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VIA Technologies today announced its next-generation microprocessor code-named Esther that bring a higher-speed low-power SKU into VIA’s x86 chips lineup as well as comes packed with plethora of features aimed to improve security of personal computers.

VIA Invests in Performance and Security

Esther processors from VIA are also known as Cyrix 4 and are aimed at information security and e-commerce applications markets.  The new microprocessor incorporates large 128KB L1 cache and 256KB of L2 caches, a 800MHz processor system bus as well as SSE, SSE and SSE3 multimedia instructions. The chips are anticipated to run at speeds of around 2GHz eventually.

But the main idea of Esther aka C5J is not just pure speed enhancement over VIA C3 chips, but a lot of additional security capabilities. The C5J Esther core extends the VIA PadLock Hardware Security Suite to include execution (NX bit) protection, Montgomery Multiplier support for RSA encryption and secure Hash (SHA-1 and SHA-256) algorithms in addition to the VIA PadLock RNG and VIA PadLock ACE that are featured in the current VIA C5P Nehemiah processor core. These hardware-based building blocks effortlessly carry out operations within security programs and help to improve overall system performance.

Further architecture details about the new microprocessor from Taipei, Taiwan-based firm, e.g. the depth of the pipeline, etc, were not disclosed.

90nm SOI Fabrication Process Trims Power Consumption?

The new Esther processors from VIA Technologies will come with more efficient power consumption, which means that the chips will devour a bit less energy while running at speeds comparable to predecessors. The benefit comes from the shrunk manufacturing technology – the new chips are made using 90nm SOI process at IBM versus predecessors’ 130nm process technology at TSMC.

According to VIA, 1.00GHz microprocessor made using 90nm process technology dissipates only about 3.5W. It was not unveiled how much energy the chip dissipates at 2.0GHz and higher core-speeds.

Even though VIA commands less than 2% of x86 CPU market, its intentions to collaborate with IBM instead of TSMC in producing 90nm CPUs may be an alarming sound for the Taiwanese contract semiconductor manufacturer, as a number of companies, such as graphics chip firm NVIDIA Corp., also aim to make their high-end devices in IBM’s East-Fishkill, NY, facility.

An ironic fact about the deal is that Cyrix – a subsidiary of National Semiconductor acquired by VIA a number of years ago to develop VIA’s CPUs – utilized IBM’s manufacturing facilities for building its x86 products in the nineties. x86 CPU business was not a success for National, who constantly complained about IBM’s too high cost of manufacturing, and was sold to VIA, who outsourced silicon manufacturing to TSMC in an attempt to lower the cost of its chips.

In early December 2003 VIA’s CEO Wenchi Chen said the firm’s CPU division is likely to see profit in 2004.


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