The Last x86 Via Chip: Unreleased Next-Gen Centaur CNS Saved From Trash Bin, Tested

Centaur
(Image credit: Centaur Technologies)

Centaur Technology announced its CNS x86 core back in 2019. Unfortunately, it never made it to the market, officially, at least, because the company was sold to Intel last year. However, Twitter user Brutus (opens in new tab) recently snagged a Centaur CHA processor from a liquidation auction and put it through its paces. The user's benchmarks provide us with a quick look at what the chip could have been if the project had come to fruition.

For those of you that don't know or remember Centaur Technology, it used to be the x86 R&D arm of VIA Technologies. Centaur Technology had been a subsidiary of VIA Technologies since 1999 before the latter offloaded part of the former's engineering personnel to Intel for a whopping $125 million in 2021.

Centaur Technology started development on CHA in 2016. The chip wields the company's CNS cores along with an AI co-processor, has AVX-512 support, and presumably offers similar performance to Intel's Haswell processors at the time. The chipmaker designed CHA for TSMC's 16nm process node and envisioned the processor for the server market. The last forecast for CHA production was 2020, but the project is probably dead by now.

Brutus' Centaur chip, which carries the CentaurHauls codename, has eight CNS cores at 2.2 GHz and 16MB of L3 cache. The frequency is static. The Geekbench 5 submission (opens in new tab) revealed that the processor seemingly resides in a socket similar to Intel's LGA2011 socket. It explains why the CHA looks shockingly identical to Intel's Core X-Series HEDT chips and even has four DDR4 memory channels at its disposal.

Brutus shared multiple benchmarks of the Centaur CNS, but we could only find comparable results for some of them. Therefore, we picked the Cinebench R23 and Geekbench 5 results and compared them to the data from our sister site AnandTech and the Geekbench 5 database, respectively.

Centaur CNS Benchmarks

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Cinebench R23 Single CoreCinebench R23 Multi CoreGeekbench 5 Single-CoreGeekbench 5 Multi-Core
Ryzen 5 3400GN/AN/A9253,575
Intel Core i5-66001,042*3,810*9573,103
Centaur CNS4773,8025113,508
AMD FX-8150505*2,826*5062,379
AMD Athlon II X2 250477*910*358657

*Data obtained from Anandtech's CPU benchmark database.

In Cinebench R23, the Centaur CNS's single-core performance was equal to AMD's Athlon II X2 250, a low-end chip that dates back to 2009 on the extinct K10 cores. On the other hand, multi-core performance was similar to Intel's Core i5-6600 (Skylake) from 2015.

If you prefer Geekbench 5 as a reference point, the Centaur CNS performed roughly in the same alley as AMD's Bulldozer-powered FX-8150 in single-core performance. However, regarding multi-core performance, the Centaur CNS was just a hairline from the Ryzen 5 3400G, a more or less modern chip that leverages Zen+ cores.

By now, it should be clear that the Centaur CNS isn't a powerhouse and not a gaming chip. However, for the curious, Brutus discovered that the Centaur CNS was on par with quad-core, eight-thread Haswell chips in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Unfortunately, the reviewer didn't have any luck with Minecraft. Power consumption wasn't horrible, either. According to Brutus, the Centaur CNS returned with a reported power draw of 65W approximately.

It would be foolish to think that VIA Technologies would resurrect the Centaur CNS for the retail market. However, that doesn't mean that it's gone for good. Although VIA Technologies sold its Centaur division, the company retained the x86 license and other CPU-related patents. In addition, VIA Technologies is in a joint venture with Chinese chipmaker Shanghai Zhaoxin Semiconductor Co., so it wouldn't shock us if some remnants of the Centaur CNS made their way into Zhaoxin's next-generation x86 processors, such as the KaiXian KX-7000 series.

Zhiye Liu
RAM Reviewer and News Editor

Zhiye Liu is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Although he loves everything that’s hardware, he has a soft spot for CPUs, GPUs, and RAM.

  • Findecanor
    Consider that the Ryzen 3400G has four cores / eight threads running at up to 4 GHz whereas this chip has eight cores at "only" 2.2 GHz.

    Not an unusual clock for a server chip BTW.
    Reply
  • CRITICALThinker
    I hope that if tomshardware does another article on this they put a bit more effort into their reporting. As someone who participated in the auction with Brutus (he was our man on the ground and will be doing logistics, would never have heard about the auction if it wasn't for him).

    How the hell could a tech reporter ignore the clock speed entirely when comparing performance... It's appalling really. Further information on this article is that the multiplier on the boards is fully unlocked, however we aren't quite sure how it's handled since it's very unpolished. It has booted at 2.5ghz and 1.2v to my knowledge, but like all VIA architectures it unlikely will go much higher and I doubt many people are crazy enough to do much overclocking on such a rare cpu.
    Reply
  • escksu
    I would say it looks pretty decent for a CPU thats ~2.5GHz @ 65W. Single core speed seems slow but I don't think thats running at boosted speeds. If the core is running at over 4GHz, it will be alot close the 6600.

    Of course, its not going to match Intel/AMD CPUs but its not that far away (not like bulldozer days).
    Reply
  • missingxtension
    CRITICALThinker said:
    I hope that if tomshardware does another article on this they put a bit more effort into their reporting. As someone who participated in the auction with Brutus (he was our man on the ground and will be doing logistics, would never have heard about the auction if it wasn't for him).

    How the hell could a tech reporter ignore the clock speed entirely when comparing performance... It's appalling really. Further information on this article is that the multiplier on the boards is fully unlocked, however we aren't quite sure how it's handled since it's very unpolished. It has booted at 2.5ghz and 1.2v to my knowledge, but like all VIA architectures it unlikely will go much higher and I doubt many people are crazy enough to do much overclocking on such a rare cpu.
    Very disappointed..I was expecting some actual details, like what mother board is it running on, how well does linux run, or something more relevant. Luckily I read the comments and actually got some information
    Reply
  • jkflipflop98
    I had a Centaur way back when. The processor's ID comes back as "CentaurHauls".
    Reply
  • Soul_keeper
    via had quality designs imo. They were just too small, too late, and a node or two behind everytime.
    I had always hoped they'd release something competitive. The same with Transmeta, too bad all the x86 competitors are gone.
    I also liked the via Socket A chipsets, kt133 kt133a. They had good memory controllers at the time.
    Reply