Discrete ION GPUs Now Popping Up At NewEgg

When NVIDIA switched from ION to ION-NG, it swapped from including an entire chipset over to a GPU. At the time, NV noted that some third-party manufacturers might opt to offer stand-alone products based on the second-generation ION GPU, and at least one company is doing so. Zotac, already known as a company with a wide line of ION-based products, is now selling what it calls an ION GPU-A-E.

The card features 16 shader cores and 512MB of DDR3, but its memory interface is just 64-bits wide. That was considered decidedly non-optimal ten years ago; it's positively anemic today. The card's x1 slot is also restricted to version 1.1 of the PCI-Express standard, which means a maximum of 200MB/s of bandwidth. Balanced against these negatives is a single, undeniable fact:  The ION-GPU-A-E is one of the only x1 PCI-Express cards available, and it's easily the most-affordable. PowerColor and HIS both offer HD Radeon 4350s, but these are $99 and $109 respectively.

If you have access to an x16 PCIe slot you should use it, even if that means using a low-profile video card. Compare even the low-profile options to Zotac's ION GPU, and you'll find they pack at least double the stream processors and often offer 128-bit memory interfaces. If you're stuck with a single x1 slot to upgrade with, however, we'd recommend a stand-alone ION GPU, particularly if you're stuck using an Intel chipset.

ION can't magically transform an Atom system into a high-performance machine, but the faster video card makes a difference, even when running nothing but a 2D desktop. Other features include DVI/HDMI output (Intel's Atom boards support nothing but VGA) and hardware-accelerated video decoding. For $60, it's a decent upgrade.