You may recognise this logo because it was once the crowning glory of VIA Technologies, the only other surviving manufacturer of x86 processors, aside from AMD and Intel. Although my memories of VIA chipsets, processors and S3 graphics isn’t as rosy as others, this is still an interesting gambit for a company that most considered to be dead in the consumer computing market. Their last processor shipped was the Isiah, a quad-core part designed to be used in a variety of small-form-factor chassis that were suited to use in business applications, or for powering dumb terminals connecting to mainframes.
Alongside ARM, VIA also kept at it in the embedded processor market and there are still VIA-powered NAS devices floating about on the internet. They also had a very capable processor in the form of the VIA Nano Quad, a quad-core x86-64 processor that could have easily kicked Intel’s Atom processors in the shins and run away with the netbook market. But now things are very different and the company is ready to re-enter the market with a product designed to be competitive with Intel’s Bay Trail and AMD’s Kabini processors.
It’s called Isiah II and it’s a complete redesign of the Isiah processor that last saw any press news about it in 2011. Like AMD, VIA is a fabless processor manufacturer and it has to rely on fabricating its chips at foundries qualified by Intel – as of now that includes Intel itself, Global Foundries and TSMC, because the latter is making the Intel Rockchip processors.
VIA’s in an interesting position currently because it could pull the same moves as AMD, offering customers custom silicon solutions, but they currently lack any sort of modern graphics hardware. S3 hasn’t been a market leader in a very long time and they only had it for a brief moment during the Intel HD Graphics days. Like AMD, they also need to make a better memory controller for their chips to help with bandwidth issues.
That’s why the Isiah II announcement is so interesting. VIA hasn’t specified some of the jucier bits of the new processor, but it starts off with a quad-core SoC (system-on-chip). Out of the gate, VIA is trying to step on Intel’s toes as well as offer similar performance to a desktop AMD APU. The Athlon 5350 sports a 25W TDP while the Atom Z3770 runs at around 4W TDP. VIA might take the middle road here with a 10W part.
According to benchmark results obtained in SiSoft SANDRA, the SoC will feature clock speeds of 2.0GHz, has 2MB of L2 cache and a brand new VIA VX11H chipset. The system used also had 8GB of RAM, so there’s a possibility that there will be versions of Isiah II that will accommodate upgradeable system memory.
10W would be interesting because that’s still low enough for passive cooling in a lot of devices (laptops, set-top boxes, some tablets, All-in-One desktops) and there’s still enough oomph to justify OEMs going with it over the Atom processor. The Atom Z3770 is a $37 part, though, so pricing will also need to be a big consideration.
The company that makes the chip designs for VIA in-house, Centaur Technologies, has been teasing a major update to their website that will hit in approximately 52 days and 11 hours. I do hope to see the return of another player in the x86-64 processor space and VIA certainly still has the legs to compete in the low-end budget market. An August 2014 release is cutting it very close to being drowned out by the release of Intel’s Haswell-E with DDR4 platform, but it’ll be interesting nontheless to see what they can do.