The Third x86-based SoC Player: VIA & Centaur's Isaiah II

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | July 11, 2014 - 04:58 PM |
Tagged: x86, VIA, isaiah II, Intel, centaur, arm, amd

There might be a third, x86-compatible processor manufacturer who is looking at the mobile market. Intel has been trying to make headway, including the direct development of Android for the x86 architecture. The company also has a few design wins, mostly with Windows 8.1-based tablets but also the occasional Android-based models. Google is rumored to be preparing the "Nexus 8" tablet with one of Intel's Moorefield SoCs. AMD, the second-largest x86 processor manufacturer, is aiming their Mullins platform at tablets and two-in-ones, but cannot afford to play snowplow, at least not like Intel.

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VIA, through their Centaur Technology division, is expected to announce 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).

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But what about Intel? Honestly, I see this being a benefit for the behemoth. Extra x86-based vendors will probably grow the overall market share, compared to ARM, by helping with software support. Even if it is compatible with both ARM and x86, what Intel needs right now is software. They can only write so much of it themselves. It is possible that VIA, being the original netbook processor, could disrupt the PC market with both x86 and ARM compatibility, but I doubt it.

Centaur Technology, the relevant division of VIA, will make their announcement in less than 51 days.

Source: 3d Center
July 12, 2014 | 03:08 AM - Posted by JohnGR

It will be nice to see VIA coming back in the x86 platform. And if they have a standard customer like HTC it will be easier for them to try to come back.

But to tell the truth I don't expect anything from them. In the ARM platform under the Wondermedia brand they totally failed. They where always far behind Allwinner or Rockchip for example. With their history I was expecting them to be in Mediatek's position by today. But they are totally insignificant. And when they are totally insignificant in a market where they only have to copy a design, what can they do in a market with Intel and AMD as competitors?

July 12, 2014 | 10:22 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Your missing the point of using the ARM IP, or just the ARM ISA, like Apple does with much wider custom cores and Apples own microcode running the ARMv8 instruction set. The ARM licensing model gives the licensee much more flexibility than Intel ever could or would with its x86 lockin. Device OEMs, with the ARM ecosystem, have a larger base of hardware engineers working in the ARM ecosystem across the entire industry, and do not have to be under any x86 CPU makers narrow options, when it comes to contracting out the manufacture of custom CPU cores, or the OEM could just license the reference designs from ARM Holdings and have the designs tweaked by a third party chip integration/SOC design firm, and there are many out there servicing the ARM hardware ecosystem, with custom GPUs, on Die chip interconnects/fabrics, and other functional on die blocks that make up the ARM based SOCs.

None of the cross licensees of the x86 ISA can offer the flexibility and independence that comes with the ARM licensed IP, or the commodity pricing that the ARM industries can and have been providing for more than 2 decades. And, if that is not enough on the low end SOC market to compete with x86, just wait until the Power/power8 based CPU/SOCs start arriving manufactured by Samsung, and others, through a same ARM style licensed IP/ISA market. Power/Power8 in not the PowerPC, Power8 processors outperform Xeon, and Apple, for one, could take the Power designs and license them for their Mac Pros, and Apple has the world class in house ability to do just that, with their P.A. semiconductor, and other purchased companies and IP. The A7 is the top performing custom ARMv8 ISA based processor on the market, and Apple with a Power license could supply all of their own CPUs/SOCs for their laptops, as well as the Mac Pro. Nvidia is working with IBM to integrate their GPUs more closely with the Power8, and Nvidia could also license the Power IP, and finally have an architecture to compete with AMD, and Intel for the higher power SOC market. The x86 ISA is going to be squeezed for the bottom from ARM based designs, and the top from Power/Power8 based designs from now on.

Good Luck, VIA, but get a Power8 license too. The more ISAs the better for the market, and consumers. There may be a short term market for devices than can run x86 and ARM, but most of the software already is ported and can be ported across any ISA, Apple never had too much problems switching ISAs then, and now.

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