Low price beats chip speed, says Via

Via Technologies doubts you really need a 3-GHz processor, and it's betting that low cost will eventually lure PC buyers more than raw speed.

Most users don't require a multiple-megahertz processor--they just want a chip that's fast enough to get the job done, said Glenn Henry of Centaur Technology, Via's processor subsidiary, during a talk at the Microprocessor Forum here Tuesday.

Via has chosen to focus on creating simple, low-cost processors capable of running mainstream applications such as e-mail, Web browsers, and office suites, he said. Other companies can vie for the power users who live for ever-faster chips, he said.

"Unfortunately, our industry is focused on megahertz," Henry added.

Via Rising

Henry admits that Via hit some snags last year with technology issues and product delays. Despite these setbacks, the company saw continued growth in its processor sales during the industry's worst-ever slump.

In fact, Via might be benefiting from the tech slow down, he said. Companies and home users have less money to spend on technology, which means they're more interested in lower-price PCs, not just the biggest and fastest ones around.

"When people don't have a lot of dollars, the people with the lowest price win," he said. Henry pointed to several successful PCs based on Via products selling on Wal-Mart's Web site. Of particular note: a $200 Microtel PC with an 800-MHz C3 chip and the Linux-based LindowsOS.

The same PC, he noted, with a 1.3-GHz Intel Corp. Celeron processor costs $400. "For those people interested in cost, the difference between $200 and $400 is a lot," he added.

While the faster-running Celeron might offer some performance improvements in some applications, the difference is negligible on most office-related programs, he said.

Passing 1 GHz

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) passed the 1-GHz mark long ago (in fact, Intel will likely hit 3 GHz by the end of 2002), but Via won't get there until later this year or early 2003 with its newest chip, code-named Nehemiah (C5XL), Henry acknowledged.

Despite his renowned distaste for benchmarks, which he says rely on artificial tests that reflect little real-world work, Henry cited numbers to show Via's new chip will compete well with a Celeron.

In fact, while the chip often performs just shy of an Intel Celeron model based on the Pentium III chip, it outperforms the new Celeron based on the Pentium 4 in some tests, he said.

For example, in a PC with low-end graphics, tests such as the Quake 3 Demo and 3D WinMark 2000 show a 1-GHz Nehemiah with a cheap graphics card outperforming a 1.7-GHz P4 PC with integrated graphics, Henry said. Besides, he noted, "our new product is faster than our old product."

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Tom Mainelli

PC World
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