Nvidia ION LE chipset hacked to enable DX10 support

October 29, 2009 at 11:30 am

Nvidia IONIt always seemed a bit strange that Nvidia would release an entry level ION chipset targeted exclusively to Windows XP netbooks. The ION platform combines an Intel processor and a GeForce 9400M graphics based MCP79 chipset. The cost of producing two chipsets seemed prohibitive, especially as we’re likely to see fewer and fewer netbooks sporting XP as time goes on.

However, it appears that the ION and ION LE chipsets are physically the same after all. The only difference is that ION LE has had DX10 disabled according to some investigative work by MyHPMini member runawayprisoner. He basically added the device id of ION LE into the INF for the full ION HP drivers. The end result gives you DX10 support for the ION LE.

Remember, you cannot play DX10 games on Windows XP, so to get the most out of this hack, you would need to install Windows 7. You also get a significant performance boost over the stock ION LE. runawayprisoner talks of a 50 percent increase in the GPU for some DX9 games. His Windows Experience Index score for 3D performance also increased from 3.9 to 5.4 (check out the screen grab below). Another member, solarnoise, has seen his 3DMark06 performance increase by 300 points (not to be sniffed at!)

Windows Experience Index with DX10-enabled ION LE

What I’m trying to understand is why would there be a performance difference if the hardware is the same? The only thing I can think of is better driver support for ION compared to ION LE. Or maybe ION LE has been intentionally crippled to market the gap between ION LE & ION on spanking new Windows 7 netbooks.

You could argue Microsoft didn’t want XP netbook performance to be ‘too good’ with ION and therefore Nvidia compromised with ION LE to stay within Microsoft’s licensing terms. There are a number of conspiracy theories on this one but the reality appears to be that ION and ION LE are one and the same, albeit with DX10 software-disabled on the ION LE.