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Via hits the road to boost Cyrix processors

The chip and chipset maker is out to talk up its low-cost Cyrix III to chip sellers across the United States.

Via Technologies is taking to the road.

The chip and chipset maker is out to talk up its low-cost Cyrix III chip to chip sellers across the United States.

Via canvassed distributors and PC equipment retailers in the Midwest earlier this month and spent last week on the West Coast, in an attempt to raise awareness for Cyrix III. This week, it's off to East Coast locales, including New York and Miami.

It's all part of a grassroots effort to acquaint PC builders with the newest Cyrix III chips and chipsets, including a new 700MHz Cyrix III introduced late last week. The company hopes the effort will increase availability of its processors, said Dan Havey, director of U.S. marketing for Via-Cyrix. Between jaunts, Havey works out of Via's Austin, Texas, office.

"One of the most positive showings we had was in Oklahoma City," Havey said. People drove for hours to see what Via had to offer, he added.

Via, in contrast to Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, is taking the Amway approach to promoting its chips because it has had little luck landing major PC makers. To date, most of its chips are sold in budget-constrained markets such as India.

Via's pitch, accordingly, is centered on cost.

Cyrix III was designed as a low-cost alternative to Intel's Celeron processor. Cyrix III uses the same 370-pin socket as Celeron. But the 700MHz Cyrix III costs about 30 percent less than a 700MHz Celeron chip, which is priced at $88.

In many cases, retailers can pair Cyrix III chips with older motherboards that they can no longer use Celeron chips, Havey said. This makes for low-cost PCs, priced under $500.

Via says it would prefer to let AMD and Intel fight it out when it comes to ever-increasing clock speeds.

"Our whole idea is to slip in and focus on acceptable (processor) speed ranges in low-cost systems," Havey said.

Analysts say low prices alone won't boost Via's fortunes, unless it can show performance comparable to competing chips.

"Price matters more than performance," said Nathan Brookwood, principal at Insight 64. However, "Via has to offer something better than what Intel's offering. Any challenger does."

"I believe, from some of the benchmarks I've seen, that (Cyrix III) is not as fast as the Celeron," he said.

The latest campaign comes in advance of Via's plans to launch new and improved versions of the Cyrix III that approach the 1GHz mark.

Via announced a new 700MHz Cyrix III chip late last week. The $62 chip tops off the C5A family, otherwise known as Samuel, Via's original Centaur-based Cyrix III design. Via purchased Cyrix from National Semiconductor and Centaur from IDC in August 1999. The company then combined the Cyrix brand and Centaur chip technology to form the Via Cyrix III.

Cyrix III chips have a 128KB Level 1 cache and offer front side bus speeds of 66MHz, 100MHz and 133MHz.

Samuel2 adds a 64KB Level 2 cache for greater performance, but lowers cost and power consumption over the current chip, thanks to a newer 0.15-micron manufacturing process. The new chip, based on Centaur's C5B core, should debut at approximately 750MHz in March, Havey said.

The company is at work on yet another Cyrix III chip, using Centaur's C5C core, which should arrive in the third quarter at approximately 800MHz and reach 1GHz speeds.

To date, VIA has forged relationships with four larger distributors, including SED International, and is working on a host of PC equipment retailers. It hopes to have an updated list of retailers posted on its Web site in the next few weeks.

The company says its greatest success has come in Europe, where it has more than 10 distributors. Via is looking at an alliance with a major PC maker there, Havey said.

Via is also strong in India, where sales have surged in the past few weeks, Havey said.

As far as North American PC makers, "We've talked with the top three of four," he said. "There's a lot of interest because of the low-power aspect. We've had some positive feedback from these guys."

But "there's a lot of work for it to go into a mobile form factor," Havey added. That work includes developing a new packaging scheme, among other factors.

For now, Via will continue to stick with its grassroots marketing campaign.