Intel has confirmed that the company plans to launch the next-generation Intel Atom “Pine Trail” platform before the end of the year. Whether PC makers will rush to adopt the platform before 2010 remains to be seen. But either way, it’s likely that the Atom N270/N280’s days are numbered. And that could be bad news for the NVIDIA ION platform, which is just starting to show up in netbooks after having made a name for itself in Atom 230 powered nettops.
That’s because the ION platform, which is intended to provide higher quality graphics performance than you’ll get from the integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics in most netbooks, bundles an NVIDIA GPU with the Atom CPU. But the Pine Trail platform handles things differently, and groups the CPU and GPU functions together on a single chip. While you probably could still add a discrete graphics card to a Pine Trail-based machine, essentially you’re going to end up with a PC with two graphics controllers, which seems like overkill in a small, cheap netbook.
The folks at Overclocker’s Club speculate that this mean the ION platform’s days are numbered. But it might just be an indication that NVIDIA needs to adapt. The company has already expressed interest in developing a version of ION that uses VIA processors instead of Intel. And I don’t see why it couldn’t work with low power AMD processors as well. NVIDIA already has a separate platform, which it calls Tegra, that bundles a low power ARM-based CPU with NVIDIA graphics to deliver HD video playback on devices that consume even less power than your typical Intel Atom-based netbook.
But then again, it’s possible that netbooks with high performance graphics will turn out to be niche products that most budget-conscious netbook buyers will pass on, in which case maybe it doesn’t matter if NVIDIA takes its ball and goes home.