VIA Nano and Intel Atom Review - Battle of the Tiny CPUs
VIA Nano and Intel Atom hit the labs
Many of you will probably be reading your first review of a VIA CPU; even though the C7 processor has made VIA a name in the world of mobile internet devices and mini-notes their products haven't been of particular interest to the mainstream hardware enthusiast. Over the past months though VIA and Intel have bunkered up for a battle of extreme low power processors that has developed into the performance review you see here before you.
We first previewed the VIA Isaiah architecture, now known as the VIA Nano processor, in January of 2008 and followed that up with the official unveiling of the Nano processor with even more detail on the CPU design in May.
The two architectures behind the VIA Nano and Intel Atom processors are significantly different from a very technical overview. One is based on efficiency of performance (Nano) while the other is based on simplicity of performance (Atom). The VIA Nano Isaiah architecture is much more in line with the design of the Intel Core and AMD Phenom products - it is an out-of-order, superscalar design which utilizes multiple decode and execution units. Nano takes those performance features and tweaks them for efficiency above all else. The Intel Atom architecture is much simpler (it uses about 50 million transistors compared to Nano's 94 million) and has a single issue, in-order pipeline that is targeted primary for a target power envelope rather than a performance mark. Atom does include support for HyperThreading though offering an effect dual-core configuration compared to the VIA Nano's current single-core implementation.
These are very different products with a surprising amount of overlap in their intended target markets. VIA's Nano will stretch from mini-notes and UMDs to standard notebooks and optimized desktop PCs. Intel's Atom processor will be found in small MIDs and will stretch into mini-notes and MAYBE some notebooks, etc.
I highly encourage you to take a look at our other articles on VIA's Isaiah/Nano processor (here and here) and Intel's Silverthorne/Atom processor (here and here) for more architectural details. For now we'll be looking at physical products and performance numbers.
VIA Nano Reference Platform
For testing and evaluating the VIA Nano platform the company provided us with a mini-ITX motherboard from a reference design - this exact product isn't going to be on sale though partners will offer products very similar to it.
The north bridge handles all the PCI/PCIe and memory controller functions and also sports the VIA Chrome9 HC IGP that supports DX9 features. Nothing to scream about, but it turns out to be faster than Intel's solution.