The Ion platform competes with Intel's graphics chipset, which ships with the Atom processor. Intel products have become the dominant platform in netbooks.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

April 8, 2009

3 Min Read

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Acer AspireRevo Mini PC

Acer's Ion-based AspireRevo Mini-PC.
(click for larger image)

Acer on Tuesday introduced what's expected to be the first mini-desktop that combines the Nvidia Ion graphics platform with an Intel Atom CPU to deliver enough horsepower to process high-definition video in the Blu-ray format and play mainstream video games.

The Acer AspireRevo was unveiled at a New York news conference in which Acer introduced a host of new products. Acer didn't release pricing or availability, but when the AspireRevo hits retailers' shelves, possibly in a couple of months, it's expected to be the first PC to use Nvidia's Ion platform, which comprises a GPU and the company's GeForce 9400M motherboard graphics chipset.

The Ion platform competes with Intel's graphics chipset, which ships with the company's Atom processor. Together, the Intel products have become the dominant platform in mini-laptops, also called netbooks. The small PCs, which typically cost less than $500, are the fastest-growing segment of the PC market, which overall has seen declining sales in the current economic recession.

In general, the Intel Atom platform is meant to provide sufficient performance for basic computer tasks, such as e-mail and Web browsing. Nvidia is hoping to take advantage of those limitations by offering better graphics capabilities in mini-PCs for an additional $50 to $100. "We believe this will fundamentally revolutionize the market," David Ragones, product line manager for Nvidia, told reporters during a teleconference held at the same time as the Acer event.

The AspireRevo is a fraction of the size of a standard desktop, yet contains up to 10 times the graphic performance as an Atom-based netbook or mini-desktop, according to Ragones.

With the Ion platform inside, the AspireRevo is capable of running the Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium operating system and the upcoming Windows 7. Most Atom-based systems run either the older Windows XP or Linux.

In addition, the AspireRevo can play video in 1080p, an HD video mode capable of displaying content in the Blu-ray format. The system also has a High-Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI, for connecting the PC to a digital TV or LCD screen.

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Acer AspireRevo

Acer's Ion-based AspireRevo
(click for larger image)

Besides Blu-ray support, the Ion platform can also play mainstream video games, such as Spore, Call Of Duty 4, and Sim City 5, according to Nvidia. In addition, the technology supports Microsoft's DirectX 10 graphics technology used in Vista.

In general, the GPU boosts the graphics performance of a PC by offloading multimedia processing from the general-purpose CPU. The AspireRevo uses Ion with a 1.6-GHz Atom 230 processor. The system has up to 4 GB of memory, up to a 250-GB hard drive, and six USB 2.0 sockets. The mini-desktop PC measures 7.1 by 7.1 by 1.2 inches.

Though Nvidia is moving aggressively in the growing mini-PC market, the future remains cloudy because of a licensing dispute with Intel. The latter chipmaker 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.

Ragones said the dispute has no impact on Ion or any of the products Nvidia ships today. "Intel's claim is about products that are in no way ready for the market," he said.

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