Saturday, August 22, 2009

Netbooks with Nvidia's Ion wait on Windows 7

Nvidia’s Ion platform may be off to a slow start, but that could change once Windows 7 arrives in late October. To date Ion has been used only in nettops–including two new ones from Asus and Lenovo–but the first netbooks should finally arrive around the time Microsoft releases its new operating system.

Ion is supposed to be a performance-enhancing drug for netbooks. Nearly all netbooks and nettops currently use an Intel Atom processor and basic integrated graphics–a combination that is easy on the battery but lacks the performance to, for example, play high-quality video. The Ion chipset, which includes an Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU, promises to significantly boost performance.

Lenovo, which was the first to announce a netbook with Ion back in May, has confirmed that it will now ship this version of the IdeaPad S12 sometime after October 22 when Windows 7 arrives. The netbook was originally slated for late summer. The Ionized IdeaPad S12 will be priced at $549–$50 more than the current configuration. Similarly, Samsung will wait for Win7 to launch its N510, an 11.6-inch netbook with Ion, according to It is expected to sell for around $599. Digitimes reported today that HP would also release an Ion-based netbook in September, and that Asustek planned to release both an all-in-one and a nettop using Nvidia’s chipset around the same time.

Earlier this week Lenovo announced a nettop that will be available with or without Nvidia’s Ion. The IdeaCentre Q110 will have a 1.60GHz Intel Atom 230 single-core processor, 2GB of memory, 250GB hard drive, Nvidia Ion chipset and either Windows XP or Vista Home Premium. The configuration without Ion, the Q100, will have 1GB of memory and a 160GB hard drive. Lenovo hasn’t announced pricing, but the Q1-00 series will be available in mid-September. The Acer AspireRevo, which has the same configuration as the Q110, sells for $299. (Lenovo also announced a new home theater PC, the IdeaCentre Q700, and a home server, the IdeaCentre D400.)

Asus has started selling–at least in some markets–the Ion-based all-in-one it announced at Computex back in June. The Eee Top ET2002T has a 20-inch touchscreen, 1.60GHz Intel Atom 330 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, Nvidia Ion chipset, 250GB hard drive and DVD drive.

Timing the release of Ion netbooks to Windows 7 make some sense. It’s hard to make the case for the added cost of Ion in a netbook running Windows XP, but with Windows 7 the GeForce GPU it should make a bigger difference. Some questions remain though. First, it’s not clear what Ion will do to battery life–one of the strengths of netbooks. Second, Intel isn’t standing still. Its upcoming netbook platform, Pine Trail-M will be out shortly after Windows 7–most likely January 2010–and it should offer better performance, including HD video playback. I’m also expecting to see more netbooks and ultraportables using AMD’s Athlon Neo processors and either Radeon X1250 integrated graphics or Radeon HD 3410 discrete graphics. All of which means Ion has an increasingly short window in which to prove its value in netbooks.

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