Duty 4 at 1024-by-768-pixel resolution; without the GPU, the game won't even start.

Slightly more demanding tests within our WorldBench 6 suite, though, didn't turn out quite as rosy. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars stuttered at about 20 frames per second with similar settings.

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Another significant test is trying to get video up and running with one of these machines. The Atom CPU simply can't handle high-def video on its own.

In the case of every netbook currently on the market, you're lucky if you can get anything to run smoothly above 320 by 240 pixels. So imagine my surprise at seeing the 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' trailer run virtually hiccup-free - at 1080p, no less - with very little in the way of frame slowdown.

PCWorld.com

nVidia Ion: Specs

  • nVidia GeForce 9400 GPU
  • Intel Atom chip
  • nVidia GeForce 9400 GPU
  • Intel Atom chip

OUR VERDICT

Without blowing us away, the nVidia Ion platform does have the potential to improve the capabilities of netbooks and nettop PCs, beyond their current limited business capacity.

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