Thursday, June 07, 2007

New VIA 3.5" PC

Wow! VIA has just achieved the impossible! They have managed to cram a whole PC into a board that's the size of a business card (3.0" x 1.8"). The board itself holds the CPU, chipset, up to 512Mb of RAM, and a host of peripheral devices. Look at the picture, it's even smaller than your puny mobile phone.

I've always been fairly impressed with VIA products. I have bought and sold more VIA based systems than Intel/AMD. So, I can say that I've been fairly familiar with their line of products for a while. Although they are relatively unknown in the PC market, their processors are compatible with those from Intel/AMD and can run the very latest software. There is even a video of such a VIA system running Quake3 arena smoothly.

With this new board, VIA has just opened up a whole new market for itself. It leverages it's expertise as a semicon device manufacturer to produce extremely low power products. It's processor sucks up 3.5W of maximum power as compared to the 35W of average power used by Intel/AMD mobile processors. You can now fit a whole PC into the size of a mobile phone. ARM should be really careful about their business. A VIA mobile phone would have the advantage of the world's largest library of software. Who would bother with silly Java games when you can play World of Warcraft on your mobile phone!

VIA started as licensees for Intel chipsets. They used to produce motherboard chipsets for Intel/AMD computers. They still do. They've always had the reputation of producing low cost chipsets, just like SiS. Then, somewhere in the 90s, they bought up Cyrix, which at that time had marketed a souped up 486 compatible microprocessor as a 586/686. After that, the processor division went into stealth mode until they released the VIA C3/Eden processors that were not as fast as their Intel/AMD counterparts, but used up less power. A few years ago, they bought up the S3 graphics producer and came up with their Unichrome line of low power 3D accelerated graphics, which have a similar performance to the integrated graphics from Intel.

If I was a betting man, I would start dumping ARM stock and investing in VIA. With the recent renewed interest in Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC) and Handheld PCs (HPC) there is certainly a big market for such a device. If they continue to maintain the low cost that they were famous for, they will be the platform of choice for all future mobile devices, including the mobile phone. Incidentally, they are also the only Asian company with rights to X86 technology. China has a MIPS-like microprocessor.

PS: In case anyone was wondering, the biggest chip on the board is the chipset, not the processor. The processor is the smaller one sitting to the top-left of it. Now, imagine the possibilities...

PPS: You can be sure that Intel/AMD will not take this lying down. AMD has currently got it's line of low power Geode processors that it bought from NS. Intel still doesn't quite have an answer for the low power sector except for it's U series of processors. Either way, prepare to be amazed by mobile phones that play WoW in the very near future.

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