Via's Third-Party Chipset Business Back in the Spotlight

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Via Technologies may not have released a third-party chipset in over two years but that didn't stop the technology media from jumping on the story Monday, reporting the company had left the third-party chipset business.

The report left Via executives bemused by the renewed attention paid to what was once its biggest business. "I am stunned at the reaction to my comments in the Custom PC article. I thought this was an old story," said Richard Brown, Via's vice president on marketing, referring to the report that started it all.

On Monday, hardware-enthusiast site Custom PC, quoted Brown saying that Via had pulled out of the third-party chipset business because there was no future for that product segment, opting instead to focus on its own processor business.

That report was subsequently picked up by Slashdot, which in turn sparked a flurry of reports by other Web sites, which all announced Via's departure from the third-party chipset business.

Based in Taipei, Via once dominated the market for chipsets used to support processors made by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. But the company edged out of the business in recent years as it sought instead to focus on chipsets that support its own line of microprocessors.

The last third-party chipset released by Via was the PT890, announced in April 2006, that was designed for Intel Pentium 4 and Core 2 Duo processors with a 1,066MHz front-side bus. Via's last chipset designed for an AMD processor was the K8T890, unveiled in September 2004, that supported the Athlon 64, Sempron and Opteron processors.

Reinforcing the end of Via's third-party chipset business, lists of chipsets that support AMD and Intel processors remain online with a note that reads, "Via no longer sells some or all of these chipsets."

"We haven't been shipping chipsets for Intel processors for a while now, and are only shipping a limited volume of chipsets for AMD chipsets," Brown said. "This comprises only a very small proportion of our total business. Our processor business makes up the vast majority of our revenues."

The decline of Via's third-party chipset business became apparent in Sept. 2007, when Chewei Lin, formerly a Via vice president and general manager of the company's platform group, resigned from the company to join ASMedia Technology, a company that designs chips used in MP3 players and flat-screen TVs.

Lin didn't leave alone, with around 40 engineers resigning from Via to join him at ASMedia.

Ultimately, Via's departure from the third-party chipset business was the result of several factors, including Intel's effort to strengthen its control over the chipsets used with its processors and changes to the way processors are designed. Where once processors relied on the chipset to handle memory controller and input/output functions, the memory controller has been integrated into AMD processors for several years. Intel will add the memory controller to its processors with the release of its first Nehalem chips later this year.

While Via is no longer developing chipsets for third-party processors, the company is working on chipsets that supports its own C7 and Nano processors.

"We are not shutting down the chipset division down; it is focusing on developing chipsets for our Via C7 and Via Nano processor platforms and has been doing so for a long time," Brown said.

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