Impressions of Nvidia's Ion

Nvidia Ion
Nvidia Ion

1080p on one netbook – Nvidia makes it possible! Up till now, not a single netbook could really fully convince us – especially the very large performance cut backs didn't enduringly satisfy us. Nvidia promises improvement and bestows us with the Ion range as a proof of concept, which pairs Intel's energy saving marvel with a GeForce 9400 M. We received a small black box which came with one of the 1.6 GHz powerful (?) Atom combined with the 9400M in question, 2 GB RAM and a 160 GB hard disk and garnished with all sorts of connection possibilities. In this editorial, we devote ourselves now to the performance of this combination.

 

Size comparison Ion - Wii
Size comparison Ion - Wii
connection variety in the front...
connection variety in the front...
...and in the back!
...and in the back!

Proof of Concept.

Ion is not yet available. Therefore, Nvidia sends the new hardware in a pleasantly small case (0.6l) with many various connections (7x USB-2.0 ports, 2x eSATA, 8 channel audio, S/PDIF plus VGA, HDMI and DVI-D) in order to create a sufficient hype prior to availability. Generally, the test sample could convince: Full HD videos as well as Photoshop and co. have been made possible due to the video acceleration without further ado. Even older games like Half Life 2 work wonderfully, even Spore is playable in lower settings without problems.

Our test sample was put on to Windows Vista and the experience was positive here, as well: boot process, aero surface, surfing with many open tasks – all of this was possible without bigger slowdowns. HD videos from gametrailers.com, editing images with Photoshop, everything in 1920x1080 over HDMI – this experience is far-off from standard netbooks. The office performance of the lower priced (single core) consumer notebooks is brought closer with this and even outperforms them in graphic performance.

Of course, 2 GB DDR3 RAM, a hard disk with 7200 rpm and the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom have a positive share in this experience. There are still many netbooks, with a 1.33 GHz fast Atom and often a mere 512 MB RAM, which don't only differ in the graphic from Ion.

The question is, if an Ion netbook stays affordable. Nvidia forecasts a surcharge to comparable netbooks with an integrated Intel graphic at about €50 – €100.

Ion can serve as media center, as well.
Ion + Loewe Connect

Performance

That the GPU support through Nvidias 9400M helps the otherwise not very brilliant Atom to a better performance should be obvious in the meantime. Even the benchmarks add to this insight. In the 3DMark06 our test sample reached a value of 1157 points in comparison to a solution with Intel's D945GCLF, which reaches an average of approx. 140 points with the same equipment. Nvidias Ion still lies in the lesser graphic-prone PCMark05 with 1853 to 1385 points a good third over that of Intel's 950 GMA with the otherwise same components.

Performance like the big ones
Nvidia Ion + Loewe Connect
Nvidia's Ion crumbles Intel's 945GMA
Nvidia's Ion crumbles Intel's 945GMA

Verdict

Nvidia has a winner with its Ion platform. The surcharge on the Intel solution with 945 GMA is worth its money. Now we await the first real products from Ion in anticipation. According to rumors, Nvidia's new low-cost chip set with Intel's Atom will provide its service to the next basic version of the Mac Mini.

If Nvidia keeps the costs under control and maintains the power consumption and temperature development at its current level as in Intel's solution, netbooks could receive a noticeable performance and productivity push.

But the empire strikes back: Intel has already announced the successor of the aged construction and will replace the weaker 945 chip set optionally through the stronger GN40. With 45 nm transistors and the consequently resulting advantages in power consumption, Intel wants to retrieve the scepter with the integrated graphics even before they had it. Because the GMA 4000M graphic of the GN40 is a lower clocked GMA 4500MHD, the 3D performance stays by far behind the 9400M. Even HD videos are only to be smoothly playable up to 720p. Intel can design the offer with the price bundle attractively, though.

The suspense continues.

Ion rocks!
Nvidia Ion, Loewe Connect, Nintendo Wii
> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Impressions of Nvidia's Ion (GeForce 9400M + Intel Atom)
Author: Florian P. Helmberger, 2009-02-10 (Update: 2012-05-26)