Special Advertising Section: VIA: Processors, digital signage, and USB 3.0

April 1, 2010 OpenSystems Media

Editor's note: We asked VIA Technologies to provide some insight into their product offerings, examining where they are vis-à-vis the competition and showing us some of their forward-looking strategies.

ECD: What does VIA plan for a processor features roadmap, looking beyond the current C7 and Nano processor offerings? Where and how will you focus on competing with other vendors in the processor arena?

CHUNG: Back in 2000, VIA perceived a fundamental shift in the x86 computing industry: the demand for a power-efficient x86 processor that can deliver the necessary computing capacity while boasting a low power consumption of sub-10W and below. Our engineers therefore set out to design a generation of processors that will meet that demand. The result of our efforts was the C7/Eden processor released in 2005. VIA quickly established its reputation as an industry leader having the smallest and most power-efficient x86 solution.

In 2008, we released the successor to the C7/Eden processor, the Nano 1000/2000 Series, for the desktop and notebook markets. This earlier version of Nano processor compares favorably against the first versions of the Intel Atom processor, as confirmed in several independent reviews on a few well-known sites including Tweaktown and Wired.

Subsequently in 2009, we released the Nano 3000E (Embedded), which is the latest version of our Nano processor. It offers up to 7 years of availability for embedded system requirements, and it is available at processor speeds from 1GHz to 2GHz. The Nano 3000 Series processors deliver up to 20% higher performance while consuming up to 20% less power than the earlier Nano processors. The Nano 3000E is based on VIA’s 64-bit superscalar “Isaiah” architecture, which boasts flawless playback of high bit-rate 1080p HD video. It also supports CPU virtualization technology, SSE4, and security capabilities integrated in the VIA PadLock Security Engine (NIST FIPS-197 Advanced Encryption Standard certified since December 2009).

Later this year, we expect to announce the addition of a dual core Nano to our processor lineup in response to our customers’ continuing demand for additional processing power and their desire to leverage existing software infrastructure that takes advantage of multicore architecture. Further out, we will continue developing our x86 processor technology while taking advantage of newer semiconductor manufacturing processes to offer even more capable next-generation x86 solutions with Performance-Per-Watt leadership. This is in keeping with our strategy of improving performance while keeping the TDP to a minimum, a feature we have been known for in the industry for some time.

ECD: How has VIA been affected by the launch of the Intel Atom processor and the company’s entrance into the small form factor low-power arena?

CHUNG: Before the Atom arrived, we had little or no competition in the x86 solution space in the small form factor low-power arena. When Intel launched the Atom, it was marketed as a new processor based on an entirely new low-power design built specifically for a new wave of Mobile Internet Devices and simple low-cost PCs. Although the Atom targeted many markets we are already very successful in, Intel’s marketing prowess and brand recognition helped validate these markets, and thus greatly increased the overall demand for low-power x86 solutions.

Many critics continue to question Intel’s strategy for Atom. The fact that further developing and improving upon the Atom product line may cannibalize their higher-end CPU markets is without dispute. Upon closer examination, Atom is merely a step back from the latest generation of x86 processors. It is only capable of in-order processing with L2 cache of only 512MB. It is primarily a 32-bit processor with only 533MHz FSB support. There is no cryptographic hardware implemented, either.

Fortunately, VIA does not have to limit the feature set of our processors, as we need not to worry about cannibalizing our higher-end markets. We have been focusing on the low-power small form factor market since 2001. Some of our recent successful consumer design wins include the Samsung NC-20 and the Lenovo S12 netbooks, both designed with the Nano processor and the VX800 chipset. These netbooks received rave reviews based on performance, low power consumption, and compact design (12" screen size).

As we add more features (such as 64-bit, Advanced Cryptography Engine, virtualization, SSE4, and dual core support) into our processor offerings, we can address new markets that are currently underserved by x86 platforms. Our integrated graphic chipsets such as the VX855 and the VX900 all-in-one multimedia system processors already support H.264 full hardware decode. For 3D graphics-intensive solutions we also have our S3G Embedded GPU offerings along with our CPU and integrated chipsets, enabling us to deliver DirectX 10.1, Hi-Def video, Blue-Ray, and Windows 7 to the SFF desktop, the thin and light notebook, and the embedded markets. The VB8003 Trinity Platform (Figure 1) serves as an example implementation of our CPU and chipset together with our S3G Embedded GPU.

Figure 1: VB8003 Trinity Platform

ECD: Digital signage is a fast-growing area. What does VIA consider to be the key needs for signage platforms, and how are you addressing those needs?

CHUNG: Indeed, this is one of the fastest-growing markets not only in North America, but worldwide as well. Frost & Sullivan, Investor’s Business Daily, and iSuppli all expect the digital signage market to reach US$5 Billion in North America alone and US$8 Billion worldwide by 2011. VIA believes it has the right platform solutions to address this vast market.

For the first generations of digital signage, the digital signage player platform requirements were very basic, with primarily 2D graphics and MPEG-2 video playback over analog displays (RGB, NSTC, or PAL) or digital displays in standard definition. The content was primarily stored locally on either CompactFlash or some sort of fixed or removable storage. The current generation of digital signage has evolved greatly. Today’s requirements often include high bit-rate HD video playback in H.264 and WMV9 (VC1) formats at 1080p resolutions. In addition, HDMI, Dual-Link DVI, and DisplayPort interfaces are needed to drive the latest large digital LCD displays in either single or multiple display configurations. Customers looking for small form factor systems with these requirements will also look for additional features such as:

  • VESA mounting (for easy mounting with plasma or LCD panels)
  • Extended operating temperature support
  • Low-power or fanless design
  • Semi or fully sealed chassis design
  • Robust and configurable I/O options

VIA has embedded system and board solutions in a variety of form factors that offer long life along with some or all of these features. For the very low-cost semi embedded digital signage system, we have the ARTiGO A1100 system built with the EPIA-P820 Pico-ITX board. For customers that need ruggedized fanless chassis designs, the AMOS-3001 (Figure 2) is designed specifically for the EPIA-P820 board.

Figure 2: AMOS-3001

In 2009, we announced a new modularized ITX form factor for the embedded market, the Em-ITX and Em-IO. In that same year, we released our first Em-ITX product, the EITX-3000 with three Em-IO modules, the EmIO-3430 Wireless Carrier, EmIO-3210 Datacom Module, and the EmIO-3110 Video Module. Couple this with our AMOS series of ruggedized fanless chassis, and our customers can build a successful line of digital signage systems with different I/O configurations and capabilities, from the very basic, entry-level, single display system to the higher-end multi-display system that has up to six displays with four independent content streams.

For the very high-end solutions with High-Def performance and 3D graphics-intensive applications, we have S3G embedded graphics card solutions with single and dual GPU offerings. The dual GPU graphics card in a single PCI Express slot can run a wall display, the Video Wall, with up to 8 displays. The configuration can be 1 x 8, 2 x 2, 2 x 3, or 2 x 4. The 2 x 2 configuration can support up to 3800 x 2400 resolution natively.

ECD: USB 3.0 is starting to pick up speed. What are the benefits? Where do you see the technology fitting into the strategy, and what areas you are focusing on?

CHUNG: USB is a hugely successful peripheral interconnect not only for the PC market, but for the Consumer Electronics and the mobile/cell phone markets as well. Over the years, we had also seen a great deal of USB penetration into the embedded space as a robust interconnect for adding I/O. A couple of good examples are SUMIT from SFF-SIG and StackableUSB. Both use a stacking approach to add I/O expansion capability by leveraging interconnecting technology such as USB and its existing infrastructure of software and development tools. As technology advances progressed, we saw newer and faster devices demanding faster connection and higher bandwidth. The once-adequate bandwidth of USB 2.0 at 480Mbps nominal had quickly become obsolete, and thus, USB 3.0 was needed. The benefit of USB 3.0 is more than the much-needed improvement in link speed (5Gbps) and data bandwidth (~4.8Gbps). It is backward compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 1.1. In addition, USB 3.0 employs an even more aggressive power management scheme compared to USB 2.0 while doubling the bus power from 500mA to 900mA.

VIA has been successful with USB 2.0. Our USB 2.0 Host Controller ICs, VT6212 and VT6210, account for over 50% of the USB host controller market share. In addition, USB 2.0 is a standard feature in our x86 chipset offerings. To ensure our continuing success with USB, VIA has established VIA Labs Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary to solely focus on developing our own USB 3.0 IP portfolio.

In January this year, we released two brand-new USB 3.0 products, VL700 and VL810. The VL700 is a USB 3.0 to SATA Controller IC while the VL810 is a USB 3.0 Hub Controller IC. In recent years, personal storage devices of all shapes and sizes have proliferated the market. Among the more popular are the 2.5" and 3.5" HDDs with USB 2.0 connectivity. The capacity of these storage devices has progressed from merely 40GB to 1TB and beyond. We believe VL700 will unleash the performance of these devices, as the USB 3.0 5Gbps link speed is a better match with the SATA 3Gbps link speed.

We plan to release a USB 3.0 Host Controller product sometime later this year. This will be a quick and easy way for us to add USB 3.0 support to any of our existing x86 solutions with PCI Express connectivity. Coupled with the VL810, you can build a robust platform solution with multiple high-speed I/O connectivity, which will find ready markets in applications such as Hi-Def AV authoring, home surveillance, and high precision instrumentation. As the next step, we will integrate USB 3.0 into our next generation of x86 chipsets, which we plan to release in 2011.

Joseph Chung is technology advocate at VIA Technologies Inc., based in Taipei, Taiwan. He has worked at VIA for 12 years and is currently responsible for the company’s embedded component business in North America. He also chairs the SFF-SIG Pico-ITXe work group. Joseph received his BS in Electrical Engineering and BS in Computer Engineering from the University of Kansas.

VIA Technologies www.viaembedded.com

Joseph Chung (VIA Technologies)
Previous Article
Special Advertisement: Leveraging leading-edge PC graphics technologies for embedded systems

Embedded designers can take advantage of the fast-paced innovation in graphics technology.

Next Article
DynaVox Mayer-Johnson advances human expression
DynaVox Mayer-Johnson advances human expression

Designing a small speech-generating device durable enough for children to use called for a small form facto...