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Via's twin-core processor may upstage AMD and Intel

Via Technologies is developing a twin-core x86 processor that is likely to hit the market by June 2005.

A launch in June would give Via a shot at being the first company to introduce an x86 processor with two cores.

"We're pretty confident we'll have something by the end of Q2 next year," said Richard Brown, Via's associate vice-president of marketing.

The twin-core processor is primarily designed to be used in high-density server clusters. Via has demonstrated that two processors can fit onto a small Mini-ITX motherboard and so manufacturers could offer a standard 1U server chassis containing two Mini-ITX motherboards running four twin-core processors, Brown said.

Via's twin-core processor contains two pieces of silicon - each with one Esther processor core on it - inside a single-chip package. By comparison, dual-core processors being developed by AMD and Intel put two cores on a single piece of silicon.

The Esther cores are manufactured by IBM using a 90 nanometer process. The 32-bit chips consume 3.5W when running at a clock speed of 1GHz and will run at a clock speed of up to 2GHz.

Esther also incorporates Via's PadLock security technology that offers hardware-accelerated RSA encryption and support for execution protection anti-virus technology.

Via has not finalised the clock speed of the cores that will be used in the twin-core chips, Brown said.

Putting two cores, each on a separate piece of silicon, inside of a single package presents issues such as heat and interference that must be resolved for the chip to work properly, Brown said.

However, while all dual-core chips can be challenging to manufacture in high volumes, a multichip module design such as Via's can present more problems than a chip designed from the beginning with two integrated processing cores, said Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report in San Jose, California.

"The most cost-effective way to do it [two processing cores] is to integrate," Krewell said.

Via chose the twin-core design because it will allow the company to more quickly bring to market a processor with two cores, Brown said. The company doesn't believe that a significant performance difference currently exists between the two approaches, he said.

Pricing for the chip has not yet been set.

Intel and AMD have committed to releasing dual-core processors in 2005. Transmeta, the only other significant supplier of x86 processors, has said that it is sceptical about the benefits of a dual-core chip within its low-power niche market and does not have a dual-core chip on its road map.

AMD is targeting the middle of next year for its dual-core Opteron chip, which it has already demonstrated in an existing Hewlett-Packard server.

Intel has said it will release dual-core chips for its desktop, notebook, and high-end server product groups by the end of 2005. It intends to release a dual-core processor for low-end servers in 2006.

Sumner Lemon and Tom Krazit write for IDG News Service


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