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Taiwan's VIA Joins 64-bit Chip Fray

After watching nearly every other semiconductor manufacturer produce their x86 64-bit chips, VIA Technologies has come to the table.

The Taiwan-based company revealed details of its next-generation low-power Isaiah processor core this week at the Fall Processor Forum in San Jose, Calif.

The company joins a growing number of chipmakers, such as Intel, AMD that are evolving their x86 strategies beyond the 32-bit world. But unlike its rivals, VIA's chip is designed for more specific applications like high-definition computing and personal electronics devices like Digital Video Recorders.

While the semiconductor industry overall can expect a modest 6 percent compound annual growth rate in the next four years, demand for networking and consumer products will give 64-bit chips a huge boost, according to a recent report by In-Stat/MDR.

The technology research firm's latest report forecast that the cell-based 64-bit embedded processor market will thrive, jumping 83 percent from 2004 to 2008. Much of the boom will come from consumer spending on cellular handsets, PCs and DVD players.

VIA said the Isaiah core should be available in the first half of 2006 and is expected to include a high-speed front side bus, a floating point that uses only two clock cycles, an increased cache size, high-speed data movement, and an out-of order, superscalar execution set. The new chip will also include VIA's "PadLock" brand of security features, which are embedded directly on the chip.

"Low power consumption and efficient use of transistors have always been our design goals," Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technology, VIA's processor design subsidiary, said in a statement. "The processor market is clearly experiencing significant changes in design philosophy, and we are ahead of the curve when it comes to additional features such as security."

In conjunction with the Isaiah release, the company showed off several related products, such as its VIA EPIA SP Mini-ITX and VIA EPIA N Nano-ITX mainboards, together with a selection of dual-processor, Mini-ITX and quad-processor demonstration systems based on VIA processor platforms. During the conference, VIA also demonstrated a 1U server with two dual-processor VIA Mini-ITX mainboards. That means four processors and four hard drives in a single 1U rack powered by two fanless 12V DC power supplies.

A small player in the threadbare x86 processor alternative scene, VIA Technologies is known primarily for its role in the consumer and mobile markets. Its x86 chips are targeted at miniaturization, low-power and digital media applications. However, there is some spill-over into the low end of the blade market, primarily in Asia. VIA's 1.4 GHz VIA C3 processor is well-suited for blades, as it runs cool and delivers low levels of energy consumption at less than 7 watts.

According to Tim Handley, VIA's processor platforms marketing manager, VIA processor platforms have been used in networking server applications for several years.

"The VIA EPIA Mini-ITX boards are becoming popular for low-power server clusters because they are so readily available," he said, "The VIA C3 processor is currently the most popular VIA processor for low-power cluster servers, because of its power efficiency and excellent heat dissipation properties."

In addition, the company has several new designs on the market. Its fanless VIA Eden processor is gaining in popularity for networking devices, such as network-attached servers. There are also some new 3U server blade designs in the works that could achieve up to 40 CPUs in a 3U rack using 20 dual-processor blades. Further, the company is adding multiprocessing, gigabit Ethernet, and integrated wireless features to some of its boards. That may make them even more useful for server applications, Handley said.

Editor's note: Internet.com writer Drew Robb contributed to this report.



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