Via is ramping up it efforts to take on Intel in the emerging low-cost PC market with a new line of low-watt x86 processors that boast more features and an improved microarchitecture.
The chip maker, which is headquartered in Taiwan, will officially launch its new line of single-core Nano microprocessors May 29, which are built on an entirely new microarchitecture called “Isaiah.”
The Nano processors were designed to compete with Intel and its upcoming Atom line of chips-formally “Diamondville”-in the still nascent market for low-cost PCs, or what Intel calls “netbooks.”
These types of laptops and desktops are generally low-cost and geared for the consumer and the education markets as well as the emerging markets. The most successful example of these types of low-cost notebooks is the Asus Eee PC, which has garnered a good deal of attention, although Hewlett-Packard, Dell and other vendors are looking to enter the market.
For years, Via developed low-watt, low-cost x86 microprocessors for the low end of the notebook and desktop market. Now, with Intel entering this field later this year, Via is looking to capitalize on what has always been a niche part of the worldwide PC market.
“They have been in this market for more than a decade, and they have been able to carve out a niche for themselves by targeting small-form-factor PCs that required a low-power processor,” said Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research, who follows the x86 processor market.
“What has now happened is that the market has come to the niche,” McCarron added. “What Intel is looking to do is grow this market with its Atom processor, and as this market expands there’s room for Via to grow.”
In a recent report, IDC predicted that the market for low-cost PCs will grow to $3 billion by 2012, with shipments topping 9 million. Intel, which is the world’s leading producer of x86 processors, sees a market that is potentially worth $10 billion.
To better compete against Intel, Via revamped its microarchitecture with Isaiah, which includes a series of improvements over its current line of C7 processors. These new processors support 64-bit computing and were designed with an out-of-order instructional pipeline, which breaks data apart and allows for instructions to run in parallel as well as offer improved performance.
Via also improved the floating-point performance of the Nano line, which enhances the chip’s ability to render PDF files and other rich media, for example. In addition, the new processors include 1MB of Level 2 cache and are built on a 65-nanometer manufacturing process, which should also increase the performance. (The C7 is built on 90-nm.)
On May 29, Via will release five processors in the Nano line.
These include the Nano L2100, which runs at 1.8GHz, and the L220, which has a clock speed of 1.6GHz. The company also has three low-watt models: the Nano U2400 (1.3GHz), U2500 (1.2GHz) and U2300 (1.0GHz). All the processors have an 800MHz front-side bus.
The Nano chips have a TDP (thermal design power) between 25 watts for the L2100 and 5 watts for the U2300. In addition, Via designed the new chips to work within the same socket as the platforms created for the older C7 processors.
The first notebooks to use the Nano processors should hit the market by the third quarter, according to Richard Brown, Via’s vice president of marketing. In addition to selling the chips to vendors, Via also released its own reference design early this week to provide manufacturers with a way to create their own notebooks.
Via believes the “U” series processors are more mini-notebooks and low-cost PCs, while the “L” series can be used in mainstream laptops and desktops.
Although low-cost notebooks are geared toward consumers as well as education and emerging markets, Brown believes these types of laptops based on Via processors also have a place in the commercial market.
“The second market that we see for these notebooks is corporate,” said Brown. “The mini-notes provide a good solution for people who are on the go a lot and they need access to full [Microsoft] Windows files or full files rather than simply just e-mail.”
Intel is expected to release its Atom processors for netbooks later this year, and the company has already released another line of Atom chips for MIDs (mobile Internet devices). So far, Via has not signaled that it will enter the MID market against Intel.