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VIA’s Trinity platform to compete with Atom-based systems

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VIA's Trinity platform to compete with Atom-based systems

Taipei (Taiwan) – VIA’s announced their Mini-ITX 2.0 form factor three-chip HD solution called Trinity. It marries VIA’s latest Nano x86-64 processor, VX800 IGP chipset and discrete S3 “Chrome” graphics on an 800 MHz FSB into a single package, providing DirectX 10.1, HD video, Blu-ray/h.264/MP4 hardware acceleration and HDMI output on less than 70 watts max (50 watts typical).

VIA’s Nano 64-bit CPU – VIA produces their 64-bit CPU in two forms, the “L-series” for high performance and “U-series” for power savings. Nano-L operate at speeds (in GHz) of 1.0, 1.2, 1.3, 1.6 and 1.8 with all except 1.8 GHz model using only 0.1 watt of power at idle, and 5 watts max at 1.0 GHz with 25 watts max at 1.8 GHz. Its die size is 7.65mm x 8.275mm (63.3 square mm).

VX800 IGP Media System Processor/chipset – The VX800 is an integrated northbridge, southbridge and media processor providing built-in support for DirectX 9.0, high definition video and audio playback, and support for 4GB of DDR2 memory. A low-voltage version also exists, the VX800U. They work with C7, C7-M, Eden and Nano.

S3 Chrome Discrete Graphics – VIA’s S3 graphics solutions come in a range of options, but at their baseline provide PCI Express support for DirectX 10.1, OpenGL, with HDMI output and the Chromotion HD 2.0 video engine. It provides hardware support for h.264, MPEG-4,VC-1, WMV-HD and AVS.

Comparing to Intel’s Atom

Atom and Nano at the high end are comparable in power consumption at around 25 watts max. Atom has a 1.866 GHz model, which exceeds the raw clock speed of Nano. However, benchmarks have shown this is not a significant advantage (if any at all). Atom does come with HyperThreading, which can provide greater performance though at a small increase in power consumption.

Tests have also shown the Nano runs as much as 10 degrees Celsius cooler than Atom, and its chipset up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler. Nano’s package at 21mm x 21mm is slightly larger than Intel’s Atom at 15mm x 15mm, which may account for the greater cooling.

Atom has been launched in various models ranging in price from $20 for the 800 MHz and 1100 MHz models, up to $135 for the 1.866 GHz in single-core. Dual core models at 1.6 GHz have sold for $29 for 512 KB L2 and $43 for 1 MB L2.

Nano CPUs aren’t yet for sale so no pricing information is available. However, they are pin compatible with the existing C7 line and extend CPU computing to 64-bits.

Atom’s i945GM chipset has a built-in GMA950 IGP, and is not the best solution for graphics performance or power consumption. The platform itself consumes 20-25 watts depending on load, bringing the total maximum system consumption to around 60 watts in operation, and without spectacular graphics performance. Temperatures as high as 38 degrees Celsius have been seen on i945GM’s Northbridge, compared to 18 degrees Celsius (room temperature) on VX800 predecessors.

We’ve seen VIA’s Nano reviewed and we’ve seen its performance notably better than Atoms. On most benchmarks, Nano exceeded Atom by 5% or more (sometimes 30%). And with the Trinity package now being offered this may pose a real threat to Intel.

Nvidia has recently tried to get Intel to open up the Atom platform to allow other players (Nvidia) into the mix and create several solutions for Atom. Intel’s next iteration for Atom is supposed to be more of a system-on-chip, and that may be part of the reason Intel is not opening up very easily.

Opinion

Variations of VIA’s Nano platform have already been nipping at Intel’s heels, at least from a design and performance point of view (not sales). With Nvidia now going directly to makers trying to get Intel to open up the Atom platform, Intel had better deliver something notably better for Atom in the near future or it may be surpassed by Nvidia’s alternate lower-power solution Tegra or other competing products like Trinity from VIA.

This kind of David/Goliath battle has me wondering: If a smaller company produces something better than a bigger company (like VIA or Nvidia against Intel), will it be adopted by the market? Or does the bigger company’s products, so long as they’re somewhere in the ball park, always win out?