HANDS UP EVERYONE that remembers that VIA still makes x86 processors. Ok, so that might’ve been a little bit mean, but VIA is often forgotten when x86 processors are being discussed, although with the introduction of its first dual core Nano CPU sometime in early 2011, this might change, at least to a degree.
For the time being VIA only has a 65nm test chip up and running, but the production parts arriving in “early Q1 2011” will be manufactured at 40nm. So far VIA is only talking about a 1.8GHz part which should have the same 25W TDP as its current single core 1.8GHz Nano processor. This might not seem all that impressive, but the secret to VIA’s Nano processor is the superscalar out-of-order design which provides much better performance than any currently available competing solutions, be it from Intel or AMD.
Unlike most current multi-core processors, VIA has gone down a somewhat older route by sticking two CPU dies next to each other, this means that there’s no shared cache and no direct data exchange between the two CPU cores and all core to core communication takes place over the system bus. It’s worth remembering that this is very much set to be an Atom competitor and despite the basic dual core design, it should still be more than capable of keeping up with the Atom processors thanks to its superior out-of-order design compared to the Atom’s in-order design.
We haven’t had a chance to benchmark the new dual core Nano processor as yet, but bit-tech has posted a few benchmarks which show the potential of the new CPU. Surprisingly the performance appears to end up somewhere in CULV territory, albeit the 1.8GHz part didn’t quite manage to keep up with an SU7300 it proved to be quite a lot faster than Intel’s dual core Atom D330 which it was compared against, in both image editing and video encoding. A CPU doesn’t make a system though, but luckily VIA launched a chipset called the VN1000 late last year and this is now being put into service alongside the dual core Nano.
The VN1000 is, according to VIA ,the most powerful IGP in the market and it might very well be, although we’re expecting Intel and AMD’s next generation of processors with integrated graphics to beat it hands down. VIA’s biggest problem has been to produce stable graphics drivers that work well in games and judging by bit-tech’s experience, the drivers for the VN1000 are still lacking, as there were quite a few rendering glitches, a problem we’re all too familiar with from past VIA chipsets with S3 graphics. Then again, the VN1000 IGP handles games that wouldn’t even play on Intel’s IGP chipsets, it might be a small victory for VIA, but it’s still a victory. Bit-tech also report lacking support for VIA’s video acceleration features, although this is most likely more down to lack of support from the software vendors rather than a fault from VIA or S3’s side.
It’s still early days for the new platform and VIA is still working out the kinks. The board you’re seeing in the pictures is an in-house development and debugging platform and as is common with these boards there are a lot of hot-fixes which includes soldering wires crisscrossing the board. As far as final products we’d expect to see some netbook type machines as well as various mini PCs and of course some VIA mini ITX motherboards based on the final production dual core Nano processors, but as much as we hope VIA will be able to have something of a comeback, we have a feeling that AMD might be stealing the limelight away from VIA with its Ontario and Zacate Fusion parts, as not only will they offer lower TDP, but they’re also expected to have superior graphics with mature drivers as well as a much broader market acceptance both by partners and consumers alike.S|A
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