Intel: Nvidia Ion is Overkill, Smartbooks Not Versatile Enough
The Atom N450 processor (Pine Trail) is certainly helping netbooks run longer on a charge, based on our early tests, but we haven’t seem much in the way of a performance boost, especially when it comes to full-screen streaming video. To fill that void you could always get a netbook with Nvidia’s Ion graphics. But according to Anil Nanduri, director of netbook marketing at Intel, Ion is overkill and overpriced.
In a quick interview, Nanduri argues that users who care about HD video should get a cheaper solution inside their next netbook like Broadcom’s HD decoder chip, available on systems like the new Dell Inspiron Mini 10. Given the apparently strained relationship between Intel and Nvidia, this is not a surprising stance, but we’re curious to see how many other vendors will go the Broadcom route. Nanduri also takes aim at smartbooks during our Q&A, which he sees as too limited, and he provides his early take on Google’s Chrome OS.
Would it be fair to say that the performance of Pine Trail is roughly the same as the previous Atom processor?
You should see some incremental improvement. The memory interface is definitely faster. We were at 533 MHz and these are 667 now. The graphics core is now 45 nanometer and they run at a higher frequency also. So you should see some graphics performance improvements. But I would categorize it as incremental, not game-changing. Power efficiency and integration are the two primary improvements in this generation.
Will we ever see a dual-core mobile Atom processor?
That’s one thing I’ve learned, never say never. In terms of what people are looking for from a netbook a single core system still seems fine. We continue to monitor and will work with our parnters to see what makes sense. The capability is there for us and we have the tools.
What’s your take on Nvidia Ion so far?
To run multimedia you don’t need a huge graphics chip. And that’s what those third-party decoder solutions will show in the marketplace. There are much more innovative ways to get multimedia capabilities that will continue to provide lower power and longer battery life. In terms of usages, netbooks are not meant for gaming. You can run Internet games fine today with the existing solutions. We believe (Ion) adds unnecessary additional cost and the other trade-offs make it less desirable. Our customers have the option to design netbooks how they want to but ultimately the market is going to decide.
We’ve noticed that some of the newer designs are sleeker than older netbooks and have smaller fans. Is the new Atom N450 the reason for that?
The shrinkage gives flexibility to the customer so they can make a smaller motherboard, and it gives them more real estate to manage their platform design. The lower power from our solutions extends to the rest of the design as well.
What do you think of so-called smartbooks, which are supposed to be even thinner and lighter than netbooks? Do you think they have potential?
I’ve yet to see a design in the market. We’re extending our innovation with lower power and doing it in a way where you’re not compromising on the usages or the software that you want to run on a netbook. We’re giving users the best flexibility and getting over the hurdle of all-day computing. We have a committed road map, so you’re going to keep seeing innovation in this category.
You list Windows and Moblin as operating systems that Atom N450 supports. Will you be supporting Chrome OS with Atom?
They’ve just released a developer community code. As we know more, we will evaluate it. We will evaluate it as the time comes and make the necessary decisions about supporting it and what’s the right platform to support it on. Atom as a platform goes into multiple categories, including our embedded road map, CE devices, as well as mobile Internet devices. There are different power envelopes and different solutions all based on the Atom architecture. In regards to Chrome OS it’s too premature to make a comment until you’ve tested it out and understand the capabilities needed.