Nvidia: Ion will outperform next-gen Intel Pineview Atoms

The chip maker offers up fighting words, praises its own Ion platform

Intel Corp. may not have officially released the specs of its upcoming Pineview family of Atom CPUs, but that hasn't stopped Nvidia Inc. from claiming that its Ion platform will best its Intel counterpart, especially in the areas of high-definition movies and games.

In an interview Tuesday, Nvidia product manager Dave Ragones predicted that Ion, a pairing of Intel's Atom CPU with Nvidia's 9400M GPU, will outperform Intel processor-and-graphics bundles by a factor of five to 10 times, as, he said, Ion already does today.

Pineview "won't be able to do 1080p [high-def] video. We can," Ragones said. And while Ion has already been certified by Microsoft to run Windows 7 well, Ragones ventured that Pineview "won't even be able to do Windows Vista Premium."

Ragones acknowledged that there is a "price premium" consumers will have to pay for Ion-based hardware, he argued that the demand is there. "We think there is a significant chunk of customers who want to play video and mainstream games, or take a video and rip it for their Zune," Ragones said. "Ion turns a netbook into a notebook. Intel, with Pineview, restricts that experience."

An Intel spokesman declined to comment.

A Hong Kong magazine last week reported details about Intel's next generation of Atom chips that analysts say appear authentic.

The purported specs show the Pineview Atom CPUs coming in single- and dual-core versions running at 1.66 GHz -- an imperceptible boost over today's 1.6 GHz. Its purported new GPU, the GMA500, will be slightly faster than today's 945 Express. But it would still lag Nvidia's 9400M, which is used in a number of mainstream and high-end laptops including Apple Inc.'s entire MacBook line.

Pineview will feature an architectural overhaul that Intel has said will make its upcoming Atoms cheaper, smaller and cooler, allowing manufacturers to build slimmer and more energy-efficient PCs.

Some analysts argue that Intel is wisely targeting mainstream consumers who value low price and portability in their netbooks over the ability to watch high-def movies on tiny screens.

That, they say, could restrict Nvidia to unproven market segments such as netbooks with 12-in. screens, or net-tops such as Acer Inc.'s AspireRevo, which are targeted at home theater enthusiasts.

Ragones rejected that reasoning. For one, Ion boasts the same two-chip architecture planned for Pineview. That means Ion lets PC makers manufacture netbooks just as thin and light as if they used Pineview.

For another, PC makers agree with Nvidia's view that consumers want more powerful multimedia features, he said, pointing to the 20 or so Ion-based machines announced at Computex earlier this month.

Ragones also said that Ion netbooks can even outshine pricier mainstream notebook PCs running new low-wattage processors such as AMD's Neo and Intel's CULV.

He pointed to Lenovo Group Ltd.'s recently-launched IdeaPad S12, which comes in a $500 Ion version that features 1080p video, and, he claimed, registers better graphics benchmarks than Hewlett-Packard Co.'s $700 Neo-based DV2.

Ragones declined to talk about when Nvidia plans to release the next version of Ion with an upgraded graphics chip.

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Eric Lai

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