VIA's New Centaur Designed Isaiah CPU Architecture

If you would have told me last year that I would be able to sit down and play Crysis on a VIA low power CPU, well, I think I would have to had called BS on that, but I did just that yesterday. That get your attention?

Introduction

On Wednesday of this week, we got to spend the better part of our workday at Centaur Technology that is a wholly owned subsidiary of VIA Technologies. While you may not know the name Centaur, the brand name of "Cyrix" probably does ring a bell and likely strikes fear into the heart of many enthusiasts. Many of us remember the Celeron 300A being the end of days for Cyrix where gaming was considered. Still, the Centaur x86 processors of the past have lead what could easily be considered the longest life of any x86 processors on the planet. Still today the "C7" lives on in low end desktop systems and many upper end mobile and Ultra Mobile PC devices. While owned by VIA, Centaur and its less than 100 employees have been humming along outside of Austin, Texas for years now basically working on their own under the direction of Glenn Henry, long-time silicon industry veteran. And as of this year, Centaur and VIA will launch a new "Isaiah" processor aimed squarely at the low-power high-performance market place nicheآ’ that has recently been validated by Intel's huge investment in the upcoming Silverthorn processor. (Interestingly enough, Silverthorn as well was designed in Austin, Texas.) Both of these processors are focused firmly on the UMPC market, although they will undoubtedly turn up in devices that have yet to even be conceived.

This new processor for Centaur and VIA will be an out-of-order superscaler single core CPU at launch. Initially it will not have SSE4 instructions but that will be added on one of it first updates later this year and even a dual core version is possible but not yet planned. The amazing thing about this new processor, which we will refer to as the "CN" (which has yet to be branded, and let's hope VIA comes up with something better than "C7" this time round) from here out, fits into the same power envelope as the current C7. A current C7 at 1.5GHz is rated at 25w TDP. A new CN at 2GHz should fetch 20w TDP or less. (I should mention here that TDP numbers are somewhat misleading. Under normal usage models a 2GHz would likely fetch between 2w to 5w. I also previously misstated that TDP was higher than 20w. 20w is correct and has been verified by Centaur.) Update - 012408:0957) The new CN is pin compatible with the C7 as well. It is entirely possible to take this new CN processor, which could be categorized as being at least آ“2X more powerful than the C7,آ” and drop it into current C7 devices. Launch is slated for "Spring of 2008."

While none of these specifications have been released to us, from our trip today there are certainly some specifications we can ballpark for you.

Unofficial CN Processor Specifications

  • x86 and 64-bit Compatible
  • CN Size = 60mm^2
  • Process = 65nm
  • TDP = 20w
  • Launch Speed = 1GHz (sub-1volt) to 2GHz (1.15v)
  • Transistor Count = 94 Million
  • Power State = C6 (93M Transistors Turned Off)
  • SSE4 = Yes, but not at Launch

Performance

Centaur's Glenn Henry felt as though Intel's yet-to-released Silverthorn UMPC processor was not going to be as fast VIA's new CN. You can hear him mention this in the video below and you can also hear him speculate on where CN might be in terms of Intel's current desktop processors.

Glenn was very sure that the new CN processor was 2X the current C7 performance and possibly up to 4X the performance depending on the application with a floating point unit which is remarkable in comparison to its predecessor.

We saw a 1.4GHz CN processors running a Blu-ray HD video easily as well as a 1.2GHz passsively cooled CN running 720P video content and plowing through a desktop application benchmark. (Updated 012408:0800_

Without a doubt, what was most impressive was seeing a 1.8GHz CN processor running Crysis. While I am not going to go out of on a limb and say it was the best Crysis experience you might have, there is no doubt that this low power آ“UMPCآ” processor was more than up to the task that I would never ever guessed possible on a VIA/Centaur CPU. Certainly, CN is not aimed at powering the most demanding 3D shooter game in the world, and after seeing it run Crysis successfully it is certainly that the CN/Isaiah processor is more than up to the tasks that might be thrown its way in the UMPC segment.

Centaur CN / Isaiah Architecture Detail

For those of you that wish to know more, enjoy the Isaiah/CN architectural white paper below. On the follow pages we have a brief follow-up that contains VIAآ’s marketing slides for this new processor.

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