Lenovo Gives Intel Atom A Boost With Nvidia Ion

In making Ion available with the IdeaPad S12 netbook, Lenovo is giving its lowest-priced laptop line a performance boost in plenty of time for the back-to-school season.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

May 26, 2009

3 Min Read

Lenovo Ion-Based Netbook
(click image for larger view)
Lenovo Ion-Based Netbook

Lenovo on Tuesday introduced an under-$500, 12-inch netbook that uses an Nvidia Ion graphics processor that makes it possible to watch high-definition video and perform other tasks not possible with the typical netbook configuration.

In making Ion available with the IdeaPad S12, Lenovo is giving its lowest-priced laptop line a performance boost in plenty of time for the back-to-school season. In addition, the new system has a full-size keyboard, which means buyers can comfortably perform all computer tasks.

Lenovo is the first major computer maker to introduce an Ion-sporting netbook. Acer was the first to introduce Ion in a computer when it launched the Aspire Revo mini-desktop. The so-called nettop was introduced in April, but has not yet been released in the United States.

Lenovo plans to offer the S12 in June without Ion for $449. The Ion model is scheduled to be available later in the summer for a starting price of $499.

Typical netbooks running Intel's Atom processor and integrated graphics chip can't handle multimedia at resolutions of 720p or higher, which means they can't handle more advanced games. Ion, however, is expected to provide 1080p capabilities, which is considered true high definition.

How Ion systems perform won't be known until they're independently tested. However, if they perform as advertised, than netbooks will no longer be confined to Web browsing and basic computing tasks. As a result, the line between netbooks and more mainstream laptops 13 inches or larger will likely blur even further and could lead to netbooks cannibalizing sales of mainstream laptops, even as the economy improves.

If that happens, it's unclear how computer makers will adjust. At rock-bottom prices, netbooks carry far slimmer profit margins than mainstream laptops. They also appear to be ushering in a new era where consumers are turning to good-enough computers, rather than the latest and greatest with the fastest processors. Netbooks are the fastest-growing computer category, with shipments rising in double digits while other products are seeing shipments drop in the economic recession.

The S12 comes with an Atom N270 processor, 1 GB of memory, and a 160-GB hard drive. The system is available with a six-cell battery capable of six hours of power and comes with Wi-Fi connectivity. An ExpressCard slot is included for people who want to connect their systems to their carrier's 3G wireless network. The system weighs less than three pounds.

Intel is expected to eventually offer better graphics processors with its Atom platform. In the meantime, Nvidia appears to have the upper hand with Ion. However, Nvidia's ability to integrate with Intel products in the future is cloudy because of a licensing dispute with its larger rival. Intel claims the current agreement doesn't cover products based on Intel's future processor technology. Nvidia claims the 4-year-old license does. The case is pending in a Delaware court.

Along with the S12, Lenovo also introduced a refresh of its thin and light laptops, the IdeaPad U350. Weighing 3.5 pounds, the U350 has a 13.3-inch display and is an inch thick. The system is available with either an Intel Core 2 Solo or Pentium ultra-low-voltage processor, up to 8 GB of DDR3 memory, and up to a 500-GB hard drive. Pricing starts at $649.

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