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Nvidia confirms Ion 2

Dec 23, 2009 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 102 views

Nvidia has confirmed it will release a version of the Ion GPU (graphics processing unit) compatible with Intel's new Pine Trail Atom platform. The new chip, which will reportedly boost performance substantially, will arrive during the first quarter of next year, adds the Engadget website.

Intel's Atom processor, used in dozens — if not hundreds — of netbooks, was designed to use the chipmaker's own northbridge and southbridge chips, which weren't designed with gaming or HD video playback in mind. In December of last year, Nvidia responded by announcing its Ion platform (right), which uses an Atom CPU, but jettisons the rest of Intel's chipset in favor of a single northbridge/southbridge companion chip (pictured at right) that includes a GeForce 9400 GPU.

Nvidia says Ion-based products can have DDR3 memory interfaces with frontside bus speeds of up to 1066MHz. Graphically, they're said to support DirectX 10, offer resolutions up to 2560 x 1600 pixels, provide 1080p HD video playback, and deliver HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, and dual-link DVI video outputs.

Since the Ion first launched, it has found its way into several dozen devices, which have handily outpaced their Intel-only equivalents in independent benchmarks. As long ago as May, however, Intel leaked word of a new "Pine Trail" chipset, which would bring the Atom's memory controller and graphics core on-die. This raised several questions: First, would the performance boost provided by the Ion be necessary any longer, and, second, could Nvidia make its product compatible with Intel's new platform?

Now, of course, Pine Trail has been released. The 1.66GHz chips, all accompanied by the NM10 southbridge, come in the form of the N450, for netbooks, and the D410 and D510, for single- and dual-core desktop PCs. While the new "kits" feature lower power consumption and somewhat better graphics, the Ion — even in its existing version — provides much better OpenGL performance and HD video playback, according to benchmarks that have already been published.

As to whether the Ion could work with Pine Trail, Nvidia has allowed rumors to circulate about an "Ion 2," but apparently couldn't commit itself fully until it got a closer look at the new CPUs. Now, according to Engadget writer Joanna Stern, the chipmaker says the next-generation Ion will indeed be compatible with the new Ions, and will ship during the first quarter of next year.

Nvidia's Pine Trail-compatible Ion
Source: Engadget
(Click to enlarge)

A slide (above) reproduced by Engadget claims that unlike plain-vanilla Pine Trail systems, Pine Trail-plus-Ion will equate to full-screen video in both SD and HD resolutions, 1080p Blu-ray playback, and "mainstream" gaming. At the same time, battery life will not be impaired significantly, the slide suggests.

Stern writes, "We couldn't get much out of [Nvidia] in terms of how Ion 2 will play with the Intel GMA 3150 GPU that's now integrated into the Atom N450 die." But, she adds, the company "didn't hold back when it came to Intel's reliance on third-party HD accelerator chips for video duties — they think customers want richer gaming and multimedia experiences on netbooks than Atom alone can offer, and they don't seem to care that Intel keeps calling Ion "overkill.'"

According to a variety of rumors, Ion 2 — which hasn't been formally named by Nvidia — will at least double the number of shaders (visual processing cores), from the 16 of the current design up to as high as 40. It's claimed this could make performance at least five times faster than Intel's new, on-processor graphics.

For its part, Intel asserts that most people purchase netbooks and low-cost PCs for simple tasks such as email and web browsing, and, even if they also want to watch video, do not need to add a gaming-oriented GPU. The company instead favors add-on, video-specific processors offered by Broadcom, and already offered on some netbooks by HP and Compaq. Earlier this week, Broadcom announced its new BCM70015, said to offer Pine Trail devices "near-flawless playback" with low power consumption and CPU utilization.

Broadcom's BCM70015

No pricing information has been provided publicly by Broadcom for the BCM70015, or by Nvidia for its revamped Ion. Broadcom's accelerator does have one clear advantage, however, in that it can apparently be added to products in the form of a PCI Express Mini Card module, as pictured above. The new Ion, on the other hand, will presumably require a motherboard redesign.


To read Joanna Stern's item about Nvidia's "Ion 2," see the Engadget website, here.

For our earlier related coverage, including the initial Pine Trail benchmarks mentioned in this story, check out the links below.

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