Our concerns lie in the fact that the Atom CPU is probably underpowered for such a solution, and outside of mini-ITX motherboards most manufacturers will probably only use a single 1GB DIMM in single channel, but at least it will be DDR2-800MHz rather than 533MHz.
This is not only to potentially keep its costs in line with the main Atom brand, but also because Microsoft will only license Windows XP to net-products that have a maximum of 1GB of memory included.
Nvidia wasn't able to give us a specific TDP of the GeForce 9400 chipset, however we have read claims of a 12W TDP for the notebook part, although whether this is the same we're as yet unsure. 12W will be ~10W less than what Intel currently offers from the Atom platform as a whole, and should potentially improve battery life in mobile products.
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While we appreciate enthusiasts will jump at the chance to explore greater options on a really affordable platform, and companies in a saturated netbook/nettop market will also be glad of the extra breathing room to explore new products. The PCI-Express x16, extra SATA and generally more of everything will see to that, Intel's Atom is made for very inexpensive and light usage products: email, internet and basic computing. Can the Atom CPU keep up with the demands of a more complex chipset? Or is this Nvidia's closest thing to an x86 mobile product it can get seeing as its ultra mobile Tegra product is ARM based?
Nvidia claims full HD decode and display from >10" displays, but is that even "netbook" anymore? Desktop Atom products, maybe, because they will be paired with bigger monitors but not mobile. Can it really decode a Blu-ray movie without dropping frames? Nvidia also highlights the advantages of CUDA - but again, do we think of net-products and want to do video encoding with it? Unlikely.
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The biggest hurdle Nvidia faces is Intel and the way it controls its products. For starters, at the time of writing and since launch manufacturers cannot buy the Atom CPU on its own - it can only be purchased with the chipset as well. This is because Intel wants to protect its low cost Celeron processors and low end P43 or G31 chipsets that afford a much greater feature set.
Like other companies, Intel also guarantees marketing funds for manufacturers if they make a certain list of products and included on this list and "an Atom product" has been included onto this from its launch, but whether that changes to Atom CPU only or Atom platform remains to be seen and we'll be sure to enquire in due course.
Without being able to purchase the CPU on its own, Nvidia's new MCP is basically a non-starter because it can't make a competitive product in a very price sensitive market. In many ways Intel's current insistence on the way it sells the whole platform could potentially render it in an anti-competitive position, since it could be argued that while Nvidia has a front side bus license, Intel is locking it out of the market.
That could well change though - Intel could see it as a way to sell more Atom CPUs should AMD get in on the ultra portable action (hint: it will) so it's not an unreasonable choice. We have contacted Intel to ask about its 2009 policy towards its Atom package and as soon as we get a reply, we'll let you know.
So in conclusion, Nvidia has created some much needed potential for a very restrictive, yet immensely popular platform. The GeForce 9400 MCP is a good part and we can't wait to test the actual product to check how viable the Ion platform is and how well it works with an Atom CPU.
Will Nvidia's Ion be price competitive and will Intel offer its Atom CPUs on their own? These two factors will determine whether an Ion dream comes reality, or if we simply forget about it by breakfast.