Because of all the buzz surrounding Intel’s latest entry into the Mini-ITX field, I thought it would be fair to talk about the originator of this form factor—VIA. It is interesting to see all the articles out there about the Atom but, yet, very little mention of VIA’s upcoming Isaiah. I am a little disappointed in the lack of consideration for VIA’s Isaiah platform. I think the new Isaiah reiterates VIA’s commitment to Mini-ITX. And, just because Intel enters into the Mini-ITX arena with the hype of a celebrity boxer, the last thing VIA is going to do is call it quits on its own invention.
I have to admit; when I first caught wind of Intel finally taking this market seriously, I had mixed emotions. Initially I was very excited about the prospect of seeing Intel’s trademark feature set of high-end specs, solid performance, and stability, in a Mini-ITX form factor. On the other hand, I feared that they would “steal” the segment away from VIA. But VIA, it seems, has no intention of giving up anything to Intel.
Some early benchmarks have already been released and the performance of Isaiah looks promising—VIA is certainly confident of Isaiah’s performance. On the power consumption side of things, VIA has said that TDP should be consistent with previous C7 based offerings (~14W TDP), with about 2-4 times the performance. Intel is reporting similar performance advantages over the VIA C7 processor, but they are also touting a considerable advantage in power consumption with a TDP of just 4W for the 1.6GHz Atom CPU (Ed. Yesterday VIA officially released specs for Isaiah). A good chart of the two different CPU lines can be found here.
VIA is reportedly working with Nvidia for a chipset solution. This is the right partnership for VIA, at the right time. Nvidia has been making very good chipsets for both AMD and Intel for the past few years. But as AMD and ATI have consolidated to produce their own robust chipset solutions, and Intel has continued to ramp up the performance of their own, Nvidia is finding itself in a tough spot with its chipset business. There have also been reports of a possible Vista oriented Mini-ITX board. Details are scarce on the project, but an Nvidia chipset for a VIA based Mini-ITX board sounds promising (although the claimed $45.00 price point sounds a bit far-fetched). I find a VIA/Nvidia marriage a perfect solution for both of them and the segment.
It is clear that Intel has officially landed on the Mini-ITX scene with a now fully baked solution. But VIA is not going anywhere without a fight and competition is absolutely healthy in any market. Fortunately the end users are the ultimate winners from such one-upmanship and I believe the Mini-ITX segment is about to get real interesting.