Via takes wraps off 'Joshua' chip

Taiwanese manufacturer aims at low-end market, hoping for high-end profits

While Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) duke it out at the high end of the microprocessor market, a Taiwanese-based chip maker is looking to succeed by aiming low.

Via Technologies Tuesday is to unveil a new processor, code-named Joshua, that will be targeted at the "value-segment", or low-cost, end of the market.

The chip, to be formally launched at a news conference in San Jose, California, will sell for around $30 (£18) each in 1,000-unit shipments, according to sources. The processor will reportedly be released in 433MHz, 466MHz and 500MHz versions, although the chips' actual clock speeds will be lower.

Via reportedly uses the controversial Pentium Rating system once espoused by Cyrix and AMD (which has since abandoned its use). The PR rating is derived from the chip's performance in a series of application benchmarks, rather than actual clock speed, and is touted by proponents as offering the equivalent of the true Intel clock speed. For example, a Cyrix PR333MHz chip would actually run at 250MHz.

The Joshua line marks the Taipei-based company's first entry into the processor market since it acquired Cyrix from National Semiconductor and Centaur Technology from Integrated Device Technologies last year.

Before it acquired the two x86 processor makers, Via manufactured only chip sets. The company's Apollo Pro133 circuit board is currently featured on systems incorporating AMD's Athlon processors.

According to Via's Web site, the chip will be manufactured using the 0.18 micron process and will have a Level 1 cache of 64KB and an integrated Level 2 cache of 256KB. In addition, it will incorporate 3DNow! technology by AMD and Intel's enhanced dual pipelined MMX technology.

The processor, based on the Cyrix Cayenne core, uses a socket 370 design and will take advantage of Intel's P6 bus technology to enable 133MHz front-side-bus support.

Currently, Via and Intel are waging a legal battle over Via's rights to utilise Intel technology.

Last year, Intel filed a lawsuit claiming Via had violated a patent-licensing agreement signed by the two companies in late 1998. Under the terms of the agreement, Intel granted Via a license, which it has since revoked, to make Slot 1 solution chip sets that are compatible with Pentium II and Pentium III processors.

Earlier this month, the U.S. International Trade Commission, responding to an appeal by Intel, said it would proceed with a patent infringement inquiry against Via and several other Taiwanese chip companies.

Via fired its own legal salvo last week in a British court, denying that it had infringed on Intel technology and contending that, in any event, Intel's patent was invalid.

While it is unclear how Via's legal imbroglio with Intel will pan out, the company faces an uphill battle to secure a place in the highly competitive chip market. Via, led by former Intel design engineer Wen-chi Chen, is hoping to break into the low-end market by offering processors priced significantly below Intel's Celeron chips.

One way Via has sought to cut costs is by not owning and operating a fab to produce its chips. Industry observers say high fab expenses incurred by National Semiconductor, Motorola and Texas Instruments undermined their efforts to offer competitively priced alternatives to Intel's products.

According to sources, National Semiconductor will act as the foundry for the new chips, although they added that Via is seeking to secure business relationships with other fab facilities as well. Last month, the Chinese-language Economic Daily News reported that Via officials believe the company can capture 10 percent of the global chip market by the end of 2000.

Via can be reached at www.via.com.tw.

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