When you spend time reviewing mobile computers, you need to address the question of what sort of laptop/mobile device you are reviewing. Simply stated, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for laptops/netbooks/notebooks (or MIDs/cell phones/PDAs/etc.) Instead, most devices have a target audience. If you happen to be among the target audience for a particular device, you'll probably appreciate what it offers a lot more than someone with different wants/needs.

Take the netbook. Frankly, anyone looking for a laptop that can do everything they need is almost bound to be severely disappointed by what current netbooks offer. Yes, they're small, light, and generally deliver great battery life. They are also slow — painfully slow. If you have used any reasonable computer built in the past four years, a netbook will typically be half as fast (or less). You definitely shouldn't plan on doing anything computationally intensive. That limitation precludes gaming, video encoding, 3D rendering, and often HD video decoding. It's still possible to do some of those tasks, but the overall experience is frequently far from ideal.

NVIDIA's ION attempts to mix things up in the netbook market by introducing much faster integrated graphics. ION is essentially GeForce 9400M for Intel Atom processors. In the case of the HP Mini 311 we received, it uses ION LE, the difference being that the LE version doesn't support DirectX 10. While gaming is now more feasible than other netbooks using GMA 950 graphics, the Intel Atom processor is slow enough that a huge number of games are still unplayable, so losing DirectX 10 support isn't a huge issue. If you feel otherwise, there are other netbooks (i.e. the Lenovo S12 and Samsung N510) that include the full ION with DX10.

Gaming performance doesn't appear to be a huge concern on any Intel Atom netbook right now, but the video playback acceleration is definitely a benefit for a lot of users. A single-core Atom N270 is generally able to handle 720p x264 decoding (using CoreAVC), but CPU utilization is well above 50%. With more demanding video files (1080p for example), Atom will need help. If it were just x264 videos, the case for ION netbooks might only be moderately interesting, but with the recent release of the Flash 10.1 Beta we finally have GPU accelerated video playback for Flash videos. If you're a frequent YouTube or Hulu user, the case for ION just became a lot more compelling.

Besides gaming, graphics, and video decoding, ION also supports NVIDIA's CUDA technologies. NVIDIA is big on touting the benefits of CUDA, with a few notable applications that leverage the technology to provide improved performance on tasks such as video transcoding. We'll take a look at a few of those applications as well to see if the argument for CUDA applications is compelling.

HP Mini 311 — Specifications
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  • takbal - Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - link

    I turned the net upside down to find some comparisons in gaming with Acer AS1410 vs ION. None found, although there are plenty of videos on youtube about the ION-powered Samsung N510, showing games which look perfectly playable, while there are barely any for the 1410 or the 1810.

    And then came the surprise: the only comparable benchmarks I found were for Doom 3, where the N510 is said to have around 28 FPS while the 1810 had about 12 FPS, although it was with the SU3500 CPU. N510 costs £380 here while the Acer 1810TZ costs £430. Twice the performance is pretty good for less the price, isn't?

    So whatever the specs on paper, probably the reality is that GPU-limited games are perfectly playable on ION, and having a CPU 2x-2.5x stronger usually counts less than having a stronger GPU. It would be nice to see clear and I hope you will do a fair heads-on comparison on games in that upcoming article.

    And exactly what does the 2x more powerful CPU helps? Video encoding is something I never do on the move. If I really-really need to, I can just simply remote into my quad i7, and I do it quicker than anything here. Actually, the review at http://www.rgbfilter.com/?p=1923">http://www.rgbfilter.com/?p=1923 says about the 1410:

    "When officially benchmarked, the Core Solo SU3500 is about 20 percent faster than an Atom N270 at 1.6GHz, but ‘real world’ it felt about the same."

    If I add to this that N510 has bluetooth, matte screen and a much better keyboard imho, until somebody shows strong arguments against, my vote is currently for the ION.
  • takbal - Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - link

    Some more found with 3DMark03. Sources:

    Acer 1410 SU3500: 1529
    Acer 1810T SU7300: 1543

    and the dual-cores seem to perform worse as they are lower clocked.

    Compare it the N510's result which is 3470, more than 2x better.

    You may hate Atom, but looks like that for gaming ION wins hands-down over current CULV platforms. For other purposes, I am fine until Atom can play all videos, run a text editor, office apps and remote desktop, which it does. Oh, and add decent Linux support, too.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - link

    3DMark is NOT a game. At all. Sorry. I include is mostly because the earlier versions in particular are great "theoretical gaming" benchmarks -- they show what the GPU can do when CPU performance isn't much of a factor.

    The reality is that many games do a lot of work on the CPU. There are games that don't run acceptably on a 1.3GHz dual-core CPU (Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Call of Duty World at War...) and that CPU is still more than twice as fast as Atom. As you can imagine, that makes Atom very questionable on all but the least demanding games, even when paired with ION.
  • CZroe - Friday, November 27, 2009 - link

    "The HP Mini 311 is one of the first netbooks to ship with NVIDIA's ION platform. The question everyone's... "


    "The question everone's [asking]" is, where is the question? ;)

    This is gettting ridiculous. Anandtech has had truncated opening statements for as long as I can remember with no continuation inside the article. If you can't fix it, stop typing up opening statements that don't fit!
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 27, 2009 - link

    You'd need to look at the "Mobile" tab to get the full abstract. Here it is:

    The HP Mini 311 is one of the first netbooks to ship with NVIDIA's ION platform. The question everyone's asking is: does ION improve the netbook experience? The answer is yes, but there are other questions we still need to address.
  • rwrentf - Friday, November 27, 2009 - link

    I don't know why the review sites seem to be ignoring this (I can't find a decent review anywhere), but what about the HP Pavilion dm3z? The specs I've been able to find specify a 4-5 hour battery life, 13.3" display, Radeon 4330 graphics (on the high end, but low end is still Radeon HD 3200), 7200rpm hard drive options, and a dual core AMD Athlon X2 Neo processor. There's a sweet system for $650 AR at the egg (just search for dm3 - 4GB, 320GB 7200rpm, and Radeon 3200 graphics). If you're already talking about close to $500 for this HP netbook, it's not a lot more, and it sounds like it would be enough for me to retire my real notebook. Please review it if possible.
  • rwrentf - Friday, November 27, 2009 - link

    If you go to Amazon you can get just about the same machine (with Windows 7 home) for $550
  • noquarter - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - link

    I'm curious to how well these Ion netbooks handle popular MMO's, specifically World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, any chance to test those and maybe Eve?
  • zxc367 - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - link

    i want gigabit ethernet too! 100bit fails!
  • Roy2001 - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - link

    And what's the point to watch HD movies on a netbook? 18fps with 800x600 and lowest quaility for game, that's a joke. 18fps == 0fps.

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