Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Nano Duo

For 100 points, what company has been the second largest manufacturer of motherboard chipsets and recently settled with Intel to extend its x86 license to 2018? Although AMD probably comes to mind first, the answer is VIA technologies, the most scrappy company to ever make computer chips.  Here's a great interview of VIA execs over at bit-tech that helps explain why you haven't heard from them in a while.

Around the time Intel released the Atom, VIA introduced the Nano processor (codenamed Isaiah, here's the whitepaper), which achieved double the performance of Intel's Atom while consuming about the same amount of power.  The Nano even consumed less power at idle, a typical state for the netbooks it was being designed to drive.  More benchmarks from 2009 also showed Intel being handed its own posterior.

But nobody used it.  Well, IBM and Samsung put it in netbooks, Dell put it in mini servers for physicalization (the first gigabit is always free), and maybe there were some other devices (I seem to remember trying to put it into a robot at one point).  Intel continued advancing the Atom, multiplying its cores, adding out-of-order execution, and consolidating the north and south bridge so that, as a platform, Atom consumed less power than before.  This has gone far enough that you can't find Nano on newegg anymore (it should be on the shelf next to the ARM netbook, shouldn't it?).

Well things may turn around as the Nano has gotten a facelift, jumped one-and-a-half Moore's Law cycles, gone dual core, and integrated a good graphics processor.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is back to handing out posteriors, playing PC desktop games that were previously impossible on a netbook, and coming very close to the performance of a Core 2 Duo.  Hey, I remember that processor - it's the one powering this laptop as I type.  Hmm...

Maybe VIA can do something with their new demon this time.

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