Jan 26, 2015

Can VIA Technologies save the mobile computing future of the x86 (x64) legacy platform?

Update: The Third x86-based SoC Player: VIA & Centaur’s Isaiah II [PC Perspective, July 11, 2014]
… VIA, through their Centaur Technology division, is expected to announce [on Sept 1, 2014] their own x86-based SoC, too. Called Isaiah II, it is rumored to be a quad core, 64-bit processor with a maximum clock rate of 2.0 GHz. Its GPU is currently unknown. VIA sold their stake S3 Graphics to HTC back in 2011, who then became majority shareholder over the GPU company. That said, HTC and VIA are very close companies. The chairwoman of HTC is the founder of VIA Technologies. The current President and CEO of VIA, who has been in that position since 1992, is her husband. I expect that the GPU architecture will be provided by S3, or will somehow be based on their technology. I could be wrong. Both companies will obviously do what they think is best.

It would make sense, though, especially if it benefits HTC with cheap but effective SoCs for Android and “full” Windows (not Windows RT) devices.

Or this announcement could be larger than it would appear. Three years ago, VIA filed for a patent which described a processor that can read both x86 and ARM machine language and translate it into its own, internal microinstructions. The Centaur Isaiah II could reasonably be based on that technology. If so, this processor would be able to support either version of Android. Or, after Intel built up the Android x86 code base, maybe they shelved that initiative (or just got that patent for legal reasons). …
Only the third active licencee of Intel’s x86 machine architecture, VIA Technology, is readying its first x86 processor in years, codenamed Isaiah II. This chip is based on a brand new 64-bit x86 core design by VIA and the engineering team it acquired from Centaur Technology, another erstwhile x86 licencee, and features modern instruction sets such as AVX 2.0. VIA began sampling a quad-core processor based on Isaiah II, which was put to live test by the company, at its InfoComm 2014 booth. It was compared to Intel’s “Bay Trail” Atom and AMD’s “Kabini” Athlon chips. It turns out that the Isaiah II is pretty good, if it comes out soon enough.

The Isaiah II based quad-core chip, featuring 2.00 GHz clock speeds, and 2 MB of L2 cache, was put through SANDRA. The BGA chip was running on a VIA-made motherboard, with its own VIA VX11H chipset. It was compared to AMD Athlon 5350 (quad-core “Jaguar” with 2.05 GHz clocks), and Intel Atom Z3770 (quad-core “Silvermont” with 2.40 GHz clocks). The results are tabulated below. At 2.00 GHz, armed with the latest multimedia and cryptography instruction-sets, VIA’s chip is faster than Intel’s in most tests, despite lower clocks. It trades blows – and wins – against AMD’s chip, in most tests. VIA is expected to launch the first chips based on Isaiah II in late-August, 2014. VIA is hedging its bets with efficient compact PCs, kiosks, and digital signage, with its new chip.

VIA Technologies is rumored to have started shifting its x86 CPU technologies and related personnel to its newly formed IC design joint venture with a China government-owned investment firm, according to market watchers, adding that VIA recently notified clients that it will stop supplying x86 processors temporarily. VIA declined to comment about market rumors and pointed out that its x86 CPU business is still operating. The joint venture was announced in early 2014 with VIA owning a 20% stake in the company. The market watchers pointed out that if the rumor is true, it would mean VIA’s x86 processor platform has officially walked into history, and the China government will be able to get hold x86 technologies to develop related products. VIA has been pushing its CPU products in China for many years, mainly targeting the white-box market. With the new move, VIA may no longer release processors under its name and will instead use the name of the joint venture in the future, the market watchers said. Because VIA’s x86 CPU business is licensed by Intel, moving related resources to a new joint venture is expected to attract Intel’s attention. However, the chip giant may not be able to do much because Intel reached an agreement with the US’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) in 2010 to not interfere with competition in the CPU and chipset markets, and extend its licensing of PCI Express to VIA by at least another six years. Intel is also unlikely to wish to offend the China investment firm, which has support from the China government, the market watchers analyzed.
End of updates


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