nVidia's been talking about its ION chipset for many months now but we'd seen limited signs of it in its most eagerly anticipated form factor, the netbook. Today, though, Hewlett Packard officially announced the Mini 311 netbook that will be using nVidia's HD crunching chipset, and we've had a little bit of hands-on time with it.
Coming in an 11.6in form factor, the HP Mini 311 continues the trend of netbooks growing ever larger but we can't say we have many complaints as this still remains a very portable size. Moreover, with the screen boasting a class-leading resolution of 1,366 x 768, it offers a superb compromise between productivity and portability. Even more exciting is the presence of an HDMI output for easily playing back videos on a TV (yes, audio pass-through is supported). Accompanying the HDMI socket are three USB ports, a VGA connection, combined headphone and microphone jacks (minus one point for that move), and a multiformat card reader.
The battery on the model we saw was a 2600mAh unit which will apparently give about six hours battery life, though this will depend heavily on how much HD video viewing and gaming you plan on doing. Above the screen is a webcam and microphone while the only other feature of note is the Wi-Fi button above and to the right of the keyboard. Incidentally, the model we saw was for the American market, which explains the keyboard layout.
ION is nVidia's chipset for supporting Intel's Atom CPUs. It includes much more powerful graphics hardware than the Intel graphics that you normally find in netbooks. With many tasks now able to be offset from the CPU onto the GPU, this combination creates a portable yet still quite powerful platform. In particular, CPU intensive tasks like video transcoding (converting video to the right format and size for your portable media player) or simply watching HD video are now possible on a netbook. You'll even be able to play some games, though not the absolute latest titles (we saw demonstrations of COD4 while games like World Of Warcraft and Battlefield Heroes should be playable too) and even for older games you'll still have to turn the settings down a bit.
So how much will you have to pay for all this new usability? Well, surprisingly little, actually. Prices for the Mini 311 are set to start at £349, though we've yet to confirm what this configuration will be (the model we saw had 3GB RAM, for instance, which we gather won't be commonplace). Still, this could well be the next notebook I buy.