NVIDIA Ion Ultra Small Form Factor Reference PC

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News Posted: Tue, Feb 3 2009 9:24 AM

In early January, back from our road trip to Vegas with CES show buzz and bewilderment still fresh in our minds, we brought you a video interview with Drew Henry, General Manager of NVIDIA's MCP products. Drew gave us a first-hand glimpse at a new small form factor PC platform that NVIDIA was developing based on their recently released GeForce 9400M chipset with integrated graphics. In this new era of HTPCs, netbooks, nettops and all things tiny, NVIDIA's Ion reference platform for the Intel Atom processor offers the promise of an ultra low-profile, low power device that quite literally fits in the palm of your hand, and thus could be easily tucked away in various small places in a number of different usage models.

We've only had it in our test labs for a few days, but we thought we'd share with you our first impressions and a deeper dive on the performance and features of Ion, which will give you a sense of what lies ahead for the platform, as retail products are introduced to market, hopefully in the not too distant future.

NVIDIA Ion Reference PC Platform Performance Deep Dive




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A soild little PC. I think it has the potential to do great things. It has so many applications from the high end user who will use the Esata to the casuial user who just needs a PC for web surfing.

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Jeremy replied on Tue, Feb 3 2009 2:57 PM

I think the HTPC aspirations of this device are entirely unfounded and unrealistic. Hear me out.

The only way to output video from this device to a TV/monitor is by playing it off the hard drive. So, you had to take that Dark Knight BD, rip the video file off it somehow (and I'm sure you had to break/circumvent some kind of copy protection to do so), then trasfer it to the Ion (since it has no external drive bay) before you could even consider playback. In addition, you can't record/playback TV since there's no cable input or any video input for that matter, which brings me to my problem with the specs.

"The chipset supports both DDR2 and DDR3 system memory and offers a single x16 PCI Express 2.0 link, as well as 4 x1 links and up to five standard PCI slots."

I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but laugh. This is a joke, right? I would assume that the 9400M is using that one PCI-e link. How, then, can it do Hybrid-SLI? 5 PCI slots? That's rich. There isn't a single on board expansion slot, nor is there room for one, let alone room for any kind of card inside that case. Vapor-ware on both counts, promised but undelivered.

I got excited that the MCP could support the entire C2D family, until I realized that the Atom has a TDP of 4W. I believe the next lowest is the single-core Conroe Celeron at 35W, and multi-core C2Ds are 60W or higher. Not gonna happen with that little HSF unless you water cool it instead.

In my humble, and completely unasked for opinion, this device needs more. CATV input, cable card slot, and an integrated HDTV tuner, and one external drive bay would make this platform absolutely killer. As it stands, I see a lot of promise with very little of the promise actually delivered.

My 2 cents. Damn but I'm ornery today.

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Dave_HH replied on Tue, Feb 3 2009 3:40 PM

Jeremy:

I think the HTPC aspirations of this device are entirely unfounded and unrealistic. Hear me out.

The only way to output video from this device to a TV/monitor is by playing it off the hard drive. So, you had to take that Dark Knight BD, rip the video file off it somehow (and I'm sure you had to break/circumvent some kind of copy protection to do so), then transfer it to the Ion (since it has no external drive bay) before you could even consider playback. In addition, you can't record/playback TV since there's no cable input or any video input for that matter, which brings me to my problem with the specs.

"The chipset supports both DDR2 and DDR3 system memory and offers a single x16 PCI Express 2.0 link, as well as 4 x1 links and up to five standard PCI slots."

I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but laugh. This is a joke, right? I would assume that the 9400M is using that one PCI-e link. How, then, can it do Hybrid-SLI? 5 PCI slots? That's rich. There isn't a single on board expansion slot, nor is there room for one, let alone room for any kind of card inside that case. Vapor-ware on both counts, promised but undelivered.

I got excited that the MCP could support the entire C2D family, until I realized that the Atom has a TDP of 4W. I believe the next lowest is the single-core Conroe Celeron at 35W, and multi-core C2Ds are 60W or higher. Not gonna happen with that little HSF unless you water cool it instead.

In my humble, and completely unasked for opinion, this device needs more. CATV input, cable card slot, and an integrated HDTV tuner, and one external drive bay would make this platform absolutely killer. As it stands, I see a lot of promise with very little of the promise actually delivered.

My 2 cents. Damn but I'm ornery today.

Jeremy, my word brother, you are a bit ornery today. Smile  While I see some of your struggle with the product and at least some of your perspective here, I think you're off the mark quite a bit in spots.

I have many rebuttals here but I'll try to be brief...

First, recall that Ion reference PC is just that, a REFERENCE platform and not a real product available for sale.  It's simply a vehicle for third party OEMs to develop products on and for NVIDIA to demo the platform. Some future products from OEMs can and likely would have included optical drives, and come in different form factors as well.

To your point about having to circumvent copy protection on the Dark Knight clip - since it's just a movie trailer, that wasn't an issue.  Also, the market for digital media extenders is growing quite well, so there is obviously a need out there for devices similar in functionality to Ion, that can stream high def media from other network connected and locally connected sources.

With respect to your comments about the chipset, I think you totally missed the point of that quote you snapped in.  We weren't speaking of the Ion box here but rather the integrated functionality and capabilities of the chipset - which DOES support Hybrid SLI and 5 PCI slots, as you can see clearly in the block diagram.  Again, the Ion PC is just a demo box and isn't claimed to offer all capabilities in its tiny footprint.  Vapor-ware?  Not at all, the chipset has been out for a very long time actually:  http://hothardware.com/articles/NVIDIA-GeForce-9300-and-9400-Motherboard-GPUs/    (10/15/08)

 

With respect to Core 2 support, again, Ion was built to showcase an Atom implementation, so obviously the thermal profile, airflow and mechanicals would be a bit more challenging with a 35W Core 2 but water cooling, no need.  Think about products like the Dell Studio Hybrid:  http://hothardware.com/Articles/Dell-Studio-Hybrid-Small-Form-Factor-Desktop/   - It might not be as small as Ion but it has a Core 2 notebook chip under the hood and is still pretty tiny.

And finally, TV tuner functionality is ridiculously easy to integrate these days, as I'm sure you may know.   In short, stay tuned over the next couple of quarters.  If NVIDIA is able to pull out a couple of key design wins with Ion or the GeForce 9400 chipset, you may well get your wishlist fulfilled.

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Nice review. This is indeed a cool little platform.

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Very nice. I was waiting for a review for this little beast. I love it. Perfect for watching HD videos and surfing the web. :)

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Ausus has a new model (Eee BOX B206) using thea ATOM CPU + ATI 3450 graphics card which will do a much better job in terms of power consumption (around 20W just like the Eee PC), as well as wifi n connection (able to turn it as a wifi A/P)... looks a lot cooler that this box for the living room....

here is the related product...

http://hothardware.com/cs/forums/t/40982.aspx

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plind replied on Mon, Feb 16 2009 8:41 AM

Great review. But what I really missed is: what audio does it support through HDMI? Does it support all HD formats, like DTS-HD? Or does it only support these through the analogue output?

Pascal.

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realneil replied on Mon, Oct 12 2009 12:00 PM

I think you should send it to me for further testing,.....

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Soupstyle replied on Mon, Oct 12 2009 4:15 PM

I like the Hot Hardware logo video clip, good work.

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