End of Intel, AMD duopoly near? Via readies Isaiah chip

Via Technologies is getting set to its higher-performance Isaiah processor that is targeted at mainstream computers.

Is the end of the Intel-AMD duopoly nigh? Via Technologies is hoping this may be the case when it announces the "Isaiah" processor later this month.

Via Isaiah processor is targeted at mainstream notebooks and desktops; top: Isaiah processor; bottom: $398 15-inch Everex gBook Via, Wal-Mart

The company's first high-performance x86 chip will be targeted at the mainstream PC market--another first for the Taipei-based chip supplier. Via processors have historically appeared in ultrasmall mobile devices (such as the OQO), embedded computers, or thin-client computers.

"It puts us into the mainstream market for the first time," said Richard Brown, vice president, corporate marketing at Via.

Isaiah, like Via processors before it, will still hew to the lower-power line, however.

Correction: Isaiah's TDP (Thermal Design Power or power envelope) is not confirmed at this point. However, Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technology (the Via subsidiary that designed Isaiah), said in a previous interview that Isaiah will consume more power than Intel's Atom processor but "has the same power curve" as Via's existing C7 chip.

One of the main differences between Isaiah and Atom is that Intel's chip uses a more simple "in-order execution" design compared to Isaiah's Superscalar, out-of-order design.

Because of this more sophisticated design, Isaiah may deliver higher performance than Atom, though independent benchmarking will be the final judge. But more to the point, Isaiah may be competing more with Intel's low-end Core 2 or Celeron lines than with Atom in some cases (since Isaiah will be initially targeted at mainstream notebooks and desktops).

Via subsidiary Centaur Technology designed the processor. "Centaur has been working on this for the last three years. It's between two and four times the performance of C7 (Via's current processor). So, it' very, very close to (Intel's) Core 2. Core 2 solo (single core)," Brown said.

The Via C7 processor is currently being used in a design that may herald more Isaiah-based mainstream notebooks. The $398 Everex gBook is being sold at Wal-Mart with a 15-inch screen, a 1.5GHz Via C-7M processor, 512MB of DDR2 system memory, a 60 GB hard disk drive, optical drive, Ethernet, and wireless. It uses the gOS Version 2 operating system, a Linux distribution.

"We're in full agreement with the optimized PC concept," Brown said. An idea put forward by Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, it postulates that a consumer will get better PC price-performance by adding a $50 graphics card rather than a two or three hundred dollar quad-core processor. "You can have a processor like Isaiah matched with a better graphics card," Brown said. "There's opportunity in both desktops and notebooks."

Last month, Via and Nvidia announced a platform billed as the "The World's Most Affordable Vista Premium PC," the sub-$45 processing platform will combine Via's Isaiah processor with an integrated Nvidia graphics chipset.

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