Via motherboard keeps a low profile

The Epia M10000 combines features from the PC and consumer electronics world, including hardware-supported DVD playback, a low-power 1GHz processor - and anti-piracy measures

Via Technologies has introduced a new motherboard built for a new type of PC that combines features normally associated with consumer electronics into a PC platform.

The Epia M10000 motherboard, launched on Tuesday, is designed for a low-profile form factor that looks similar to a DVD player or stereo component. This appearance carries over to the board's integrated components, including an integrated MPEG-2 decoder for DVD playback, hardware-supported 5.1 audio and connectors for television and digital audio. It runs on Via's own 1GHz C3 processor using a "Nehemiah" core.

The Taiwanese hardware maker, best known for its AMD- and Intel-compatible chipsets, said the new board is designed for consumer-oriented PCs as well as high-tech consumer devices such as digital video recorders (DVRs). In order to make the hardware more suitable for the living room, Via said the board consumes 10 percent less power than its previous boards, and produces 50 percent less system noise, due to its fan and heat sink design.

"For VIA, platform-level innovation means enabling new applications through increases in performance combined with decreases in power use and system noise," said Timothy Brown, Via's Epia platform marketing manager, in a statement.

Via, like other PC hardware and software makers, has been aggressively pursuing a growing market for devices combining entertainment and PC functions. Via's approach has been to encourage unusual and compact form factors, first with its Mini-ITX motherboards and now with the low-profile form factor.

The new motherboard distributes various processing needs to different components, offloading the MPEG-2 work to a dedicated chip, for example. This allows the machine to use a relatively low-powered 1GHz processor, which in turn eliminates much of the power-consumption and heat-production issues faced by AMD and Intel processors running at around 3GHz, Via argues.

The MPEG-2 decoder is part of Via's UniChrome CLE266 North Bridge, one of the semiconductors that connects the processor to the parts such as memory and input/output devices. The board supporte IEEE1394 FireWire connections, up to four USB 2.0 ports, an ATA-133 IDE interface, 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet, S-Video and RCA TV-out, S/PDIF digital audio connetions, and a PCI slot.

In a nod to the piracy concerns that have been raised by copyright owners regarding DVRs and similar devices, Via has built in a "data encryption engine", a hardware-based random number generator that can be used for Digital Rights Management technology.

The board is compatible with Mini-ITX chassis, measuring 17cm by 17cm. It supports Windows and Linux and uses DDR266 memory. It is available immediately from various UK resellers for about £109 plus VAT.

Via recently settled a group of legal disputes with Intel, a development that will allow the company to continue producing Intel-compatible products in the near term -- and more importantly, for customers to buy them without fearing legal liability.

The company appears to be anticipating a significant payoff from the end of litigation. It is planning on increasing its orders to manufacturing partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) by more than 10 percent, according to a report this week in Taiwan industry journal Digitimes.

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