Tiny is always fun. Via thinks so -- it's announced its Eden-N 1 GHz x86 processor chip, which at 15x15mm is smaller than a penny. It gets away with seven watts at that gigahertz too, which means you don't need a fan ten times bigger than the chip to keep things in order. And what sort of motherboard suits such a tiny sliver of silicon? Glad you asked, says Via -- the 15cmx15cm Nano-ITX motherboard, that's what.
This still isn't quite small or parsimonious enough to build, say, a cellphone that runs XP -- always supposing such a thing is in any way sane. But it's getting there. The whole trend is towards a breakdown of the traditional chip definitions: this one's for a server, this one for a desktop, this one for a portable computer and this one for a pocket device. Of course, it suits chip companies to keep those distinctions alive, but as Intel will find out next year it's going to be hard selling a large, hot chip against a small, cool one that happens to work better. It's even harder when those chips share a lot of the same designs. Intel is a past master of moving functional blocks from one product to another, even across families: if you look at the MMX block in the XScale processor so equipped, you'd be hard put to see any differences with the MMX block in the Pentium.
None of which worries Via. Without a set of competing processor designs to balance, it can get on with the job in hand of producing nice little x86 chips that slide into current and forthcoming niches and don't have to be compromised by the need of other parts of the company to recoup their investments.