Despite the rapidly cooling economic climate, netbooks sold like hot cakes last year. The boom in small, affordable, notebooks looks likely to continue this year. Most netbook manufacturers use Intel's Atom processor along with the somewhat dated G945 graphics chipset.
The main criticisms levelled at netbooks centre on poor performance. AMD chief Dirk Meyer predicts the netbook's demise, while Nvidia president Jen Hsun Huang has criticised the weak performance of the Atom platform and announced a graphics chipset that's designed to address the Atom's deficiencies. This Nvidia chipset, called Ion, could give a significant boost to Atom-based netbooks. Ion has a clear edge over any graphics option than Intel can currently muster. On top of that, Ion can use Nvidia's CUDA parallel computing interface to perform calculations for certain non-graphics applications. The arithmetic performance of the graphics chip far exceeds that of the main processor.
Some manufacturers view the VIA Nano processor as a viable alternative for netbooks. Samsung has just released the NC20, which is equipped with a particularly energy-efficient variant of the Nano chip. The benchmark tests presented here examine the VIA and Intel chips. Nvidia's Ion is not yet available, but is due to appear in April.