Via to Battle Intel’s Atom with Dual-Core Nano Chip

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by Jacqueline Emigh

In continuing hopes of catching up to Intel’s Atom, Via has released the specifications for a dual-core edition of the Nano, a chip that received early uptake a year or two ago in small form factor PCs from Samsung, Lenovo, Dell and other vendors.

Via dual-core NanoVia is touting the upcoming Nano DC as offering improvements in multimedia performance, power and thermal management, and security over the original Nano.

In launching the single-core Nano, Via contended that the 64-bit superscalar chip offered low power consumption with greater performance than the Atom 230, then Intel’s flagship single-core processor for net top and netbook PCs.

Within its first year or so, the single-core Nano showed up in Samsung’s NC20 mini-notebook, Shuttle’s XS29F net top box, Lenovo’s IdeaPad S12 netbook, and server clients from Dell.

Intel leaps ahead
Although critics praised the generally faster performance of PCs built on the Nano, some complained about its relatively high battery consumption, as compared to the Atom, and its lack of full-blown support for high definition (HD) video.

Meanwhile, Intel went on to release the Atom 330, a dual-core chip which quickly appeared in PCs such as the MSI Wind Nettop 100.

For better support of video and graphics, vendors started to combine the Atom 330 with Nvidia’s ION graphics chipset in products such as the Acer AspireRevo nettop and Asus’ EeeBox EB1012 home theatre PC.

Via claims improvements for Nano DC
Via has long maintained that its “64-bit Superscalar Out-of-Order MicroArchitecture” provides better processor efficiency than Intel’s “in-order execution.”

The new Nano DC dual-core processor announced this month adds support for Via’s recently released VN1000 chipset, which comes with a DX10.1 class integrated graphics core, 32 stream processors, anti-aliasing support, and OpenCL1.0 support for GPGPU applications.

Via dual-core Nano

Yet as cash-strapped Via keeps falling further behind juggernaut Intel in PC deployments, the new dual-core Nano chipset reportedly uses the same core CPU architecture as the first Nano, with simply twice the number of processor resources on the die.

In the same way as the first Nano, the DC processor will use Via’s 800MHz V4 side bus for interfacing to the core logic chipset. The dual execution cores will operate like two independent processors, although they will reside on a single die.

However, the Via Nano DC will get “a big boost” in multimedia performance through support for new SSE instructions, a high-speed floating point unit, two 64KB caches, and a 1MB exclusive L2 cache with 16-way associativity, according to a statement from Via.

For better power and heat management, the chipset will support “the new ‘C6’ power state, Adaptive PowerSaver Technology, [and] new circuit techniques and mechanisms for managing the die temperature, reducing power draw and improving thermal management.” The new dual-core chips will carry the same 25W TDP as their single-core predecessors.

Security will include an “Enhanced Via PadLock Security Engine [with] industry-leading cryptographic acceleration and security features, [such as] dual quantum random number generators, an AES Encryption Engine, NX execute protection, and SHA-1 and SHA-256 hashing,” the statement says.

Via dual-core Nano

New manufacturing processes
Meanwhile, Via continues to work on improving its manufacturing processes. The new Nano DC processors will be manufactured using TSMC’s 40nm process, instead of the Fujitsu 65nm technology used in producing the original Nano.

The original Nano reportedly had twice the numbers of transistors as Via’s earlier 90mn processors, while offering better power efficiency.

The first Nano had a die size of about 63 square mm, as opposed to the 32-square mm of the C7, but it used the same packaging as the C7. Via hasn’t yet announced the die size of its upcoming Nano DC dual-core chip.




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