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CPU maker touts 'carbon-free' processor

Posted: 01 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Via Technologies? CPU? processor? carbon-free processor? C7-D?

What's your carbon footprint? Whatever it is, CPU maker Via Technologies Inc. figures it can reduce it by a smidgen if system designers choose the company's new C7-D processor.

Taipei-based Via is marketing its latest low-power processor as "carbon-free." So for every unit of carbon produced by the C7-D's energy consumption, Via will contribute to programs that sponsor green projects, such as tree planting or the development of solar and wind energy.

It's an interesting gimmick, and, like many Via initiatives, it includes a poke at longtime competitor Intel Corp. "You need about four trees over the C7-D's lifetime to suck in the carbon that is produced from it. Whereas for an Intel Pentium D, you need about 31 trees," said Keith Kowal, marketing manager at Via.

To be fair, Via reckons Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) staff will need to plant 21 trees for every Athlon 64. And to be fairer to both companies, comparing the performance of Intel's Pentium D and AMD's Athlon 64 to the C7-D may be like comparing apple trees to orange trees.

Incremental change
Other than the green scheme, the C7-D is an incremental improvement to Via's CPU line, which has stressed low-power designs that often don't need cooling fans. The C7-D comes in a low-profile nanoBGA2 package measuring 21-by-21mm and has a maximum thermal design power of roughly 20W at 1.8GHz. It is available in speeds ranging from 1.5GHz to 1.8GHz, and also supports advanced branch prediction, SSE2 and SSE3 3D instruction sets. It has 16 pipeline stages and a 128Kbyte L2 cache with 32-way associativity for memory optimization, the company said.

Via hopes the green incentive will help it win extra orders among the environmentally inclined IT managers, or in the government and education markets.

"We see that a lot of traction for this is in the U.K., where Tony Blair just announced that the government would become carbon-neutral within the next six years," Kowal said. "More companies are also finding that it makes good business sense to go green."

Some conservative critics have noted that such initiatives are junk science because, in the big scheme of things, the reductions are relatively minute, or the formulas used to determine carbon footprints are bunk. But Via isn't claiming that its CPUs will save the planet. Nor does it claim that the C7-D will lower carbon emissions enough to prevent glacial melting. "It's not something gimmicky. We think it will make good business sense for us by increasing our appeal in some of these specialized markets that want green computing," Kowal said.

To back its claim, Via cited a Greenpeace survey that showed that as many as 84 percent of PC users would pay more for a green computer.

Via will have a new logo for PCs using the green CPU. It has also come up with a new benchmark, called TreeMark, to calculate how many trees it has to plant for each CPU. That will help the company determine what it owes to groups that run carbon credit programs.

Via, whose main business is chipsets, has always been an underdog in the CPU businesssort of an AMD cubed. This has forced it to attack on unexpected fronts.

CPU market share
Interestingly, during the 12 months following Q2 2005, Via has tripled its market share in CPUs to about 5.4 percent. In other words, it has taken as much market share away from Intel as has AMD. But Via isn't thumping its chest yet.

In April, Via needed to phase out its popular C3 processor, based on the Intel bus, after its cross-licensing agreement with Intel ended. "There was a surge in shipments due to end-of-life buys, and most of the product is going into inventory. I expect shipments and share to plunge this quarter, and the share will go back to Intel and AMD," said Dean McCarron of Mercury Research.

Meanwhile, Via hopes that its C7 will continue to build momentum in ultramobile PCs and thin clients.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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