Via Technologies Pushes Low-Power Notebook Processor

Via's new C7-M chip looks to find a home in lightweight notebooks, competing with chips such as Intel's Celeron M.

Via Technologies is spreading the message that Intel isnt the only PC processor maker with low power on the brain.

The Taiwanese chip maker, best known for its chip sets, is anticipating the rollout of its new C7-M, a mobile version of its C7 processor, in notebooks as soon as next month.

Via Technologies Inc., whose chips are most often used in low-priced desktops and notebooks in the United States, is paying special attention to notebook platforms this time around so as to take on Intel Corp.

Aside from offering up the new processor, which Via announced last June, its also preparing an accompanying bundle of chips, code-named Hannah, which it designed to add features to notebooks and rival Intels Centrino bundle.

Centrino notebooks must incorporate Intels Pentium M, its mobile chip set and an Intel Wi-Fi module.

Vias Hannah, which will arrive in the first half of 2006, will do the same, but add extras, a company executive said.

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Overall, "The C7-M looks fairly comparable to [Intels low-price] Celeron M," said Keith Kowal, marketing manager for Vias Chipset Platform Group, in a recent interview with Ziff Davis Internet. "We think, for the applications were targeting, performance will be very acceptable."

Buyers of small, light laptops tend to favor size, weight and battery life over raw performance. Thus, the company believes its C7-M chip, which at 1.8GHz averages 1 watt of power and can dissipate as much as 15 watts running at fill tilt, will fit well in laptops that weigh 4.5 pounds or less and come with a 12-inch or smaller screen.

The C7-M will be capable of running at speeds ranging from about 1.5GHz to about 2GHz and will use the Vias V4 Bus, which runs at speeds up to 800MHz. However, its likely to appear first at around 1.5GHz or 1.6GHz and use a 400MHz or 533MHz bus, Kowal said.

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Although the chip maker has yet to disclose the brand name for the Hannah notebook bundle, its got options for the bundle. Aside from providing software applications such as Via StrongBox, which uses the C7-Ms Padlock co-processor to create an encrypted virtual drive on a notebooks hard drive, the company is considering the addition of high-quality DVD playback, high-end audio and VOIP (voice over IP) capabilities, Kowal said.

"We are working with our partners to see what makes the most sense" to offer, he said.

Via will pair the C7-M with one of two new chip sets, its VN800 and VN600, which offer a range of prices and features, including built-in graphics and the ability to support leading-edge DDR2 RAM.

European PC makers are likely to be first to adopt the new C7-M, Kowal said.

Although he declined to offer the names of possible adopters, he said they will begin introducing their systems as early as next month. Later in 2005, so-called second-tier PC makers in the United States are likely to begin offering the chip, he added.

Despite the C7-Ms low-power focus, some of the first notebooks to adopt it are likely to be larger models, designed to offer low prices, Kowal said. However, during 2006 Via sees the processor gaining a foothold in thin, lightweight machines, which tend to cost more, he said.

Meanwhile, the C7-M, which is manufactured by IBM, is likely to lead a fairly long life. The chips tiny size—its only 30MM square—could allow Via use it in multicore processors, which will incorporate at least two C7-M processor cores in one chip.

"We can maintain power and thermal envelopes that maybe our competitors cant" in a multicore setting, he said.

Although Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., whose mobile offerings include chips like the Turion 64, make up over 98 percent of the worlds x86 processor shipments, Via Technologies has been working to carve out a niche in the market, following its 1999 purchases of National Semiconductor Corp.s Cyrix standalone processor business and Integrated Device Technology Inc.s Centaur Technology x86 chip operation.

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