Chipmaker VIA Offers Reference Design For Mini-Notebooks

May 27, 2008 (10:05 AM EDT)

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Via shows prototype of its reference design of a 8.9-inch screen mini-notebook using its C7-M ULV low-power chip architecture.
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Via shows prototype of its reference design of a 8.9-inch screen mini-notebook using its C7-M ULV low-power chip architecture.

VIA Technologies, which is facing stiff competition from Intel in the low-power processor market, launched Tuesday a reference design for an ultraportable notebook powered by its x86 chip architecture.

The VIA OpenBook has an 8.9-inch screen, weighs just over 2 pounds, and is powered by VIA's C7-M ULV processor and VX800 Digital Media IGP chipset. The screen supports a resolution up to 1,024 by 600 pixels.

Graphics is a focus of the design. The chipset supports Microsoft's DirectX 9.0 multimedia technology, which was included with Windows XP. Windows Vista, the latest version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, also supports DirectX 10, which is not available for XP. Other graphics capabilities provided by VIA include acceleration technology for smoother playback of video in MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV9, VCI, and DiVX formats.

The VIA design guide includes computer-assisted design files of the notebook's external panels to assist manufacturers in customization. The notebook platform supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Linux and includes support for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless technologies. In addition, there is an internal modular interface that gives manufacturers the option of adding support for WiMax wireless technology and for HSDPA or EV-DO/WCDMA cellular networks.

The C7-M ULV processor line ranges in speed from 1.0 GHz to 1.6 GHz, and has maximum power use ranges between 3.5 watts and 8 watts, depending on the speed chosen. Idle power is as low as 1 watt.

The reference design also supports hard disk drives of 80 GB or above and up to 2 GB of memory. For input/output communications, the design supports a microphone-in audio jack, a headphone out jack, three USB version 2.0 ports, and an embedded card reader. The design's dimensions are about 9.5 by 7.9 by 1.4 inches.

VIA, based in Taiwan, specializes in low-power processors for running Windows. The demand for energy-efficient chips that provide the necessary processing power to drive low-cost, mini-notebooks is expected to increase. Analysts expect the lightweight, ultraportable devices to catch on with some consumers, particularly businesspeople who spend large amounts of time on the road and students strapped for cash.

Worldwide shipments of sub-$500 mini-notebooks, such as the 7-inch Asus Eee PC, are expected to increase from less than 500,000 units last year to more than 9 million in 2012, according to IDC. Because of the low average selling prices, revenue will be less than $3 billion.

VIA's most prominent challenger is Intel, which is expected to ship its own low-power chip, dubbed Atom, soon. The small-footprint processor, which will compete with VIA's C7, is designed to operate in the 2- to 4-watt range.