Is VIA the Way?
Another small player in the threadbare x86 processor alternative scene is VIA Technologies. Like Transmeta, VIA is known primarily for its role in the consumer and mobile markets. Its x86 chips are targeted at miniaturization, low+power and digital media applications. However, there is some spill-over into the low end of the blade market, primarily in Asia. VIA’s 1.4 GHz VIA C3 processor is well-suited for blades, as it runs cool and delivers low levels of energy consumption at less than 7 watts.
“Price is a huge driver in the third world, and VIA is seen by some as a local vendor better able to relate with other vendors in those geographies,” said Enderle.
According to Tim Handley, VIA’s processor platforms marketing manager, VIA processor platforms have been used in networking server applications for several years. “The VIA EPIA Mini-ITX boards are becoming popular for low-power server clusters because they are so readily available,” he said, “The VIA C3 processor is currently the most popular VIA processor for low-power cluster servers because of its power efficiency and excellent heat dissipation properties.”
In addition, the company has several new designs on the market. Its fanless VIA Eden processor is gaining in popularity for networking devices, such as network-attached servers. There are also some new 3U server blade designs in the works that could achieve up to 40 CPUs in a a 3U rack using 20 dual-processor blades. Further, the company is adding multiprocessing, gigabit Ethernet, and integrated wireless features to some of its boards. That may make them even more useful for server applications.
At next week’s Fall Processor Forum in San Jose, Calif., VIA plans to demonstrate a 1U server with two dual-processor VIA Mini-ITX mainboards, Handley said. That means four processors and four hard drives in a single 1U rack powered by two fanless 12V DC power supplies.
It’s a Two-Chip World
Gartner analyst John Enck, though, is skeptical about either VIA or Transmeta evolving into a serious challenger in the server x86 chip market. He doesn’t see VIA making many inroads at all, and notes that the Efficeon is available only as a single processor option. Once you move up to two processors, you have to go with AMD or Intel.
“I don’t see Transmeta being used in many mainstream server products,” said Enck. “Its primary attraction was in lower-power consumption, so when Intel and AMD came out with lower-voltage processors, Transmeta was largely marginalized, even in the low-power blade space.”