Via finally releases new Nano processor

Early this morning Via Technologies finally announced is new Nano processor, better-known by its code name, Isaiah. The Nano will deliver two to three times the performance of the current C7 with roughly the same power requirements, according to the company.

Via finally releases new Nano processor

Early this morning Via Technologies finally announced is new Nano processor, better-known by its code name, Isaiah. The Nano will deliver two to three times the performance of the current C7 with roughly the same power requirements, according to the company.

Via has spent years working on Nano, which represents a major leap forward from the C7. By now, the technical details are well known. Specifically, Nano has many of the microarchitectural features--64-bit x86 instruction set, superscalar pipeline, speculative and out-of-order execution of program instructions--found in advanced Intel or AMD chips.

Manufactured by Fujitsu using 65nm process technology, Nano has 94 million transistors--roughly twice as many as the C7--and measures 63.3 square millimeters. That translates to about 1,000 chips on a single, 300mm silicon wafer. Nano is significantly larger than both the C7-M (30 square millimeters) and Intel's Atom (25 square millimeters), which both have a much simpler microarchitecture. Nano is pin-compatible with C7, which means OEMs that already sell small form-factor desktops, ultraportables or UMPCs with Via processors should be able to easily upgrade.

Because Nano offers significantly better performance than the C7, Via is going after a broader market. The L version (for Low Voltage) is designed for mainstream desktops and notebooks, and it will compete directly with Intel's low-end mobile processors such as Celeron-M and Core 2 Solo. The U version (Ultra Low Voltage) version is designed for mini-notebooks and UMPCs, and it will compete with Intel's new Atom, aka Silverthorne. All Nano processors have 1MB of L2 cache.

Model Frequency FSB Max power (TDP) Idle power
Nano U2300 1.0GHz 800MHz 5 watts 100mW
Nano U2500 1.2GHz 800MHz 6.8 watts 100mW
Nano U2400 1.3GHz 800MHz 8 watts 100mW
Nano L2200 1.6GHz 800MHz 17 watts 100mW
Nano L2100 1.8GHz 800MHz 25 watts 500mW
All of the current Nano processors are single-core, though Via has hinted that a dual-core version would be a logical next step. There has also been some speculation that Via will switch to foundry TSMC's advanced 45nm process technology for the next version of Nano.

Via's competitive advantage has been in power efficiency, and the specs for Nano look impressive. The high-end processors consume a maximum of 17 to 25 watts, and the ultra low-voltage versions top out at 5 to 8 watts, depending on the clock speed. When the chip is idle, it consumes anywhere from 0.1 watts for the 1.0GHz U2300 to 0.5 watts for the fastest 1.8GHz L2800. For comparison, here are the specs for the initial Intel Atom processors, announced last month.

Model Frequency FSB Max power (TDP) Idle power Price
Atom Z500 800MHz 400MHz 0.65 watts 80mW $45
Atom Z510 1.10GHz 400MHz 2 watts 100mW $45
Atom Z520 1.33GHz 533MHz 2 watts 100mW $65
Atom Z530 1.60GHz 533MHz 2 watts 100mW $95
Atom Z540 1.86GHz 533MHz 2.4 watts 100mW $160
How the Nano will actually perform against the Core 2 Solo and Atom is still unclear. Via published a white paper that shows some performance numbers, but they mainly focus on improvements over C7 on synthetic benchmarks. Via told me to expect performance that comes close to the Core 2 Solo with much lower power requirements. Perhaps we'll get a better idea at Computex next week.

Via says it has already shipped Nano processors to OEMs, and they will start to show up in systems sometime in the third quarter. The pricing hasn't been announced, though it will almost certainly be very aggressive, as Via is promising the lowest-priced systems capable of handling Blu-ray high-definition movies. Also, watch for some news from Nvidia on its work to develop GPUs, and eventually chipsets, for Nano that should result in some of the lowest-cost DirectX 10-capable systems. There are many mini-notebook and UMPC design based on the C7--including Via's own OpenBook and the HP 2133 Mini-note--so it's no surprise that Via also plans to keep it around for a while.