Via's C7 processor promises 2 GHz for 20 watts

Taipei - Via today announced its C7 processor based on the Esther core. The company claims it is the world's smallest, lowest power and most secure native x86 processor.

Over the past five years, Transmeta and Via have been battling Intel in the field of low power processors. With Transmeta basically gone from this market, Via has to fill this role alone. The company on Friday launched a new and attack at Intel: According to the company, the new C7 processor family simply is the lowest power and most secure native x86 processor money can buy.

The chip was developed by Via-Centaur and is based on the "Esther" core. It uses IBM's 90 nm SOI technology, integrates 128 kByte L1 and L2 cache, and supports SSE2 and SSE3. The chip is the smallest device in its competitive field today, measuring just 30 mm2. Idle power of the processor comes in as low as 0.1 watts while running the chip at 2 GHz consumes about 20 watts at peak levels. Via claims the processors runs about 40 percent "cooler" than its competition.

"For me, the "Esther" core is the embodiment of my vision for a cool, secure and versatile processor that will take the x86 platform to the next level," said Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Technologies and chief architect of the power-efficient processor design strategy. "It is the culmination of many years of designing for the optimal balance of mobility, performance, and security."

Via's security claim stems from the integration of the proprietary PadLock hardware suite, a family of security technologies providing on-die hardware acceleration for key cryptographic operations. In addition to the world's best random number generator (RNG) and AES Encryption Engine in the previous processor generation, the C7 processor adds SHA-1 and SHA-256 hashing for secure message digests, and a hardware based Montgomery Multiplier supporting key sizes up to 32K in length to accelerate public key cryptography, such as RSA. As other newer generation processors, the C7 also includes execute protection (NX) functionality.

While there is no doubt that Via, just as Transmeta, always had power efficient processors in the past, the C-series of processors typically was in a disadvantage when it came to performance. With the fastest C7 topping out at 2 GHz and a sole focus on power consumption, it is uncertain if the processor can convince system builders and consumers beyond the borders of Asia Pacific.