VIA Announces Details of New Processors
By Van Smith

Date: October 16, 2001

UPDATE: Information regarding the Socket-478 compatibility of CZA was not obtained from Glenn Henry, and Mr. Henry denies the accuracy of this rumor.  We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

At Monday’s Microprocessor Forum, Centaur Technology’s Glenn Henry disclosed information regarding VIA-Centaur’s microprocessor roadmap.  Included were the company’s first superscalar offering, the C5X, that promises to elevate compute intensive performance and the “CZ” family of processors that are Pentium 4 Socket-478 compatible.  The first member of the CZ family, the CZA, is planned to scale well above 3 GHz.  Power consumption rates for VIA’s currently shipping low-power C3 processors were also discussed.


Computing for the masses

“Computing for the masses” is the consistent mantra of VIA-Centaur.  A concept that we have long subscribed to, VIA believes the microprocessor industry is undergoing commoditization, a phenomena where CPUs will no longer be able to command the egregious price premiums Intel, in particular, demanded in the past.  The rapid deflation of ASPs (Average Selling Prices) at competitive MPU companies suggests that VIA’s low-cost path was wisely chosen.



The ever-popular leader of Centaur, Glenn Henry outlined the core objectives his team is aiming towards.  VIA designs low-cost, highly compatible x86 processors that leverage existing component infrastructure.  The VIA C3 is a good embodiment of these goals. It is an inexpensive x86 Socket-370 design that delivers competent performance on mainstream applications while operating at exceptionally low power.  Thanks to having the world’s smallest die size, a tiny 52 square millimeters, the C3 is economical to produce.

Here is the slide he presented:


Low power

The miniscule die size of the C3 is the result of the 0.15 process technology together with innate the simplicity of the C3’s design which requires far fewer transistors than competing products.  Taken along with advanced 0.13-micron transistor technology employed in the “Ezra” C3 (the C3 is created with a hybrid 0.15 micron/0.13 micron technology), the chip consumes very little power.

To paraphrase Glenn Henry, the dubiousness of the benchmarking business is only exceeded by recent claims for CPU power consumption.  In a noble attempt to provide objective data and to underscore how little energy the VIA C3 demands, Centaur conducted studies monitoring power consumption of the chip in real-time.  The focus of the studies are on "real world" workloads involving both static tasks like DVD decoding where the same amount of work must be executed in a certain amount of time, and dynamic workloads like WinStone99 where the amount of work varies over time.

The first slide below shows the little VIA chip running WinStone99 at full speed and overlays this data with the power claims made by Intel for a similarly clocked Pentium III.


The C3-Ezra (also internally called the C5C) has a maximum power dissipation rate that is less than 1/3 that of the Intel Pentium III.  The C3 demands an average of only 4.76 Watts while running WinStone99. 

At "Ultra-Low Power" settings, the Ezra was compared with the SpeedStep enabled PIII 500/300 running at 300 MHz.  When executing Battery Mark 3.0 the VIA chip consumes an average of only 0.38 W.

The inherent low-power attributes of the VIA C3 are enhanced by a sophisticated power management technology dubbed "LongHaul."  While Intel processors, with SpeedStep, are limited to toggling on demand between two power states, VIA-Centaur processors can dynamically adjust frequency and voltage according to workload.  In many respects, VIA's power saving technology is similar to Transmeta's "LongRun."



The success of VIA’s “Enhanced BGA” (Ball Grid Array) version of the C3 has exceeded the company’s most optimistic projections.  The inexpensive EBGA C3 is enabling a new wave of value priced motherboards that include an integrated CPU as well as graphics.


Such products are attractive to manufacturers since complete integration encourages wholesale motherboard upgrades when the user desires greater performance.  End users benefit from lower costs and generally greater reliability. 

It has already become commonplace for users to upgrade the motherboard with the CPU to take advantage of rapidly evolving chipset and memory technologies, so the transition to such highly integrated systems will be seamless for them.



Also shown were VIA-Centaur's roadmap for the next few years.  This first slide illustrates what products are currently shipping.

All three chips are Socket-370 compatible.

New processors that are to be delivered within the next year are shown in the next slide along with their genealogy.

The C5M, or Ezra-T, is currently sampling and looking very good in the labs.  This chip is simply a C5C reworked to operate in PIII-Tualatin sockets (including notebooks). 

VIA works closely with TSMC who fabricates the C3 as well as chips from nVidia, Transmeta and others.  The C5N is an Ezra-T moved to an advanced copper process with faster transistors.  The C5N should enable the C3 to scale to 1.2 GHz.

Finally, the chart below reveals VIA's upcoming and highly anticipate C5X as well as a new family of processors christened "CZ."  Note the possibility for integrated cores containing both CPU and graphics controllers (and, of course, memory controller as well).


C5X, C5XL and CZ

One of the more anticipated CPU products from VIA is the C5X core which promises to significantly elevate compute intensive performance per clock cycle and, by lengthening the pipeline from 12 to 16 stages, should scale to higher clock speeds on any given process than the C3.

Historically, Centaur processors have had weak floating point performance.  In fact, the C3 has an FPU (floating point unit) that runs at only one-half the core clock speed.  The C5X takes great strides to remedy this with a full-speed and completely reworked floating point unit.  Also worth noting is that media and gaming performance will greatly benefit from two SSE 128-bit units (actually two double-pumped 64-bit units) and two MMX units.

With a large 256 kB 16-way Level-2 cache and dual-processing capabilities, the C5X will make also make an interesting server, especially if Centaur's low-power track record hold true with this new MPU.

The C5X has taped out and samples are expected soon.

High performance has not been a core objective of Centaur, so the C5X is a step in a new direction.  The C5XL is a modified version of C5X which will replace the C3 in VIA's established market.

Scaled down and simpler, the C5XL will be inexpensive to produce, use little power and should actually scale to high clock speeds than the C5X.  The C5X and C5XL will both be produced on a full 0.13 micron copper process.

Finally, only a little information has been disclosed about VIA-Centaur's CZ line of processors.  Again leveraging Intel's established infrastructure, these chips are being designed to work in the Pentium 4's Socket-478 and should feature excellent bandwidth thanks to the P4's fast front-side bus (FSB) [ed: Please see update below]. 

Embodying Centaur's philosophy of small die sizes, the CZA, the first in the CZ line, should see much better power saving attributes than Intel's notoriously energy hungry P4.  The CZA is expected to scale well above 3 GHz and given the P4's infamously low IPC (Instructions Per Clockcycle), the CZA will probably be very competitive performance-wise.

UPDATE: Information regarding the Socket-478 compatibility of CZA was not obtained from Glenn Henry, and Mr. Henry denies the accuracy of this rumor.  We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.