Drew Henry, general manager for Nvidia's media and communication processor business unit, told InformationWeek that the company's GeForce 9400M motherboard graphics chipset, called the Ion platform, would replace two Intel chipsets typically used in today's netbooks, the 945GSE and the I/O controller hub 7, or ICH7. Netbooks, which cost as little as $300, are mini-laptops with screens 10 inches or smaller.
Nvidia claims its one chipset with Atom delivers 10 times the speed of current Intel-only netbooks. The performance boost means the mini-laptops can run high-definition video on top of Microsoft's Window Vista or upcoming Windows 7 operating systems, according to Nvidia. Today's netbooks typically ship with either Windows XP or Linux and have limited video capabilities.
Performance has been an issue with netbooks. Industry observers say the systems are returned to retailers more often than standard laptops, mostly because of buyer unhappiness over the inability of netbooks to go beyond basic Web browsing and e-mail.
Nvidia's Intel-only alternative, however, will cost more. Henry estimates that a $300 netbook today, using the Intel platform and Windows XP, would cost about $100 more with the GeForce 9400M and Windows Vista Basic. Add Vista Premium and the price would probably jump another $50.
Manufacturers "would probably tell you that's a reasonable price range," Henry said.
Henry declined to name manufacturers that have committed to selling Nvidia in netbooks, but he said products should be available by June, with desktops appearing in stores by March.
Nvidia has made it easy for manufacturers to adopt its platform, Henry said. The GeForce 9400M requires less space than the two Intel chipsets it replaces and can operate within the same cooling configuration. The latter is important, because if the Nvidia chipset ran hotter, it would require a redesign of the netbook, which would add cost and make it less likely manufacturers would adopt the platform.
"You don't have to add anything more," Henry said. "It runs in the same environment as Intel."
With prices continuing to drop, Nvidia believes standard laptops could fall below $500 next year. Such low-priced system would certainly be possible with Atom and the Nvidia GPU running side by side, Henry said.
"I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be possible," Henry said of the sub-$500 price. "This combination would make that possible."