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Via set to unveil Intel processor competitor

Via Technologies will introduce its low-cost processor on Feb. 22, sources say, with conflict in the chip industry likely to follow.

Via Technologies will introduce its low-cost processor on Feb. 22, sources said today, with conflict in the chip industry likely to follow.

Code-named Joshua, the low-cost processor will run at speeds that will provide the performance of chips running at 433, 466 and 500 MHz, Via executives have said.

More importantly, it will fit into the same circuit boards as Intel's Celeron processor, making the chip the first Celeron clone. Wen Chi Chen, president and CEO, and Steve McMahan, director of engineering, will preside over the event in San Jose, Calif.

With Joshua, Taiwan-based Via will become the fourth official competitor to Intel in the PC microprocessor market. Advanced Micro Devices is currently waging war with Intel in all segments of the market while start-up Transmeta will begin to sell competing processors for notebooks and portable devices.

Although Via represents a much smaller competitive threat than AMD and has yet to announce customers, the company's entry into the market will no doubt come with sparks and controversy. Intel and Via are engaged in a series of lawsuits stemming from a licensing agreement regarding chipsets that was signed in late 1998. In addition to the standard legal claims, Intel has also filed a petition with the Department of Commerce to bar Via from exporting chipsets into the United States.

Via's microprocessors are not related to the chipset controversy. The company denies the legitimacy of the lawsuits and has entered into a number of deals with Intel licensees to attempt to neutralize any legal stance of Intel.

The technology underpinning Joshua is relatively familiar to semiconductor experts. Via entered the processor market by buying Cyrix, the microprocessor division of National Semiconductor, and Centaur, IDT's microprocessor division. Joshua is largely based around Cyrix technology. A new generation of chips that incorporate IDT's designs will follow in the third quarter, company executives said last year.

Via plans to primarily focus on the budget computer segment. 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, Chen has said.

Analysts have also pointed out that the company is part of a Taiwanese conglomerate that makes motherboards and other computer components, which could ease the process of getting the chip into the market. It also has a long history of association with Everex, a small computer company that is being sued by Intel in conjunction with the chipset suits.