Windows 7 may loom, but Nvidia Inc. is bucking the trend, releasing a second member of its ION graphics platform targeted at netbook and net-top PCs running Windows XP.
The ION LE is technologically identical to the existing ION technology, which is an Nvidia 9400M mobile graphics chip typically paired with Intel Corp.'s Atom CPU.
The difference is that ION LE will support, at best, the DirectX 9 graphics technology in Windows XP, not Vista's DirectX 10 nor Windows 7's DirectX 11, which will be able to spread processing work better to multiple CPU cores for better multimedia performance.
That would seem to be a disadvantage, with Windows 7 launching in late October, although it plans to continue letting PC makers install XP on low-end netbooks for a year after that.
Matt Wuebbling, senior product manager for notebook GPUs at Nvidia, says that the vast majority of games still run on DirectX 9, as well as all high-definition (HD) video content.
"For a $400 netbook, does [having] DirectX 11 really matter?" he asked, because ION LE will otherwise provide the same graphic performance and 1080p HD video as ION.
Despite ION's graphical capabilities, it has had limited success due, Nvidia says, to Intel's aggressive, unfair discounts for its Atom CPU when paired with Intel's graphics chip.
ION LE doesn't solve that dilemma, but it will enable netbook makers to release XP-based netbooks that perform as well or better than Windows 7 netbooks at a cheaper price, Wuebbling said. That's mostly due to Microsoft's lower price for Windows XP than Windows 7.
Wuebbling declined to give a price for ION LE. He said the platform will be available only to PC makers, not to motherboard makers offering boards to hobbyists building their own PCs, although that could change depending on demand.
But he said to expect lower prices for netbooks and net-tops mainly because of Windows XP's lower cost.
Nvidia, however, won't restrict the screen sizes of netbooks using ION like Microsoft and Intel both try do, he noted.
Wuebbling said that ION LE is "not really an answer one way or another to Intel's Pine Trail," the next-generation Atom platform that Intel is expected to release by year's end.
Nvidia's next-generation ION 2 platform could be the answer to Intel's Pine Trail, but Wuebbling declined to comment on it.
He did say that ION LE doesn't herald any new support for netbook CPUs from Via Technologies Inc. or AMD Corp. "We haven't announced support for any CPUs but Intel," Wuebbling said. "That might be something that comes in the future."