Review Index:

VIA Nano Quad Core Preview

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: VIA

The Next Level

VIA is now jumping into the quad core business.  Just as Intel took two Core 2 Duo processors and mounted them on a single substrate, VIA is doing much the same.  The VIA Nano utilizes the V4-Bus, which is a close derivative of the Intel GTL+ bus used for the Pentium 4 and Core 2 series of parts.  As such, it is designed to be a shared bus between different processors.  This is the way that the CPU cores communicate with each other, and retain cache coherency.

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Two Nano X2 dies are mounted on a substrate and connected to the now improved and speedier 1333 MHz V4-Bus.  Unlike the Intel Core 2 Quad, each individual Nano core has to utilize the bus to communicate.  The Core 2 Duo chips were fully integrated with a shared L2 cache that did not need to utilize the GTL+ bus for communication, but the Core 2 Quad parts did in fact need the bus to talk to the other die on the substrate.

These Nano X4 parts are still based on TSMC’s 40 nm process, so TDPs have not significantly improved since they were introduced this year.  This is somewhat problematic for VIA, as they are forced to reduce the clockspeed on their parts to be able to reach the lower TDPs that they are aiming for.  Instead of running at 1.8 GHz, we will see these introduced at a top speed of 1.2 GHz.  It will still be around a 25 watt TDP for such a product, but single threaded performance will of course suffer against the 1.8 GHz Nano X2 products as well as the AMD Brazos platform.  Once we start getting into heavily multi-threaded content, then the Nano quad will really take off as compared to the competition.

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VIA is also introducing some basic turbo mode type functionality, but details are sparse so far.  We can assume that they will overclock one of the dies when there are few threads at play, or the CPUs are lightly loaded.  This will have to be a combination of BIOS and software driver advances to implement this, but we are still in the dark about how this will happen.

VIA is aiming for the low end desktop and server market with these quad core parts.  Even with tablets and handhelds flourishing, there is still a great need for a fully functional desktop unit.  Media centers, basic workstations, and many of the primary functions in which we use our computers with will continue even with the addition of even more advanced handheld and tablet products.  I am sure most of us will continue to use our desktops as our primary window to the digital world.  Blade type servers which require high compute density without sacrificing thermals or power consumption will also likely welcome these new quad core parts from VIA.

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Many have been trumpeting the death of VIA for a long, long time.  But so far this scrapper of a company just keeps moving along.  The addition of a quad core Nano is making sure that VIA stays relevant in a world that is increasingly concentrating on low power, high performance computing.  These chips should compete well against the current stable of low power x86 processors, and we can bet that VIA is planning a new generation of parts once TSMC’s 28 nm process ramps up.  But for now the top of the stack for VIA will be the quad core Nano.

May 12, 2011 | 06:06 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Good write-up Josh. I'm kind of surprised that Via is still viable ;)

May 13, 2011 | 11:45 AM - Posted by Anoyingmouse (not verified)

I recall a single Samsung mini note\net book based on the first generation Nano, but I can't think of any Via design wins in the consumer market since then. Does Via have any plans to put the X2 and\or quad cores on sale? When the netbook market was in its infancy, I was quite intrigued with the prospect of a Nano\Ion alternative to the Atom(remember that awful picture of a Via guy kissing a Nvidia guy's head?), but several years later, and we're still waiting.

I realize that Via has a fraction of the production capacity, RD budget, and market visibility of AMD or Intel, but shouldn't something eventually find its way passed the slot machines, ATMs, cache registers and other such devices with embedded chips and into the mainstream market?

May 13, 2011 | 12:47 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Nano has a very small impact on North America and Europe, and we see very few products released in those areas featuring Nano. Where Nano does pretty well is in China and India. These emerging markets, plus some favoritism towards China/Taiwan made products in these areas, have made VIA a sustainable company in the face of the heavy competition from Intel and AMD.

Production capacity is not really an issue with VIA, as they use the same foundries as AMD does for their Ontario/Zacate products. 40 nm line space is no longer as tight as it used to be. R&D is the biggest hurdle. Intel has thousands of engineers, and the best tools in the business to design CPUs. VIA (Centaur in this case) has around 100 employees in total, and a good portion of those guys have nothing to do with the design and implementation of these processors. That they have been able to compete even at this level, without the resources of an Intel or AMD, is pretty amazing and perhaps a testament to their CPU architects.

May 17, 2011 | 02:47 PM - Posted by patfactorx

I'm excited to see more competition!

May 17, 2011 | 05:19 PM - Posted by Robert (not verified)

VIA was the fall guy for alot of things. Better than Nvidia all the way around in motherboard chipsets. Alot stabler, at times faster, and usually more likely to be standards compliant, which is very important. Nvidia just was the hero that was supposed to save everyone from the bad guy. The real bad guy was failing manufacturing techniques of the motherboard manufacturers.

VIA sound is the best, IMO. Their video, don't care for so much (although it gets the job done on Windows platforms very well), but VIA will always be VIAble. Their industry know-how is far more extensive than most people know to give credit.

May 17, 2011 | 08:33 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Yeah, hard to forget the nForce 150 vs. the VIA K8T800. The VIA chip ran the HT bus at the full 800 mtps speed for both upstream and downstream at 16x, while the NVIDIA chip ran at 600 mtps with 16x down and 8x up.

Too bad that VIA was so late in their updated southbridges for the AMD platform. Would have been nice to see them there as a third choice, but that Intel settlement sure took the wind out of their chipset sails.

May 19, 2011 | 05:47 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

"but that Intel settlement sure took the wind out of their chipset sails"

You can say that again Josh

September 14, 2011 | 02:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I wish there was something we could do about all of that. I am a long time VIA customer and admitted fanboy. I have been cramming mini-itx boards in to stupid things since before Intel farted out the Atom.

We need to figure out how to band together to push for supplies in America. I would buy them and so would you.

Now that HTC has purchased S3 and being that the founder of VIA co-founded HTC, I have a feeling that HTC will soon purchase VIA and rebrand it as HTC. They will then try to compete with Apple more directly by pulling more of their assets under the singular umbrella of HTC. I say by 2014, VIA has been renamed to HTC.. or HTC and VIA will merge and rebrand.

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