nVidia Offers the First Netbook GPU

nVidia has launched its GeForce 9400M “Ion” graphics chipset for Netbooks and small desktop designs, putting the same graphics chip used in the current generation of Apple MacBooks into the fast-growing netbook market.

Netbooks are known for being low-cost, low power and not exactly cutting edge. Most use the Intel Atom processor, a derivative of the x86 processor architecture that is not as speedy as a Core 2 chip.

Up to now, all netbooks from vendors like Acer, Asus, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell have come with Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) integrated graphics chips, which are not ideal for graphics tasks like Blu-ray or high definition video playback or playing games.

Compared to the integrated graphics chipsets that come with Atom-power netbooks, the GeForce 9400 GPU offers up to ten times the graphics performance, plays full-spec 1080p high definition video, supports the full Windows Vista user interface and the upcoming Windows 7, and runs popular 3D PC games.

Yet it requires one less chip in the laptop and has minimal effect on battery life. The addition of the 9400 should add about $50 to the price of a netbook, said Ken Brown, a spokesman for nVidia.

“Our goal was to provide a means for folks to enjoy content where they are capturing images and want to enjoy media options in new versatile form factors that are not necessarily supporting a good media experience today,” he told InternetNews.com

Putting a GPU in a netbook would seem to go counter to the mission of netbooks, to be cheap, affordable and power efficient devices for Internet access and basic computing. But Brown said there is a place for the GPU in the netbook, without eating into the regular notebook market.

“Overseas, people are very careful about the purchases they make,” he said. Dollars are dollars, and if people can’t get the performance they want for their budget, they won’t buy a more expensive item, they won’t buy at all, he explained. “If you could get a netbook for $400 and you could do all the things you would do on a PC, then it’s a good alternative to getting more bang for your buck.”

nVidia is already selling the 9400 to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) for its new MacBook line and said it is ready to begin fulfilling orders to netbook makers.

News Around the Web