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Via Nano Processor

Written by oneself on 5:58 AM

By: Sandra Prior

We have fallen in love with Intel's Atom 230 processor, a tiny powerhouse delivering 1.6GHz of power on a motherboard the size of an open DVD case. It shows a lot of promise for the future of home computing: at last a media centre-capable PC in a small enough form factor that won't look and sound like you've got an electricity substation sitting next to your TV.

But the Atom-powered board isn't without a key problem - in that it only has support for the positively Neanderthal PCI graphics slot, as opposed to the far more modern PCI-E. It is a serious, deliberate hobbling of the platform by Intel that does affect its performance as a media centre PC: it couldn't handle recent games, and could only run 1080p video with a firm overclocking boot up the processor's behind.

Enter Via's Nano processor and Epia mini-ITX board. It's the same size as Intel's, but the chip runs at 1.8GHz, and - crucially - includes a PCI-E slot. It puts Intel's board to shame; but there's a catch in that it's not actually available yet, and Via have yet to finalize the form it's going to come in. However, we'd never let that stop us putting the pre-production model through its paces.

Admittedly, we were slightly skeptical about Via's latest venture: the company has a spotted history, to say the least. From severe technical problems using their previous processors with AGP graphics cards, to an almost-company-destroying patent wrangle with Intel; suffice to say Via is at the infamous end of chip companies.

Thankfully, the Nano looks set to put all that animosity in the past, and shows the company is finding its feet again. The Nano uses the same C7 architecture as Via's previous mini-CPUs, and therefore is backward compatible with older mini-ITX motherboards. The Epia motherboard itself includes Via's latest CN896 Northbridge, which is where the PCI-Express support lies, as well as an onboard VGA port. Alas, there is no built-in DVI port as of yet - a chief complaint of a colleague is that he would be unable to plug in a TV tuner card and output high definition broadcasts at the same time.

As with the Atom motherboard, the Epia includes passive cooling on the processor itself, and has one tiny low-power fan on the Northbridge. The Nano achieves this by automatically scaling the performance and voltage states based on the temperature of the die, which causes optimal cooling without affecting performance. Not only does this stop your computer melting but it also optimizes the power consumption of the processor - the Nano will draw a minimum of 5W, and maximum of 25W. So despite not quite equaling the Atom from a straight performance angle, it stands head and shoulders above on the power/performance ratio.

A drama out of a Crysis

But there's one thing we've neglected to mention: the Nano will run Crysis. We coupled the board with an ATI 4850 and a gig of ram; then ran Crysis in DX9 with all settings on ‘high’. It achieved an astonishing average of 20 frames per second - which admittedly isn't that smooth, but is at least playable. There was some slightly odd blurring around the HUD, but for the most part the South China Sea looked as good as we'd expect from a fully fledged bargain PC. High definition 720p video playback was acceptable, but the processor's touted ability to play back 1080p fell a little short, with videos playing slowly. An overclocked processor might have handled the full 24 frames per second, but our test model didn't give tweaking the BIOS as an option. Still, with a cheap graphics card occupying the PCI-E slot the GPU will be able to take the strain of HD playback without a problem.

Via obviously has the technical clout to knock Intel's Atom out of the ring, but it lacks Intel's canny marketing and brand recognition. If Via can smooth out the niggles we experienced on the processor and card, it'll definitely be a winner; the Nano could be the product that launches Via into the stratosphere.

Published At: Isnare Free Articles Directory http://www.isnare.com

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