Intel Launches New Atom to Beat Down ION

atom_rgb_78_com_trans Updated: Intel (s intc) has started shipping a new Atom processor aimed at netbooks a bit earlier than anticipated, PCWorld reported last night. The latest Atom (dubbed N280 for those who like that sort of thing) is notable because it also contains a graphics core chipset called the GN40, which will allow the Atom to play back HD video at 720p.

My bet is this rush to market isn’t simply a gift to consumers who’ve wanted to use their netbooks for movie-viewing or YouTube videos in HD, but a peremptory strike against Nvidia’s (s NVDA) ION platform. ION offers an impressive graphics experience because it combines an Atom processor with an Nvidia chip used in laptops. The newest Atom won’t beat ION’s 1080p HD graphics capability, or run Call of Duty quite as flawlessly, but I doubt most consumers will care.

For those looking for “good enough” graphics on a netbook, PCworld reports that the N280 will power Asus’ $399 Eee PC 1000HE netbook, which the PC maker claims offers up to 9.5 hours of battery life.

Update: An Intel spokeswoman emailed me to say that only a few OEMs have requested the new Atom and graphics configuration, and that Intel customers may be able to use the N280 without the GN40 chipset if they so chose.