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Nvidia CEO: Netbooks are Crappy, Low-Cost PCs

For modern computing technology, you can’t really find many companies that are more committed to bringing the cutting edge to the consumer than Nvidia -- and perhaps for that reason, the graphics company isn’t entirely thrilled with the Intel Atom, at least not in its current implementations.

In fact, Nvidia is still trying to wrap its head around the whole netbook idea. “We’re all trying to figure out what a netbook is. From my perspective, anything that has an X86 processor and has Windows running on it is really a PC,” said Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang in an interview with Laptop. “If I were to ask a million people, What do you call something with a Microsoft operating system called Windows and X86 processor from Intel, I would think that 99.9999 percent of them, except for the Intel marketing person, would call it a PC.”

Huang doesn’t have flattering words for current netbooks, saying, “I think that so far, what a netbook is, is a low-cost PC that doesn’t work that well.

“The Atom platform is creating an installed base that doesn’t run modern applications. It doesn’tt run anything well from Electronic Arts, it doesn’t run anything well from Adobe, it doesn’t run anything well from Microsoft. ... So in a way, the Atom platform is creating an installed base of PCs that’s going to eventually hurt the PC software industry.”

That’s where Nvidia would like its Ion platform to come in, which utilizes the GeForce 9400M chipset to give the Atom a much needed helping hand. Huang says will be available later soon to make $399 “full experience” PCs possible.

Paired with the Ion, Nvidia’s tune on the Atom changes considerably. “The Atom processor is really terrific -- it’s small and low powered. Atom plus Ion is just a fabulous machine: It’s small, low powered, and full featured in every way,” adds Huang.

The Nvidia CEO further acknowledges that graphics power is the game changer, as he had positive things to say about AMD’s Neo: “Atom by itself with Intel integrated graphics would get crushed by the Neo platform. That’ss because AMD is one of the world’ss most advanced graphics companies. They bought ATI, who has wonderful technology. When you couple that with an AMD processor, it would destroy the Atom platform.”

Huang also describes VIA’s Nano processor as “fabulous,” and perhaps “architecturally one generation beyond Atom.” The problem, he says, is beyond the hardware: “The challenge in the complexity of the PC is the software outside of the processor. The amount of software and hardware outside of the CPU is so much, unless you have tier-one capabilities, you can’t build a tier-one-capable machine. That’s really VIA’s weakness. They don’t have the resources to build the GPU in the system to be competitive.”

Of course, that’s where Nvidia would step in and provide platform support with Ion -- but that’s something that won’t happen until the next generation, at which point Ion would support the faster Core 2 Duos and Celerons. And by then, who knows what the new strengths the Atom will gain.

Like the rest of you, we hope to get our hands on the Ion soon.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.