iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Interview with Richard Brown, Associate VP for International Marketing at VIA

August 26, 2004


iXBT/Digit-Life: Hi dear sir. Thanks for finding time to answer our questions. Please introduce yourself and tell us briefly about your job in VIA.

My name is Richard Brown, and I am Associate VP for International Marketing at VIA. This means that I am responsible for all VIA's global marketing activities outside of Taiwan, China, and Japan.

iXBT/Digit-Life:How do you see a perspective of DDR2 memory this year - how deep will it penetrate the market, what will be the market share of VIA chipsets supporting DDR2? What are the key factors that deter the DDR2 spread in your opinion?

It's hard to say exactly how fast DDR2 will ramp up and when it will become the mainstream standard, but perhaps the middle of 2005 is a good guess. The key factor in determining DDR2 uptake is cost - there are no doubts that DDR2 will become the industry standard, and as soon as costs come down enough it will take over from DDR in volume terms. It is not a question of 'if', but 'when'. As you know, VIA is already sampling chipsets that support both DDR2 and DDR SDRAM, allowing the motherboard makers the flexibility to support either standard depending on the needs of the market at any given time.

iXBT/Digit-Life: How do you see the perspective of PCI-express bus? When will it be dominating the market?

As with DDR2, there is no doubt that PCI Express will become the industry standard, because the extra bandwidth and scalable nature of its serial architecture are very beneficial for the industry as a whole. However, it's hard to say exactly when it will entirely replace the AGP and PCI buses. It seems likely that PCI Express graphics will ramp up relatively quickly to replace the AGP interface by the middle of 2005. The uptake of the PCI Express interface for I/O connections might not be so fast, however. With the exception of Gigabit Ethernet and some other bandwidth hungry specialized I/O devices, the need to upgrade to PCI Express peripheral interfaces is not so urgent. Perhaps you remember how long it took the ISA bus to completely disappear from motherboards altogether after the introduction of the PCI bus! Therefore, we can expect to see X1 PCI Express and PCI interfaces coexisting on motherboards for some time yet.

iXBT/Digit-Life: During Computex 2004 VIA shown PT890 based system boards featuring DDR2 667MHz memory support. Can you inform us when will PT890 based motherboard appear in the market? Can you share your plans for your Pentium 4 chipsets?

I expect you will see motherboards based on VIA's PCI Express compatible chipsets in the market in late Q3 this year. In terms of new technologies, as I already mentioned we will be supporting DDR2 and we will also include support for AGP8X as well as PCI Express. Unfortunately at this time I can't offer any more specific information than that.

iXBT/Digit-Life: Can you estimate the market share of VIA chipsets for embedded and desktop systems?

We would estimate our total chipset market share at between 20 - 25%. Since the embedded market is so difficult to define, we are not sure what our share of that market is, except to say that our share of it is growing very as a result of the great success of our embedded platforms.

iXBT/Digit-Life: What was the reason of recent increase of VIA's and other vendors' chipsets prices?

I can't speak for other vendors, but in the case of VIA I think you can attribute it to simple supply and demand economics. With the major foundries currently running at over capacity, price rises across the industry are inevitable.

iXBT/Digit-Life: You have succeeded with your Athlon64 chipsets. And recently you have introduced your K8T880 and K8T890 chipcets. What are your plans for AMD chipsets, what products to expect from VIA soon?

To date, about 90% of Athlon 64 compatible motherboards shipped are based on a VIA K8 Series chipset, and we expect to maintain that dominant position with an impressive future roadmap for the platform. In May, we announced our second generation chipset for the AMD Athlon 64 and Opteron processor platform, the VIA K8T800 Pro. Since the launch of AMD's new 939-pin versions of the Athlon 64 processors, uptake for the VIA K8T800 Pro has been swift and you can already see a number of K8T800 Pro motherboards in the market. Beyond that, we are already sampling the VIA K8T890 which we expect to be the first available PCI Express chipset for the AMD processor platform.

iXBT/Digit-Life: There is an opinion that PCI-express chipset makers could produce solutions for high performance servers (e.g. for AMD Opteron based ones). How could you comment the information that NVIDIA is going to launch an 8-processor chipset for hi-end Sun servers? Do you plan to enter the market of high performance UNIX-servers?

Unfortunately, I can't comment on the plans of other companies or indeed on our own plans in the server arena. All I can say is the VIA K8T800 has been adopted in a number of single and dual Opteron processor based server designs, so we already have a presence in this market.

iXBT/Digit-Life: Will VIA act aggressively in WLAN market? Are there plans to produce unified chipsets supporting different standards? What about UWB controller?

In May this year, we did in fact announce the VNT VT6655 802.11g WLAN controller, which also supports the 802.11b standard. We are currently evaluating other wireless technologies for future products, and UWB is certainly under consideration.

iXBT/Digit-Life: What is the positioning of C5J (Esther) core, which was announced on Embedded Processor Forum? Will Esther based products be oriented to a wide range of consumers or only to narrow specialized solutions for embedded and desktop systems.

When the C5J Esther core becomes available in early Q1 next year, it will be used on all of our processors. Due to its lower power consumption, we expect to be able to produce 1.2GHz or even 1.3 GHz VIA Eden ESP and VIA Eden-N processors with a maximum power consumption of 7W or even less. Similarly, our mobile, x86 consumer electronics and embedded system processors will be able to achieve speeds of around 2GHz with a maximum power consumption of just over 20W. It will have a bunch of additional on-die security features that will allow us to achieve greater functionality within the same thermal brackets that we use for our current processor offerings.

At the recent VIA Technology Forum held during Computex in Taipei, we announced that VIA is developing products for the Personal Electronics market. For our processor platforms that translates into an extremely wide range of product categories, from advanced Thin Clients and POS systems to digital media centers and set top boxes, as well as mobile entertainment systems. These are the markets that we expect will have huge growth in the next few years and we are very well positioned to compete in them because we produce a total silicon platform. This includes our low power processors, feature rich digital media chipsets, an unmatched range of companion chips and even motherboards that can handle extremely demanding applications such as simultaneous AES encryption and MPEG-4 decoding without overtaxing system resources.

iXBT/Digit-Life: What are VIA plans for lead free solutions? Will there be any new platforms?

A: We're producing lead-free options for our processors, chipsets and companion chips now and recently announced a totally lead-free motherboard from one of our Japanese partners called Yamashita (http://www.via.com.tw/en/Digital%20Library/PR040421VIAYamashitaLeadFree.jsp). Our lead-free packages are ROHS and WEEE compliant and we are working on programs, such as the VIA Green Computing Initiative (http://www.via.com.tw/en/VInternet/greencomputing.jsp), to promote these practices with our customers.

iXBT/Digit-Life: Creative's monopoly in gaming soundcards market, launch of new professional solutions from EMU, new High Definition Audio embedded sound. What about VIA audio business? Are there any real perspectives in this situation?

VIA continues to believe that our audio business forms a crucial component of our silicon portfolio. Moving forward, there are two major areas where we see opportunities. In the consumer market we are continuing to see growth and interest in "Media Center" PCs, where activities such as listening to music and watching video form a central role. Obviously for these devices users will demand high levels of audio quality and feature support for the best entertainment experience.

The second area is in soundcards for people looking to create audio with their PC. Today's powerful software tools are allowing anyone with a PC to unleash their audio creativity, for example by recording their own music, and VIA Envy24 based soundcards have developed a strong reputation in this market segment that we intend to build on.

iXBT/Digit-Life: New High Definition Audio standard has replaced out-of-date AC97. Multi-channel, supporting DVD-audio, 32-bit digitizing and 192 kHz bit rate, isn't it a real threat to your Envy24HT and consequently to VIA as a manufacturer of sound solutions?

There's no doubt that High Definition Audio will bring new features and better quality to integrated audio solutions. For this reason, VIA is set to support High Definition Audio through our upcoming VT8251 South Bridge, and through a line of High Definition Audio codecs.

However, it is important to realize that there is more to audio quality than just the specification it can support. We believe, especially based upon our experience with AC'97 audio, that many audio quality issues will continue to arise with High Definition codecs due to board and implementation issues. Also, for gamers there are still many questions surrounding the level and quality of 3D API support for the new onboard solutions.

Therefore we feel that there will still be a strong market for high-quality discrete soundcard solutions. Discrete soundcards allow designers to implement a more rigid design methodology, component selection and placement, and enable the integration of hi-end codecs that together offer an audio experience on par with the best consumer devices. They can also offer a wider range of connectivity options, and more customized hardware and software support for specialized applications.

iXBT/Digit-Life: Many people are interested in quality sound for listening music on their PCs. Are you going to promote VIA Envy24HT-S for budget ($30-50)sound cards?

There are already a number of VIA Envy24HT-S based soundcards from our partners that fall within the US$30-50 price range. For consumers, these soundcards offer outstanding value compared to other soundcards in that price range, offering 8 channel outputs, 24/192 Digital I/Os, excellent audio quality, and full 3D API support for gamers.

iXBT/Digit-Life: Envy24, Envy24HT, Envy24HT-S...Chipsets become simpler and seem to get top of their evolution. What are main ways or further development Envy24 series? Is there any room for spurt?

Based on customer feedback, we are currently in the advanced development stages of a successor of the VIA Envy24. Many of the improvements for this new chip are architectural with improved handling of audio streams, and it also integrates the ability to handle more audio I/Os, a built-in decryption engine, and other new features that we feel will allow us to offer an impressive audio portfolio for the future.

iXBT/Digit-Life: What are main directions of your business development? Is your Russian business differ from your global business?

Our business strategy is focused on two major areas: the High Definition Computing segment and the fast emerging new segment for what we call Personal Electronics devices. For the High Definition Computing Segment, we are continuing to focus on developing the highest performance core logic chipsets for both the AMD Athlon 64 and Intel Pentium 4 processors, as well as delivering advanced discrete S3 Graphics and VIA Vinyl Envy24 audio solutions.

As for the Personal Electronics segment, we have played a leadership role in enabling the development of new product categories such as IP Set Top Boxes, PVRs, Thin Clients, and home digital entertainment centers through our VIA EPIA Mini-ITX and VIA Eden processor lines. We believe that this market has huge growth potential, and have an aggressive roadmap for the future, including our forthcoming VIA EPIA N Nano-ITX mainboard.

As one of the fastest growing markets in the world, Russia offers huge opportunities for VIA in both the High Definition Computing and Personal Electronics segments. In fact, with its world class software development capabilities, we believe that Russia has the potential to be a leader in creating innovative new Personal Electronics device categories that will ultimately leapfrog the PC.

iXBT/Digit-Life: How do you see VIA positions in Russian market? What goals do you have here? Will VIA keep on focusing on OEM-market or promote solutions under VIA brand?

I believe that we have a lot of work to do in order to strengthen our position in the Russian market, and currently we are analyzing how best to achieve this objective. As the first step, we will work more closely with our motherboard customers to promote VIA based mainboards in the domestic market. In addition, we will also step up the promotion of our own VIA EPIA Mainboard solutions in Russia, and enhance cooperation with domestic OEM and Consumer Electronics manufacturers.

We are also stepping up our efforts in Russian corporate and governmental markets. We work closely with the Russian system integrators that have already developed thin client systems based on our processor platforms. I hope that with our technology we can help to achieve a better total cost of ownership, further improve security, and further speed up the growth of IT infrastructure in Russian enterprises. We will be making further announcements on that in the next couple of weeks.

Finally, I'd like to mention governmental projects, which are becoming increasingly important in Russia, especially considering the latest announcements made by President Putin. I can only mention that we are working on several IT projects on both federal and local levels; unfortunately we are not allowed to disclose any details at this point.

Thank you for your answers!


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