Via eyes notebooks with low-power chip

Via Technologies is hoping that the third time is the charm when it comes to its efforts to rival Intel in the PC processor market.

TAIPEI--Via Technologies is hoping that the third time is the charm when it comes to its efforts to rival Intel in the PC processor market.

On Tuesday, Via launched the C3 processor, a chip that the Taiwanese company hopes is fast enough, cheap enough and, when it comes to power, frugal enough to challenge offerings from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in the notebook computer market.

"We emphasize low power consumption as well as low cost," Via president Wen-Chi Chen said at a press conference at the Computex trade show here. "That's what we believe the market will need."

Via showed off several prototype systems with the C3, but did not reveal what the pricing would be, which computer makers will use the chip or when C3-based notebooks might hit the shelves. Via did say the chip is already in volume production from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Via's contract chip manufacturer.

For those who follow Via, Tuesday's launch of the C3 may seem like a bit of deja vu.

At the beginning of last year, Via introduced the first Cyrix III, based on a design Via got when it acquired National Semiconductor's Cyrix unit. At that time the company had a splashy launch event but did not announce any major partners, nor did any big-name computer makers adopt the chip.

Some months later, Via introduced a new chip, based on the Centaur design team it acquired from IDT. That chip, also called the Cyrix III, has also not seen adoption by top-tier computer makers.

With the third try, Via kept the numeral 3 but decided to drop most of the Cyrix name. The C3, like the last Cyrix 3, comes from the 65-person Centaur team based in Texas.

Via is aiming the C3 at laptops by touting the chip's low power consumption and the fact it is the first PC processor to go into volume production using the next-generation, 0.13-micron manufacturing process. The finer width of wiring uses less power than similar chips made using today's 0.18-micron width of wiring.

"It's getting (to be) summertime, and we think it's already too hot," Chen quipped, drawing laughs from reporters packed into the standing-room-only conference room inside Taipei's World Trade Center.

Via said the chip will debut at speeds of up to 800 MHz. "I believe you'll see this thing scale to 1 GHz and perhaps beyond that," said CJ Holthaus, a member of Via's Centaur design team.

Separately, Via demonstrated its first chipset for the Pentium 4 market. Although Via doesn't have its own Pentium 4 license, Chen said the company believes it will be able to bring the chipset to market.

"My legal department has guaranteed me we won't have any legal problems," Chen said. "It doesn't mean Intel won't sue. They always do."

Via and Intel had a protracted legal skirmish that was largely settled last July. Chen said he hoped there will not be a repeat.

"We hope they will learn from the past," Chen said.