Skip to main content

Intel to Acquire Austin x86 Dev Team from Via Technologies

Zhaoxin
(Image credit: Zhaoxin)

Via Technologies announced plans to offload part of its Centaur Technology x86 CPU subsidiary to Intel for $125 million. The Taipei, Taiwan-based company will retain its right to develop, build, and sell x86 processors, its CPU-related patents, and some engineers. However, it will allow some of its engineers from Austin, Texas, to join Intel. As a result, the CPU giant will get another team of experienced engineers.

"Intel will recruit some of Centaur's employees to join Intel with certain covenants from the Company for Intel's recruitment," a statement by Via Technologies with TWSE reads. "As consideration, Intel will pay Centaur $125 million. […] Closing of the transaction is contingent on certain conditions in the agreement to be satisfied. Payment will be made in full upon closing."

The announcement of the deal (first noticed by AnandTech) raises more questions than it gives answers. The agreement involves the personal wishes of Centaur employees, but does not include any fixed assets or intangible assets, said Chen Baohui, CFO of Via Technologies, at a press conference held in Taipei, Taiwan, reports UDN. He also stressed that the transaction could not be considered a sale of Centaur or the team (even though Centaur's website has been taken down). In fact, the company did not even specify the actual matter of the transaction or its timing. 

Centaur Technology, a 100% Via Technologies subsidiary, has an interesting history. The company was founded in 1995 to build cheap x86 CPUs and got its funding from Integrated Device Technology (IDT), which had its own fabs back then. IDT released the first Centaur-designed processor under the WinChip brand in 1997 and the second WinChip CPU in 1998. The chips featured an in-order execution microarchitecture with a low-performance floating point unit (FPU). However, IDT's WinChips never became popular because Intel had CPUs with out-of-order microarchitectures and Intel's chips also featured a high-performance FPU. To that end, IDT canceled the third iteration of WinChip and sold Centaur Technology to Via Technologies in 1999.  

Later on, Centaur designed Via C3, Via C7, and Via Nano/Isaiah (a 64-bit superscalar out-of-order) processors sold by Via. After Isaiah, Centaur Technology developed its 'Haswell-like' CNS core that supported AVX-512instructions (using a 256-bit SIMD) and was meant to be used in the CHA processor with a built-in AI accelerator. Meanwhile, CHA has never materialized.  

One interesting thing to note is that the Nano/Isaiah microarchitecture was adopted and refined by Zhaoxin, a joint venture between VIA Technologies and the Shanghai Municipal Government. Zhaoxin continues to develop x86 CPUs and has rather solid plans for the future. It can access advanced manufacturing capacities and therefore can release relatively competitive CPUs, so Via's presence on x86 market will certainly continue, albeit under a different brand. 

This is not the first time that Intel has acquired assets from Via Technologies. Back in 2015, the company bought some assets of Via Telecom (a developer of entry-level smartphone SoCs, baseband processors, and modems).