You might have heard about this new NVIDIA technology called “Ion” – which is interesting because I hadn’t.  Apparently this is NVIDIA’s answer the world of netbooks and Intel’s Atom processor – NVIDIA is pushing Intel’s partners to push Intel to allow third party chipsets as thus allowing NVIDIA to make a push into these systems. 

The goal is simple: take the existing NVIDIA GeForce 9400M mobility chipset used in the recent MacBook update and put it in a small form factor PC.  The results are a netbook-style computer that can be used for gaming and HD video with power to spare.  According to this write up over at Anandtech, NVIDIA claims that there is no change in battery either which I find not only surprising but doubtful.

What's this Ion thing from NVIDIA? - Graphics Cards 2

The Pico-ITX motherboard they showed off to Anandtech is really incredible though and getting that kind of compute power in such small (and ugly) PC is impressive.

NVIDIA has been arguing that the GPU is more important than the CPU and with Ion is the chance to prove its case. Intel’sslowest CPU paired with a more expensive graphics solution than what Intel would rather you buy with Atom. My opinion has always been that you need a balanced approach, but the Ion platform should open up some interesting usage models: netbooks that can transcode and play HD video?

It’s an interesting move, one that simply makes sense.  If the prices of SSDs would drop to where they could be an affordable alternative to a regular hard disk you could actually build a very quick and quite portable PC out of Ion.  One thing is for sure: NVIDIA just raised the bar for the minimum level of performance you can expect from PCs in 2009, regardless of price point.