VIA Launches Low-Power, 64-Bit Chip

VIA Technologies has announced Isaiah Architecture, its newest processor technology. The x86-compatible processor is designed for the low power markets where VIA plays best, but with a lot more kick than older VIA chips.

VIA has been in the x86 clone market for some time, making chips that run considerably slower than those from Intel and AMD but requiring far lower power usage. Just last August it introduced the Eden processor, which consumed one watt of power under a full load.

Eden was a 32-bit, 500MHz, in-order execution chip with a 133MHz bus, definitely not a Vista-capable processor. Isaiah is considerably more powerful. It has a 64-bit superscalar, speculative out-of-order execution architecture, runs at 2GHz and has a front side bus scalable from 800MHz up to 1333MHz, plus a 1MB L2 cache. It is a single core processor, however.

VIA is primarily a chipset company; Isaiah comes from VIA’s U.S. subsidiary Centaur Technology, which specializes in processor design. The Isaiah line will be pin compatible with the VIA C7 low-power family, such as Eden, so system builders can use the chip in existing designs.

“Today is an exciting day for everyone at Centaur,” said Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technology, in a statement. “With a team of less than one hundred first-class engineers, we have created from scratch the world’s most power-efficient x86 processor architecture with state of the art features, outstanding performance, and flexible scalability for the future.”

With its faster performance and improved floating point support, Isaiah is optimized for the mobile and desktop computing and personal electronics devices markets. This includes Ultra Mobile PCs and Ultra Mobile Devices with rich multimedia and wireless broadband capabilities, as well as small form factor Green PCs and digital entertainment centers.

As a processor company, VIA’s position has been very small, around one percent market share according to IDC, because its emphasis has not been on a complete product line or high performance or even mainstream performance, noted Shane Rau, program director for IDC’s Computing, Networking, and Storage Semiconductors business.

“Their emphasis has been low cost, lower power processors in the value space, and market trends may be going their way,” he told “In both desktop and mobile, the price bands continue to migrate downward. Add to that low power chips inside light, handheld devices, that’s going in VIA’s direction as well.”

Rau feels VIA is in position for to take advantage of trends toward low price, low power systems like the OQO and FlipStart. And VIA has put its main emphasis on other, emerging countries, rather than the US, so the regional trend may also be in its favor.

But then there’s the problem of the 800 pound gorilla that is Intel and the 200 pound gorilla that is AMD. “Given their relative lack of resources compared to Intel, [VIA] won’t be the ones with more bucks, so that will be a disadvantage,” said Rau.

Mike Feibus, president of TechKnowledge Strategies, agreed the Isaiah chip could help VIA stand up to Intel and AMD, but it will not be an easy fight. “Intel has its eye on [the low power] segment with Silverthorne. AMD has designs on it as well. So the big boys are coming. VIA has done a lot to carve a path out of this sector. This processor is the next step to make them more attractive as they start to meet the big boys,” he said.

VIA said it will begin shipping the Isaiah processor in the first half of this year.

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