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Thursday, May 29, 2008
VIA Nano Processor Family to Challenge Intel's Atom

VIA Technologies today announced the new VIA Nano processor family based on the VIA Isaiah Architecture, Via's low-power processor that will compete with Intel's Atom processor in the mainstream PC segment.

Nano is based on the x86 architecture, meaning it can run the same software as chips from Intel and AMD. The VIA Nano processor family offers as much as four times the performance within the same power range, the company claims. Pin compatibility with VIA C7 processors are also ensuring a smoother transition for OEMs and motherboard vendors.

The first 64-bit processors in VIA's x86 platform portfolio, VIA Nano processors have been specifically designed to revitalize traditional desktop and notebook PC markets, delivering optimized performance for demanding computing, entertainment and connectivity applications, including Blu-ray Disc HD video playback and the latest PC games, such as Crysis.

The VIA Nano processor family is built upon Fujitsu's 65 nanometer process technology for enhanced power efficiency, and comes in a compact 21mm x 21mm nanoBGA2 package. Its's idle power is just 100mW (0.1W). One of the principal differences between Nano and intel's Atom chip is that the latter uses a more simple "in-order execution" design compared to Nano's superscalar, out-of-order design. Because of this more sophisticated design, Nano may deliver better performance than Atom in some cases, VIA claims.

"VIA Nano processors represent the next generation of x86 technology, providing the fundamental building blocks for a new genre of optimized computing solutions," said Wenchi Chen, President and CEO, VIA Technologies, Inc. "'Small is Beautiful' is more than a design strategy; it's our vision of where the PC market is heading and our new processors will help the market realize that dream."

The five Nano processors are split into two types, the Nano L series and the Nano U series.

The L, or Low Voltage, series comprises two chips, the 1.6GHz L2100 and 1.8Ghz L2200. The chips have a maximum TDP (thermal design power) of 25.5 watts and 17 watts, respectively. This line will eventually be expanded with the addition of a 2GHz chip, but the company hasn't set a date for its release.

The U series, which stands for Ultra-Low Voltage, comprises three chips: the 1GHz U2300, the 1.2GHz U2400, and 1.3GHz U2500. These chips have a TDP of 8 watts, 6.8 watts and 5 watts, respectively. That represents a slight increase over previous TDP estimates. For example, the 1GHz chip was initially expected to have a TDP of 3.5 watts, like the current 1GHz C7-M processor.

Via Nano architecture highlights:

- 64-bit Superscalar Speculative Out-Of-Order MicroArchitecture: Supports a full 64-bit instruction set and provides for macro-fusion and micro-fusion functionality.

- High-Performance Computation and Media Processing: The high-speed, low power VIA V4 Front Side Bus starting at 800MHz, plus a high floating point unit, support for new SSE instructions, and two 64KB L1 caches and 1MB exclusive L2 cache with 16-way associativity gives a big boost to multimedia performance.

- Advanced Power and Thermal Management: Aggressive management of active power includes support for the new "C6" power state, Adaptive PowerSaver Technology, new circuit techniques and mechanisms for managing the die temperature, reducing power draw and improving thermal management.

- Enhanced VIA PadLock Security Engine: On-die hardware cryptographic acceleration and security features, including dual quantum random number generators, an AES Encryption Engine, NX-bit, and SHA-1 and SHA-256 hashing.

The Nano processor is also expected to be a key component of an affordable computing platform that is being jointly developed with Nvidia. Few details of the Nvidia-Via partnership have been unveiled, although Nvidia is believed to be developing a chipset that will work with Via's processors. A detailed announcement is expected to be made by the companies at the upcoming Computex show in Taipei next week.

VIA Nano processors are available now for OEMs and motherboard vendors, while systems featuring VIA Nano processors are expected to market in Q3 2008.

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