VIA, the little engine that could, is still chugging along. Last night I spoke with Tim Brown from VIA by way of Taiwan, and we discussed the news that the company announced today. VIA is targeting the space between netbooks and notebooks with a new platform called Surfboard. It’s meant for devices with displays ranging from 10.2 inches to 12.1 inches, which pits it squarely against Intel Atom and CULV chips , as well as the base AMD VISION product. Although it remains to be seen if it becomes a household name, VIA is calling devices in this space “NetNotes.”
Name adoption aside, what really matters is what the platform offers, what consumers can do with it, and who will use it in a product line. In terms of offerings, Tim tells me that Surfboard handily beats the Atom in several respects: 1080p video playback, 64-bit support, and out of order process execution. It’s worth noting that the graphics solution only supports DirectX 9, like the Atom, while AMD’s latest platform does support DX10. The extra computing and graphical boost from VIA competes well on power efficiency, too — the Surfboard platform, not just the VIA chipset, has a maximum TDP of 10.3 Watts. Lenovo has already adopted a VIA solution in one of its IdeaPad S12 configurations. This thin-and-light 12-inch computer uses the VIA Nano U2250 1.3GHz and can run for over 4.5 hours on the 52Whr battery. While that doesn’t compare with the over eight hours I can see on my Intel Atom N280 Toshiba NB205 — it uses a 63Whr power pack — the VIA solution could appeal to consumers who want to trade a little battery life for more performance. I’m hoping to get a chance to test the trade-off theory with an S12 review unit in the near future.
VIA’s Global Marketing Bazaar is a stepping stone for the new product — the company soon plans to show nearly three dozen new reference designs and products in the Asian area, with hopes of OEMs rebadging or redesigning. One example turnkey NetNote we talked about offers nearly everything I’d like to see in such a device using the Surfboard platform: traditional SATA hard drive up to 320GB or a PATA ZIF SSD module, two USB ports, webcam, VGA out, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 4-in-1 card reader and optional integrated 3G radio via a mini-PCIe card. Tim tells me that HDMI is also supported by the new platform, although I’m not sold that people want to hook up notebook computers to their high-definition television for video playback.
Many of our readers have had experience with VIA solutions in the past. Some of the first UMPCs ran on the C7-M CPU, and there are a few netbooks out there currently running on the VIA Nano. Do you think VIA has a chance to “hang 10″ with the new Surfboard, or will VIA stay a smaller player in the chipset market?