Via’s latest processor gets up and goes mobile

Via Technologies Inc. is getting into the mobile computing market with the introduction of a low-power processor designed for use in slim and light notebooks.

Called Antaur, the new processor runs at a clock speed of 1GHz and is based on the low-power architecture of Via’s Nehemiah processor core, which is used in the company’s flagship C3 processor for desktop computers. The chip consumes as little as 11 watts when running at 1GHz and includes additional power management capabilities that allow it to reduce the power it requires by up to 50 percent, a feature which can extend notebook battery life, the company said.

The Antaur chip is coupled with Via’s UniChrome CLE266 chipset, which includes an integrated MPEG2 decoder, support for DDR (Double Data Rate) memory, and support for 10/100 Fast Ethernet.

The release of Antaur broadens Via’s processor lineup, which includes the company’s C3 processor and the Eden processor, which is designed for use in small form-factor computers such as set-top boxes.

Pricing for the Antaur was not disclosed but the chip is beginning to pop up in notebooks sold in the Greater China region, Via said. Antaur-based notebooks are expected to appear in North America and Europe over the next three months, it said.

The release of Antaur is well timed, according to an industry analyst with IDC in Hong Kong.

“The demand for notebooks (in China) has been growing very quickly,” said Kitty Fok, director of personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific. “With the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) impact, demand for mobility is a lot stronger,”

“The notebook computer growth rate (for shipments) is much stronger than any other form factor,” she said.

But Via faces stiff competition from companies like Intel Corp., which dominates the processor market for personal computers, and Transmeta Corp., which has carved a niche for its low-power Crusoe processor in the Japanese market.

In March, Intel introduced its Centrino package, which includes the company’s Pentium M processor, a chipset and wireless LAN chip and has been the focus of an aggressive marketing campaign. While Antaur-based computers can offer wireless LAN connectivity systems based on the chips, they will have to compete against Centrino-based models that are the focus of Intel’s marketing efforts.

Nevertheless, Fok sees room in the market for Via’s new chip.

“There is room (for Antaur-based notebooks) as long as they can fit some certain user criteria,” Fok said, noting the great degree of segmentation within the market for notebook computers.

Some notebook users are looking for desktop-replacement machines and put a premium and processor performance, while others are more concerned with issues such as price, power consumption and weight, Fok said. If notebook vendors that sell systems based on Antaur can successfully cater to any of these user requirements then the chip can find a place in the market, she said.

“This is definitely a growing market,” Fok said.