Via extends mini-PC support

The Taiwan chipmaker has signed up a number of companies to its Mini-ITX form factor, bringing tiny, inexpensive PCs closer to reality

Via Technologies says that a number of manufacturers have signed up to use its Mini-ITX line of motherboards, opening the door to broader availability of compact, low-powered PCs and information appliances.

Via's Mini-ITX form factor aims for a niche that mainstream motherboards and processors find it difficult to fill, namely devices running PC-like x86 software but taking up little space and with reduced power and cooling requirements. Running Via's C3 processor they can be built into small, inexpensive Windows PCs, and with the less-powerful Eden processor they can form a cheaper alternative to embedded devices such as set-top boxes.

Businesses have recently shown increased interest in small form-factor PCs with stripped-down features, as they are easier to manage. Embedded "information appliances" are thought to be the next frontier in the consumer PC market.

Via said that since the introduction of the EPIA Mini-ITX motherboard at CeBIT earlier this year, manufacturers such as Morex Information, G-Atlantic Enterprise, Yeong Yang Technology Group, Chenbro Group and Casetek have signed up to make cases designed for the device. Via also said that accessories such as PCI riser cards, USB and infrared modules and small form-factor power supplies have come onto the market for Mini-ITX.

Companies such as Bona Computech have begun offering Mini-ITX systems ranging from dual hard-drive configurations to tiny, Eden-based systems with an external power supply, Bona said.

The availability of custom components such as cases and power supplies makes it easier for manufacturers to build complete systems.

The EPIA Mini-ITX motherboard measures 170mm by 170mm, which Via claims is 33 percent smaller than any other motherboard on offer. It is essentially an inexpensive PC on a board, integrating Via's own C3 processor, integrated AGP graphics and audio, firewire, USB 2.0, a TV-Out connector, Ethernet networking and other features, for about £100.

ZDNet UK's recent review of a 733MHz C3-based board found that it is capable of handling mainstream computing tasks easily, although it isn't suited for 3D gaming or other processor-heavy applications.

Last week Via introduced a 1GHz C3 processor, which typically consumes about 5.7 watts of power, according to Via. The processor is manufactured on a 0.13-micron process, with 128KB of Level 1 memory cache, 64KB of Level 2 cache, and support for a 100/133MHz front-side bus.

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