Intel: Nvidia Ion is Overkill, Smartbooks Not Versatile Enough

intel_nvidia2The 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.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. TechnoFou Says:

    Ah come on, ION is the best thing that can happend to a netbook. Intel are a bunch of idiots, 40$ more and I have an Ion and play Call of Duty 4, watch HD movies, and export from HDMI overpriced my ass…….

  2. danile Says:

    that’s a funny article

    “But according to Anil Nanduri, director of netbook marketing at Intel, Ion is overkill and overpriced.”

    “overpriced”:uh huh,we all know who’s responsible for that…LOL

    “ion overkill”:it’s possible to play HD,blu ray content,you could even connect 3d vision (for movies and pics) to it,youtube going HD,adobe,msft,etc emphasizing on parallel processing

    “You should see some incremental improvement”

    I guess 5 to 10x in graphics performance was just a tad too much eh?


    in denial indeed

  3. DisgrunIntel Says:

    Have the guys running the Intel Atom platform heard of Windows 7? HDMI? HD video (or even just mobile MPEG-4 video)? Their solution struggles with widespread, multiple year old web technology. And it sounds like it was a conscious choice by them to cripple their offering that way!! Reminds me of the days before Intel had a wifi solution for their chipsets, and their response was very similar to what you see w.r.t. high-quality graphics support on their Atom platforms– every one is overkill. Buy our under-featured solution instead, because we calculated we could make a bunch more money this way from you.

    I have purchased recently a netbook with an Atom in it, but it does not have an Intel chipset. I got a netbook for battery life and form factor (both contribute to “mobility”). It came installed with Windows 7 Home Premium. Hulu streaming works wonderfully well in comparison to the Intel graphics-based offerings that I’ve seen. Win7 Aero works. Intel’s answer for HD video: use another hardware chip (adding rider cost — good luck seeing any netbook manu. models actually use this approach) to get the HD decode features?

    Intel pricing games are apparently a main reason why it is tough to find Nvidia Ion platforms — check the FTC complaint. And indeed an Ion solution is pricier, but that is mainly because Intel decided to make it that way, so that Intel’s market segmentation strategy would get screwed up by allowing Ion chipset to fairly compete… No wonder Intel wants to get out their message on Ion and smartbooks… They do not seem to want consumers to have choice and the available facts on what their offerings are competing against.

  4. Don't like indian food Says:

    Why bother letting people make some computers with Atom CPU and Ion chipset? What are you afraid of, Intel?

  5. someguy Says:

    This guy is such a tool… You don’t need that much power… just use our crappy intergrated solution with it’s horrendouus drivers and get another computer to do the heavy lifting….

  6. gman Says:

    All great points, I agree with you all have said. I really have issues with Intel and their denial about the marketplace.

    The most questionable comment out of this guys mouth?

    “netbooks are not meant for gaming”

    Look at that comment for a second. What an idiot, sorry for being harsh. It would be a sad reality if Intel could actually monopolize the market to the extent that they could make this a reality. They could dictate to me and you that no, we don’t want to game on our netbook. I’m sure that they once said that a laptop wasn’t meant for video decoding, then what. I’m sure years ago people tried saying laptops aren’t meant for gaming. Guess what happened? Duh.


    Sorry for the caps, but the issue makes me mad, and I’m yelling!

  7. Geek Says:

    Easy to throw rocks at the technology and miss the market. Light weight, small laptops (regardless of what you call them/ Netbooks etc) are desired by the below 20 crowd. Put it in the knapsack, bring to class, back to the room, stay connected and oh yeah play the game.

    The thought that the Netbook is for a limited use and market should have gone out the window with the growth in demand in 2009 greater than 100%,

    Small and lightweight sells and some premium in price is willing to be tolerated.

  8. Bob Says:

    I have an HP 311 Mini w/ ION and I LOVE IT. I can output bluray quality video to my HDTV and it only takes up 20% of my processor. Playing a game or surfing on the laptop screen can be done smoothly at the same time!

    And this is the $399 starting model with XP and only 1GB RAM. The ION takes care of everything, it’s an awesome product. I do recommend the CoreAVC codec for HD content so you can take full advantage of the ION’s CUDA.

    It’s obvious that Intel wants to prevent inexpensive netbooks from being the only computer that a person needs so they can sell more computers.

  9. Billybo Says:

    Agreed that I’d rather play a game sitting at my desk, using a large screen, speakers and whatnot, but…I’d like to play a game elsewhere too sometimes. I want to be able to take a netbook just about anywhere I go and play games – this is why I bought one in the first place, unfortunately the performance just wasn’t there – even for simple games. I am SO glad this has changed!! Open your eyes, Intel – you’re missing a huge market just because people are using products outside of their “normal” usage-box.

  10. geek Says:

    Intel, why bother about Nvidia? What is the point in your quota? Making computing market a communist, everyone suffering coz of you? In terms on more performance, Nvidia is wroth an extra $40. Even if there was a trash can full of free intel graphic, we wouldn’t even want it. A netbook, 4fps on counter strike source compared to 70fps on ION. If you didn’t have this stupid graphic offering in the first place, I wouldn’t have to hand in a slide show based .wmv 720p coded presentation. Can even play games from 2003 without lag!. And in your website, GMA 950 is way over benefit! words like “powerful”, “responsiveness” , “mainstream graphic solution” bro YES this quot! just want to tell you intel that a 2005 low profile APG (lowest end graphic card) in the market is 4 times faster. And this card is basically from 2006. Sure, intel graphic ruins a good laptop, so why bother with your suffering graphic card? are forcing us like Starlin/Nazi to buy your graphic card when its not good?

    Even basic computing needs more graphic capabilities, I don’t mean running crysis on it, but games like “Midtown Madness 2″ released on 1999 still lags like hell on a netbook with intel GMA 950 (11fps). Applications requiring Shockwave player shows a lot of flicker. Currently, Intel graphic’s benefit are over killing. Why bother the market with this unless graphics card. Will make a exception if intel graphics can live up to the standard!

  11. Cpt. Obvious Says:

    So the Atom 450 is better than the old atoms… and the Atom + Ion is better than the 450.. Why does intel have a problem with this?

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