VIA QuadCore Preview & Centaur Tour

VIA Technologies and Centaur Technologies are back with what it is calling the world's most efficient x86 multicore processor on the planet. Seeing so much done with so little is impressive, but what is even more impressive is seeing four cores falling into a power envelope of less than 28 watts TDP.


Centaur Technologies Tour

While VIA will be building the VIA QuadCore in Taiwan along with the help of TSMC, the architecture has been fully designed here, deep in the heart of Texas, Austin, Texas to be specific. We got to spend Tuesday at Centaur....again. HardOCP was down at Centaur back in 2008 to see Isaiah get unveiled. And to be honest, you can hit the previous link and see a lot of what we saw this week. Glenn Henry, CJ Holthaus, John Carls, and Liz Tillman among about 96 others are still working their butts off in the Hill Country. Not a lot has changed about Centaur's testing processes. Almost everything is still done by this small family of engineers, "by hand."

Even though it was "old hat" to us, we still took a lot of pictures, many of things that we did not showcase last time, or that we just found interesting as we wound our way through the corridors.

Centaur Technologies in Pictures - II

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Here we see pics of our new VIA QuadCore demo systems running everyday software and games.

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Here we see trays of VIA QuadCore processors that were laid out on the conference table. The VIA QuadCore is of course the package with two dies on top. I also grabbed a shot of the bottom of the package still showing its legacy 480 pin ball grid array.

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Heading out around the Centaur facility it is not unusual to find people working on code. Check out all the ISO Torrents this guy has running? wink In the middle you see where we passed by a VIA QuadCore sitting under a microscope.

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These five pictures above will get your water cooling guys blood moving. Water cooling was being used the Centaur facility. I am looking at getting chilled water lines installed in my house as well.

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Above we a super top secret shot of a 1.33GHz VIA QuadCore here running on a testing bench. I am pretty sure I was not supposed to see this one.

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Above we passed one testing station running Blu-ray video with no heatsink on the processor. The surface temperature of the VIA DualCore was in the mid-60s. In the middle you see Liz putting together a processor and a package substrate at the Flip-Chip station. Notice in the background behind the scope, the stack of 300mm wafers.

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In the first three shots above we show you some of the heavier testing equipment we showed you last time. In the last two photos we see a heated test bench that is running multiple systems at near-failing temperatures for days. While my shot of the screen is an epic fail you might still be able to make out that the systems have been running for over 5 days with the core temp of over 90c at 1.2GHz/1.2v.

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On the flip side of that testing, in these pictures we see another VIA DualCore 1.2GHz system running at -6c.

And while you likely do not remember, we showed you and said this the last time we wrote about Centaur.

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Once Centaur has the CN dies back from fabrication and whenever Elizabeth Tillman needs a new CN die, she simply swivels her chair around and grabs one. I am not sure if there is a method to her madness, but closer inspection will show that the dies are identified by location on the wafer, and I think she was logging that. (Maybe one day she will make a big "[H]" for us and take a picture?wink

Well apparently Liz has a very good memory!

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Thanks Liz, that has been one of the most awesome "Random [H] Sightings" we have ever had the opportunity to witness.

The Bottom Line

We know that the VIA QuadCore is not exactly positioned to get a lot of traction with the HardOCP audience, but we still love looking at the technology. The VIA QuadCore probably has a very bright future in price sensitive areas that are emerging markets like India and China. The VIA QuadCore is tremendously powerful for its power envelope and will be able to deliver X86 and floating point precision that is simply not found in any other processor for the dollar or TDP. Hopefully I will get a chance to look at some upcoming products. VIA did not have any design wins to share with us, but did explain that the product would be officially shown off at Computex that is coming up shortly. We look forward to seeing all that X86 power in an upcoming ultralight notebook.