Via to release cut-rate processor early next year

Via Technologies will release its first microprocessor for low-cost PCs by the end of January, company executives say, opening a new round in its duel with Intel.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
LAS VEGAS--Via Technologies will release its first microprocessor for low-cost PCs by the end of January, company executives said today, opening a new round in its duel with Intel.

Code-named Joshua, the processor will run at clockComdex: Closing the millennium speeds of 433 MHz, 466 MHz and 500 MHz. More important, it will fit into the same circuit boards as Intel's Celeron processor, making the chip the first Celeron clone.

A new generation of chips will follow in the third quarter, company executives said at the Comdex trade show here today.

Although AMD, National Semiconductor and others have lost money competing in this market, Via will succeed because of its lower costs and ability to bring products to market more quickly, chief executive Wen Chi Chen said.

"Intel is like a giant. It is seven feet [tall]. AMD and National are six feet five," he said. "But the new metaphor is horse racing. Via is less than five feet. We are lighter. AMD and National are big and heavy."

While the jury remains out on Via's processor ambitions, analysts have said that the company's expertise in chipsets and executive management weigh in its favor. The company is also part of a Taiwanese conglomerate that makes motherboard and other computer components, which could ease the process of getting the chip into the market.

Relatively unknown to U.S. PC consumers a year ago, Via has emerged as a potential challenger to AMD and Intel at the low end of the market through a series of unexpected developments. Earlier this summer, the company pulled a surprise move when it bought the microprocessor divisions of National Semiconductor and IDT and announced plans to make PC processors.

Later in the fall, Via's chipset business suddenly got a boost when Intel had to delay its 820 product. IBM, HP and Micron all began to feature Via's top-end chipsets for select consumer and small-business PCs. Chipsets function as the data gatekeeper for the microprocessor and are a crucial, if unheralded, component.

Meanwhile, Intel and Via are engaged in a series of lawsuits in San Jose, Calif., Singapore and the United Kingdom. In turn, the lawsuits have prompted Via to develop unusual manufacturing and marketing deals with S3 and others to find legal cover.

Despite the suits, Chen remains unfazed.

"Intel sued Cyrix five times, and they never won," he said. "Intel--they just love lawsuits."

The Joshua, named after the biblical hero, will be based around the "Cayenne" processor core that the company acquired when it bought Cyrix, National's microprocessor division, according to Timothy Chen, special assistant to the CEO. Via has tweaked the design for its own purposes. Joshua contains a 256K performance-enhancing secondary cache.

The chips coming out in the third quarter will embody ideas from the chip designs from Cyrix and IDT, said Richard Brown, director of marketing.