Taiwan’s Via scores big win with HP

Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. may be locked in a vicious price war over desktop and mobile chips, but that hasn’t stopped Taiwan’s Via Technologies Inc. from gaining ground in the market with its focus on low-cost processors that don’t draw much power.

The latest win for the Taiwanese chip company came from Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest PC maker, which plans to sell a low-power desktop PC in China based on a Via microprocessor. HP uses Via chips for thin-client computers, but this is the first time the company has put a Via processor inside a full-fledged PC.

The Compaq dx2020, unveiled on Friday, is based on Via’s 1.5GHz C-7D processor, which consumes a miserly 20 watts of power or less, and is designed for corporate users, rather than consumers. The new PC is a significant design win for the Taiwanese semiconductor company and an important endorsement of its focus on the production of energy-efficient processors.

The dx2020 is also the first desktop PC from a top-tier vendor that’s based on a Via processor.

In the past Via has sold its processors mostly to smaller hardware makers, but last year it began making inroads with top-tier PC makers. The company’s big break came from Samsung Electronic Co. Ltd., which last year decided to use a Via mobile processor in its Q1b ultramobile PC, instead of a more expensive chip from Intel

Despite the inroads with top-tier PC vendors, don’t look for Via to pose a substantial threat to AMD or Intel. Via-based systems accounted for just 0.12 percent of China’s PC market in 2006, excluding thin clients, according to IDC.

“It’s pretty minimal,” said Bryan Ma, director of personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific. “There’s nowhere to go but up.”

Still, even though Via’s overall market share is tiny, its presence can still be felt by the top players.

Following Samsung’s decision to use a Via chip in the Q1b, Intel set about designing a new low-power chip and hardware platform called McCaslin specifically for ultramobile PCs. That chip, called Steeley, is expected to be unveiled next week at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing.

Steeley is likely the “unannounced Intel processor” that powers the Samsung Q1 Ultra ultramobile PC announced in March. Meanwhile, Via’s processors have found their way into other ultramobile PC designs, and is rumored to be at the heart of High Tech Computer Corp.’s (HTC’s) Shift device slated for release later this year.

While ultramobile PCs are a niche product that sell relatively view units. HP’s decision to use a Via processor in the dx2020 opens the door for the Taiwanese company to markets with significantly higher shipment volumes.

Besides the Via processor, the dx2020 also includes a Via CN700 chipset, either 512M bytes or 1G byte of DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory, and a 60G-byte or 120G-byte hard disk. The PCs are sold with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP operating system, instead of the company’s newly released Vista OS. Pricing for the system, which will only be sold in China, was not immediately available.

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