ION: TNG Lives Long and Prospers

And that pretty much wraps up all we know about Next Generation ION. It will do everything that current ION platforms can do, only better. It will support Pine Trail, it will be 50-100% faster, and on netbooks Optimus will dynamically switch the GPU on/off as needed. Given the alternative between spending around $25 on a Broadcom HD chip compared to $50 to add an NVIDIA ION chip, NVIDIA obviously hopes netbook manufacturers will see enough added value to skip the Broadcom HD and go for NG-ION. If you're not happy with Pine Trail, we have to agree with NVIDIA on this one. Flash 10.1 support has been much better on NVIDIA GPUs than on the competition (though the 10.1 Beta 3 adds Crystal HD support), there are a few potentially useful CUDA apps, and light gaming support is an added bonus.

Casual games like Spore, Monkey Island, and World of WarCraft should all run reasonably well […and a little birdie told us StarCraft 2 runs acceptably as well!], but any game that stresses the CPU is going to cause problems. That's no surprise, since Pineview is virtually the same performance as Diamondville; it just uses less power. Hard drive performance has also been a sore spot on Atom, from a combination of the low-end CPU and RAM specs and the use of bottom-of-the-barrel hard drives. We'll have to wait for test hardware to see if things have improved much in respect to storage performance.

NVIDIA continues to promote CUDA applications like Badaboom and vReveal, along with multimedia support headlined by Flash 10.1. If you happen to be a YouTube junky, full screen Flash videos will no longer be a problem on an ION netbook. Besides Flash videos, NVIDIA has worked quite a bit with Boxee to provide a nice multimedia library setup that will run great on ION. NVIDIA also hinted that "something big" was in the works that would make it "foolish to not have a GPU" in your next netbook/laptop, but as usual they couldn't give us specifics right now. Marketing bluster or a real killer app? Hopefully we'll know by the end of the year.

We expect NG-ION netbooks and nettops to start showing up later this month, with prices similar to what we saw with the previous ION solutions. NVIDIA says we'll see 30 or more NG-ION designs by summer 2010. Two of the first netbooks with NG-ION scheduled for release are the Acer Aspire One 532G and the ASUS 1201PN. The 532G is also the first 10.1" ION, with a 1366x768 LCD to make HD videos (and general Windows use) more palatable. We really hope all ION-based netbooks follow suit and use a 1366x768 LCD as a minimum. The 1201PN is the next iteration of the 1201N, so we expect it to use an Atom D510 with ION—and hopefully eke out a bit more battery life, though the D510 will make that difficult as it lacks SpeedStep support. On the nettop side, we should see the Acer Aspire Revo, ASUS EeeBox, and Zotac ZBOX in the near future. There are also all-in-one designs coming with the ASUS EeeTop 2010PNT, Compaq CQ1, and Lenovo C200.

When looking at pricing, something else to keep in mind is Windows 7 Starter vs. Home Premium. We don't particularly care for Starter; it's not horrible, but the Aero UI and other personalization options (i.e. wallpaper) are definitely missed. ION netbooks should include Home Premium instead of Starter, so there's definitely added value in ION beyond the GPU. If you're looking at a $300 Pine Trail netbook with Win7 Starter versus a $400 NG-ION with Win7 Home Premium, we'd recommend the latter—especially if it comes with 2GB RAM instead of the meager 1GB found on most sub-$350 netbooks.

After the Optimus announcement, we could have pretty much guessed what Next Generation ION would entail, but that doesn't make the hardware any less impressive. ION has always been a far superior multimedia solution than regular Atom-based netbooks/nettops, and the new version keeps all of the good features, boosts performance, and adds seamless switching between IGP and GPU as needed. That means better battery life when running common applications, and improved features and performance when you need it. Atom-based systems are still going to feel slow for a lot of tasks, and while CULV laptops are competitive they're also a sizable jump in cost; until we can get CULV with Optimus graphics for under $500 there's a clear market for Next Generation ION.

Getting Technical with Next Generation ION
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  • synaesthetic - Friday, March 5, 2010 - link

    I thought the major difference nvidia pushed for ION2 was that it would be available on non-Atom platforms (like maybe Intel CULV)...

    I guess not. Unimpressive.
    Reply
  • wicko - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I have yet to see the Ion platform really take off here in Canada. At least in netbooks anyway. Most of them come with Intel's GMA series, the only one I've seen with an Ion is an Asus Eee (and an Ion LE in an HP netbook).

    I'd be more excited if I could buy the actual product :(
    Reply
  • CZroe - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I don't know why this article speaks as if it will soon be available when it has already been available. For example, many already own the Acer Aspire one 532G. Just look at the AspireOneUser.com forums. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure where people are buying the 532G... I can find the 532H all over the place, but not the 532G. Can you link me to a thread? Because I don't see any on the main pages; just an Engadget blog. Reply
  • anandtech02148 - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - link

    nvidia going up against microsoft& intel ,except for the zuneHd
    they hold the netbook standard,its wintel all over again.
    maybe apple should use that $40billions &buyout nvidia,
    it make senses sinced apple is building their own Soc.
    Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - link

    A good Broadcom Crystal HD alternative then, just as I thought a GPU connected on the PCI-E bus. Copy Engine is of course new tech that weren't around when I speculated, but if it's just gonna be used for DXVA then it's pretty moot in the netbook space. In the HTPC space there's other chips that can be used any way as you won't need the copy engine there. But certainly a nice addition making 1080p HDMI possible. Reply
  • darkhawkff - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - link

    Being an HP 311 owner, who is extremely happy with the little machine, I fail to really see any value added to both the new Ion, as well as the new Atom CPU's. Granted, the old Ion wasn't exactly a powerhouse, but for what it was it was great. Given the simple fact that (atleast on my HP 311) I was able to attain 2.2 GHz stable overclocks on the Atom N280 processor, it made it possible to (reasonably) play semi-recent games even on it. Testing has shown that at the >2.0 GHz range, the GPU becomes the bottleneck, not the CPU (check out www.myhpmini.com for results). I even use it to play WoW on while I watch a movie or TV. Would I be able to do a 10 man or 25 man raid on it? No, but for questing and doing 5 mans it works quite well. Add in the fact that all the HP 311's hardware (outside of Wireless Lan) is supported by OSX, making it the perfect Mini Mac, how can you really go wrong?

    Nvidia is just trying to continue to stay in the Netbook market, and I can't blame them. But I really see very little value added compared to current offerings. Yes, the video card is probably a little bit better, but will a GT210 really be that much better than even a 9400 at this point? I would wager no.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - link

    My own testing suggests that CULV at 1.3GHz is still a bottleneck for G210M, which is around 60% faster than 9400M because of the dedicated RAM and higher clocks. I doubt that even Atom at 2.2GHz is going to make the NG-ION the bottleneck. As for the original ION, it probably had as much of a bottleneck from the shared memory bandwidth. (Also: few people would recommend running the HP Mini 311 at 2.2GHz; 2.0GHz is where I'd draw the line, and an extra 10% in CPU clock with a much greater risk of system damage is pretty extreme.)

    So take ION, get rid of battery life limitations, and make it 50 to 100% faster. Yes, the new ION is clearly better than the old version in quite a few ways. Is it universally better? No, because Optimus has a few minor drawbacks: Win7 required--but we would all run that regardless, right?--and there's simplicity in not having to transfer data between GPU RAM and system RAM.

    Finally, comparing an overclocked HP Mini 311 to what you would get from a stock NG-ION is setting up a straw man. Of course an overclocked ION/Atom are going to be faster (or at least equal), but you'll also be able to overclock NG-ION. We'll see how it all works out when we get actual hardware.
    Reply
  • jimhsu - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - link

    Assuming I read your post right, I also agree that the Atom remains the bottleneck .. ION and ION 2 remain fundamentally CPU limited. Is there anything other than cost preventing the complete abandonment of Atom and replacement with CULV? Reply
  • jimhsu - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - link

    I commented on that mostly because I've personally used netbooks with Atom and find the performance completely unacceptable, even comparing with 5 year old desktops. When "simple" tasks like launching Word or Firefox become CPU limited operations (CPU pegged at 100%), it brings back unpleasant memories from the last decade. Resuming from sleep takes half a minute for the computer to be usable again. Etc, etc. Reply

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