Via pushing into laptop, desktop markets with 5 new chips

VIA Nano processor family designed to run in everything from small form factor devices to laptops and even desktops

After watching the market's giants move into its territory, Via Technologies Thursday began moving to push back against the likes of Intel and Advanced Micro Devices with five new processors.

On Thursday, the company launched the five single-core chips, which have been newly designed from the ground up. Unlike specialized processors from chip-maker rivals, the VIA Nano processor family is designed to run in everything from small form factor devices to laptops and even desktops.

"What's happened is [that] Intel and AMD - well, more specifically Intel - have come into Via's world," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research Inc. "Via has been plugging away for the past 10 years with low-priced processors for small form factors. In the past few years, you've had this development of low-cost PCs and the emergence of the net book category. With the Atom processor, we're seeing Intel pushing in where Via has always been."

Now, Via is stretching out of its traditional market into its rival's favorite niches - like laptops and desktops.

Nano's predecessor, the VIA C7, was focused on the small form-factor market. Earlier this month, Intel officially unveiled the low-power, newly architected Atom processor line for the same market -- mobile Internet devices that fall in between small laptops and smart phones in size and capability.

"We've been quite successful with the C7," said Richard Brown, a spokesman for Via. "To address a much broader market, we needed to improve performance. Nano allows us to move into the mainstream desktop space and bigger notebooks, like 12- or 13- or 15-inch screens."

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at research firm Insight 64, said he's "fairly impressed" with the Via new processors.

"It significantly improves upon performance compared with their earlier offering," said Brookwood. "For people who don't need the absolutely highest performance, the Via chip offers a good compromise in terms of performance and cost. This is not for somebody who is into heavy-duty gaming. It's not for somebody who spends all day working on Photo Shop or Adobe Premiere. But it sort of falls into the category of power-efficient chips. It's a little faster than Intel's Atom and comparable to some of the more affordable Celerons."

McCarron noted that the new Via chips are actually fairly old-school because they can drive a range of machines.

In past decades, chip makers actually produced processors that could be used everywhere. Then they started to specialize with families of chips for laptops and different families for desktops, for instance.

"The dirty little secret today is that most of the processor vendors still only sell one processor. They just do variations on voltage, cache size and test programs," said McCarron. "This is actually very normal for the processor market. You design one architecture and then apply it to different market segments. The main thing about this is that it is a brand new architecture and it is the first one in some time that offers vastly greater performance. And that makes them more competitive against Intel and AMD."

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