If you remember learning about IONs, molecules and atoms at school, you should remember that an Ion is an Atom or molecule which has lost or gained one or more electrons, giving it a positive or negative electrical charge. And that description suits today's preview of the ION platform really well. The small NVIDIA ION motherboard we received combines the NVIDIA GeForce 9400 GPU and Intel Atom 330 CPU. One could say a positively charged Atom.
We expect that ION will end up in many mini-notebooks, netbooks and even mid-range laptops.
After initially looking into its potential, we noticed a market for mini PCs where the Full HD video capability of this device will suit HTPC aficionados pretty well. There is one big restriction though, you stick to content allowed to be decoded over the GPU like DVD, WMV-HD (DXVA accelerated) and Blu-ray. So that's a pretty big platform where NVIDIA could penetrate certain markets for sure.
But why is all this needed? Why not just run all that high-def goodness off the processor already embedded into such a netbook/nettop? Well, almost any netbook is powered by an Intel Atom processor, and while the processor is amazingly dominant for its size, Atom just isnt setting any performance records when it comes to multi-media as processors really are not well suited for it.
Atom's main restriction is in fact its platform chipset, based on Intel's outdated 945GC, while NVIDIA's GF9400 is sparkling new and very versatile.
GF9400M Block diagram
The Intel Atom with 945GC chipset offers a very basic experience at best. If we place some specifications in a table and compare... you'll notice spot on what we are talking about, as the difference is significant really:
NVIDIA ION - GF9400
Front Side Bus
Memory freq in MHz
DDR2 800 | DDR3 1333
x16 (one), x1 (four)
0, 1, 0+1 and RAID 5
Dual-link DVI, VGA, HDMI, DP
VGA, DVI, HDMI (vendor dependant)
As you can see, the platform differences are huge, and we haven't even talked about the graphics core that is embedded. See, Intel's Atom 945 chipset can manage a lot of tasks but the main problem with it is simple; HD video playback is just not possible on the Atom (945G) ecosystem because the CPU isnt fast enough to properly decode high bit-rate video like VC1, H.264 and MPEG4. When Intel released their Atom series, NVIDIA saw an opportunity, pairing up that processor with a GPU.
The embedded graphics in the GF9400 chipset is in fact the same 9400 series we know from the newer Apple and Sony VAIO TX series laptops. I have this model VAIO myself, and well... it's just an awesome platform really as it can decode 1080P High Def video and output 8 channel (7.1 surround) Linear PCM audio over HDMI as well.
In the past we've tested single-core Atoms fighting to even decode 720P videos. And here's where the ION shines like a star. Playing back a 1080p clip encoded as a high bit-rate MPEG4/AVC file with no noticeable dropped frames or stutters. ION as a platform will handle HD video quite competently, with exceptional image quality.
But enough chipset chatter, let's have a look at this petite motherboard.
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Point of View GTX 570 TGT Ultra Charged review Today's offering is of course a GTX 570, we nicked it out of the Eindhoven warehouse from the good people at Point of View. See, their TGT team is chunking out several new SKUs based on the GTX 570. Today we'll have a peek at their Ultra Charged model. The UC version is a guaranteed stable factory overclocked product that is overclocked towards a pretty impressive value. See, the default core clock frequency of the GTX 570 is 732 MHz, the TC version is clocked at a blistering 810 MHz, which is a pretty decent overclock. Memory wise spot an increased clock frequency on that 1.2 GB GDDR5 memory as well, taken from 3800 towards 3960 MHz.
Point of View Ion 330 motherboard review We test an ION 330 based motherboard - ION is a relatively low cost GPU assisted solution that will allow this industry on very short notice to have netbooks with full HD playback quality, in multi-channel HD audio. A solution that even supports CUDA and therefore some simple PhysX functionality, but since it's CUDA compatible, it'll also allow encoding and acceleration of popular video content. A platform that supports Gigabit Ethernet, dual-link DVI (high resolution monitors), acceleration in Photoshop CS4 and heck... you can even play a couple of games or make a mini HTPC out of it, it's just really interesting as the product might be little, yet offers a lot.
GeForce 9600 GSO 384 MB review | Point of View NVIDIA replaced the GeForce 8800 GS with the GeForce 9600 GSO. The 9600 GSO is still based on the same G92 core with 96 stream processors that the 8800 GS has, but NVIDIA gave card makers a bit more freedom in their designs in terms of own PCB design to and determine their own clocks. This 'old' card will still have 384 MB of GDDR3 memory over a weird 192-bit memory interface.
Cards like these will sell for less than 99 Euro, and considering the performance you get returned for that, you'll love it.