NVIDIA Ion platform gets tested: promising HD and gaming performance

After talking the big talk last week, NVIDIA are looking to walk the walk this week with preview samples of the NVIDIA Ion reference nettop hitting at least two review sites.  Both LaptopMag and PC Perspective have been playing with the Ion platform, which couples an Intel Atom CPU with NVIDIA's GeForce 9400 chipset for improved gaming performance together with 7.1 HD audio and Blu-ray full-HD video.

Interestingly, the two reference systems delivered have different specs.  LaptopMag's Ion nettop – which has been put together as a demo design only, and isn't a planned product from NVIDIA – has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N230 processor (512K cache and 533MHz frontside bus) with 2GB of RAM, a 7,200rpm 200GB Seagate Momentus hard-drive and Windows Vista Enterprise.  PC Perspective's has a dual-core Intel Atom 330 and NVIDIA GeForce 9400M chipset, with 2GB of DDR3-1066 RAM, a 5400rpm 200GB SATA hard-drive and Windows Vista Premium x32.

The benchmarks, then, aren't directly comparable.  The former managed a PCMark05 score of 1952, while the latter managed 1,306.  More interesting is the two nettop's new-found gaming abilities, with both sites reporting usable gaming performance as long as the titles played aren't especially graphically demanding.  Non-gaming graphical applications, such as Google Earth, fare much better, as does HD video playback, with the dual-core Atom 330 machine transcoding as much as 8x faster than the Intel Atom N270 processor in an Eee PC netbook alone.

What remains to be seen is what impact Ion has on battery life, something far more relevant to netbooks than to AC-powered nettops.  NVIDIA have claimed that the platform is surprisingly energy efficient, but of course neither of these reference designs can really tell us that.  Still, both sites come away impressed with Ion, which bodes well for upcoming netbooks and nettops.