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VIA announces Nano processor

by Parm Mann on 29 May 2008, 10:53

Tags: VIA Technologies (TPE:2388)

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qanhc

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VIA Technologies today announced its Nano processor family, based on the 64-bit Isaiah architecture.

Nano, the successor to VIA's ageing C7 chips, is said to offer four times the performance whilst keeping within the same power envelope.

The architecture, developed by subsidiary Centaur Technology, uses Fujitsu's 65 nanometre technology to deliver "the first 64-bit, superscalar, speculative out-of-order processors in VIA's x86 platform portfolio". The new architecture provides 1MiB of L2 cache, clock speeds of up to 1.8GHz and a front-side bus starting at 800MHz.

VIA states that the 21x21mm chip will "revitalise traditional desktop and notebook PC markets, delivering truly optimised performance for the most demanding computing, entertainment and connectivity applications, including Blu-ray Disc, HD video playback and the latest PC games, such as Crysis."

Yes, you read that right, VIA's saying this little beast will run Crysis - though, we doubt it'll do it well. Not only that, but when asked how Nano stacks up against Intel's Atom, Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technology, said: "The Nano is definitely faster, I said that originally and I'm very sure of that now."

The Nano chips now available to OEMs come in two SKUs; the Nano L-Series for the mainstream desktop or mobile PCs, and the U-Series for ultra-mobile devices. The current line-up, is as follows:

Product & Model Name

Clock Speed

VIA V4 Bus

Maximum Power
(TDP Max)

VIA Nano L2100 processor

1.8GHz

800MHz

25W

VIA Nano L2200 processor

1.6GHz

800MHz

17W

VIA Nano U2400 processor

1.3+GHz

800MHz

8W

VIA Nano U2500 processor

1.2GHz

800MHz

6.8W

VIA Nano U2300 processor

1.0GHz

800MHz

5W


To help ease the transition, VIA has ensured pin compatibility with its existing C7 chips and OEMs are expected to ship Nano-based systems in Q3.

Pricing hasn't yet been detailed, but VIA is quick to point out that its Nano chips aren't restricted, unlike Intel's Atom. At present, Intel states that manufacturers cannot use its Atom processors in portable systems with a screen size of over 10 inches. Intel hopes that such a restriction will prevent Atom from infringing on its Core 2 mobile market.

VIA, on the other hand, has no such restrictions. Expect, therefore, to see Nano-based laptops with screens larger than those found on Atom-based systems.

Then there's the matter of the desktop market. Intel, armed with Atom (Diamondville) processors, will now be competing against VIA's Nano L-Series. This time around, however, VIA finds itself in a useful partnership with NVIDIA, and we could see low-cost PCs with a VIA CPU and NVIDIA GPU by the end of the year.

VIA's Nano processor family isn't here to make up the numbers, it's here to take its slice of the pie. Though, AMD's forthcoming mobile platform, Puma, might have something to say about that. Either way, the big two; Intel and AMD, could become the big three, if VIA's Nano delivers on promises.

Nano's key features, as detailed by VIA, are as follows:

  • 64-bit Superscalar Speculative Out-Of-Order MicroArchitecture: Supports a full 64-bit instruction set and provides for macro-fusion and micro-fusion functionality, and sophisticated branch prediction for greater processor efficiency and performance

  • High-Performance Computation and Media Processing: The high-speed, low power VIA V4 Front Side Bus starting at 800MHz, plus a high floating point unit, support for new SSE instructions, and two 64KB L1 caches and 1MB exclusive L2 cache with 16-way associativity gives a big boost to multimedia performance

  • Advanced Power and Thermal Management: Aggressive management of active power includes support for the new "C6" power state, Adaptive PowerSaver™ Technology, new circuit techniques and mechanisms for managing the die temperature, reducing power draw and improving thermal management

  • Scalable Upgrade to VIA C7™ Processor: Pin-to-pin compatibility with current VIA C7 processors enables a smooth transition for OEMs and mainboard vendors, enabling them to offer a wider range of products for different markets with a single board or system design

  • Greener Technology: In addition to full compliance with RoHS and WEEE regulations, product manufacturing will be halogen-free and lead-free at launch, helping to promote a cleaner environment and more sustainable computing

  • Enhanced VIA PadLock™ Security Engine: Industry-leading on-die hardware cryptographic acceleration and security features, including dual quantum random number generators, an AES Encryption Engine, NX-bit, and SHA-1 and SHA-256 hashing

Official press release: VIA Launches VIA Nano Processor Family

Official product page: http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/processors/nano/



HEXUS Forums :: 7 Comments

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i'll believe it when i see it
If they do it right this could be huge ;), couldn't resist :P
oh hex, you suspisious, untrusting person. I'm sure its faster, why would they lie!

Thing is, if their able to get a package which has good graphics from nvidia then they do stand a chance. Look at offerings like that atom mini-itx board, the chipset HSF is about 12 times the size of the atom's one.

if VIA can get, in quantity, without restriction, their CPU with nVidia's chipset, to use little power, yet have full hardware acceleration for highdef video too. They might find they have a winner, as long as the battery life oodwill be g. Assuming its considerably cheaper than intels offering, and considering its all 65nm, doubt thats going to happen.
This is a great development for consumers! Intel (and to a lesser extent, AMD) once again shall have some serious competition in the low power, low cost, low performance market. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing their new product line benchmarked.

By making it fully pin-compatible, VIA is almost certainly hoping that board manufacturers switch to using Nano in the place of C7. The more Nano processors ordered, the lower the individual processor cost, and the more tempting a package it becomes.

Looking at the VIA white paper, it is worth noting that they have big plans for the architecture. Currently it can fetch and decode three instructions per cycle, same as AMD's K10 (and one less than the core 2 microarchitecture). They stress, however, that this is their initial offering, hinting at desires to expand this at a later stage. Their L1 caches are larger than Intel's offering, which should mean a performance boost, however they are exclusive of the contents in L2, which could well complicate going multi-core. Execution-wise, every cycle it can execute two integer operations, a load, a data store, an address store, a ‘media’ (complex FP/SIMD) and a multiply operation. Intel's core 2, on the other hand, can execute a load, a store, two FP/Integer/SMID operations, and an Integer operation. This makes Intel's design potentially more well-rounded, whilst VIA's Isaiah is best suited to a light FP workload but with lots and lots of branches. The lowest latency on FP instructions out of any x86-64 processor also means less wasted time, and hence potentially faster execution of FP-heavy code.

Edit: I should also mention the fact that Isaiah is an out-of-order processor microarchitecture, similar to the current offerings by Intel and AMD. VIA's old design, the C7, was strictly in-order, which means that instructions it received had to be and could only be executed in the exact order they arrived in. Instructions are never completed instantly, there is a latency of a few clock cycles between the instruction going in, and a usable answer coming out. This means that if the next instruction wanted to use the results, it would have to be held back until the results were available for it. Because the design was in-order, there was nothing that could be done with this unused time, it was simply a ‘bubble’ of nothingness in the system. In an out-of-order design, however, it can look ahead and rearrange the order of instructions so that instead of having bubbles, code is moved forwards (and potentially backwards) to fill in the gap, so there less wasted power. This means that whilst the old C7 design would have been forced to twiddle it's proverbial thumbs during complex calculations, the Isaiah design can get on with something else.

The power management features are perhaps one of the more exciting aspects, also featuring self-overclocking if it needs the extra power and it can afford the extra heat - as it checks the tempterature beforehand!

It should be noted that Nano is a single core, single thread processor, in comparison to Intel Atom's more varied options, and the mainstream offerings by both AMD and Intel. This could well be the failing of the Nano design, but achieving SMT abilities (be it via multiple threads per core, or multiple cores) would push up the TDP

The market certainly is looking interesting indeed. I suspect that over the next few years, VIA will look to increase their decodes-per-clock up to Intel's 4, and they will need to figure out how to implement SMT to stay truly competitive. If they can do this, however, their speciality in low wattage solutions could well work extremely well for them. I would also suspect that VIA, as they also have mainboard chipset experience, will then look to implement an on-processor memory controller, similar to AMD's designs and the forthcoming Intel Nehalem. This would fit VIA's objectives nicely, as it would allow the TDP of the entire system solution to be lowered, but would mean having to change the pin layout significantly, and as such we will probably have to wait for Isaiah to mature before we see this.
TheAnimus
oh hex, you suspisious, untrusting person. I'm sure its faster, why would they lie!

Thing is, if their able to get a package which has good graphics from nvidia then they do stand a chance. Look at offerings like that atom mini-itx board, the chipset HSF is about 12 times the size of the atom's one.

if VIA can get, in quantity, without restriction, their CPU with nVidia's chipset, to use little power, yet have full hardware acceleration for highdef video too. They might find they have a winner, as long as the battery life oodwill be g. Assuming its considerably cheaper than intels offering, and considering its all 65nm, doubt thats going to happen.

nice idea. but they'll keep pushing chrome. the perfect accompaniment to any idt winchip die shrink!