NVIDIA Next-Gen ION Preview, Optimus Enabled

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Optimus, Conclusion


Intel's decision to put Pinetrail's graphics chip within the SoC left NVIDIA with a quandry; OEMs generally aren't thrilled with the idea of buying a part they don't actually use. Optimus solves the problem and cuts Ion's power consumption in a single stroke. If you want the full details on Optimus you should read our coverage—it's quite a nifty bit of hardware and software engineering—but the upshot is that it's a much improved version of the integrated / discrete GPU switching we saw built into the original GeForce 9400M and the AMD 780G chipsets.

This time around, the switch from integrated to discrete and back again is seamless and completely transparent to the end user. There's no need to swap profiles or select a different video card; when Optimus detects that the discrete GPU's horsepower is needed, it flips it on.

The impact on battery life, according to NVIDIA, looks something like this:

It's hard to argue with results like that, provided they hold up in testing. One caveat, however, is that Optimus technology is limited to Windows 7—there's no way to backport it to Windows XP, Vista, although we're told there's no reason OSX can't support it. That's fine with NVIDIA, as they'd just as soon you were running Windows 7 Home Premium anyway.

Nettops galore:  Asus Ebox, the EeeTop, and Lenovo's C200

And, of course, netbooks:  Acer's Aspire One 532G and the Asus Eee 1201PN

Discrete Cards Are Coming Too.

In our experience, the difference between using an Ion-based nettop / netbook and an Intel integrated solution can't be expressed just in terms of benchmark performance. Put the two solutions head-to-head and Ion comes out a little sharper, a little faster, color reproduction a little more accurate, and all of this comes before you consider the difference in feature sets. Historically, NVIDIA has always dragged Intel out behind the woodshed for a solid drubbing in terms of graphics performance and features, and NG-Ion is only going to exacerbate the difference.

As for Optimus, it's a substantial feather in the company's hat. Battery life is a high priority these days at all price points; the ability to switch flawlessly back and forth between graphics processors could give Team Green a leg up over AMD in the mobile space. NVIDIA expects a wide range of new designs (it claims over 30 by the summer), with NG-Ion making an appearance in netbooks, nettops, all-in-one PCs, and small-form-factor motherboards.

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