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Via makes way for 64-bit chips

Chipmaker's Isaiah processor architecture is expected to double performance but consume same amount of energy. Images: Isaiah architecture up close

Via Technologies is making processors based on a new architecture this year that may help the tiny company inch up the chipmaking pecking order.

The chips, which utilize the so-called Isaiah architecture, are expected to provide double the performance of the company's current chips but consume the same amount of power. They will come with two cores and run at 2 gigahertz.

The first Isaiah chips will make their debut toward the middle of the year. Via announced the architecture in 2004, but it has now released the fuller specifications.

Via occupies only a sliver of the market, but it has managed to land a few interesting design wins with its low-power chips. Hewlett-Packard has used Via chips in some computers sold in China, while Samsung Electronics and Oqo have put Via processors into handheld computers. Many thin-client makers also buy processors from the Taiwanese company.

For Via, the new processors sport a few firsts. For one thing, the chips can process instructions out of order, something chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have done for years. This enables the chip to keep churning while waiting for crucial data.

To date, Via has stuck with in-order execution to keep power consumption low.

"With out-of-order execution, you can do things while waiting. The bad news is that you execute things that later get thrown away" and hence consume more power than necessary, said Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technology, which is Via's processor design subsidiary.

The chips will also be capable of processing 64-bit software. AMD has had 64-bit chips since 2003. Intel came out with so-called x86 chips for desktop and notebooks that can process 64-bit software a few years later.

Although 64-bit chips have been out for years, few consumers or even business users actually use 64-bit software on their desktops and notebooks. The several delays to Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system hurt the evolution of a 64-bit market.