VIA's Trinity Netbook Chips Take On Intel, Nvidia

Manufacturers this year are expected to ship 14 million mini-notebooks, compared with fewer than 1 million last year.
VIA Technologies on Thursday launched a processor platform for netbooks, taking on Intel and Nvidia in the growing mini-PC market.

VIA's three-chip platform, called Trinity, comprises the company's Nano x86 processor; a media system processor, such as the VIA VX800 chipset; and a discrete PCI Express graphics processor from S3 Graphics. VIA said the combination translates into speedier netbooks than today's systems, which typically run the Intel platform.

VIA claims the onboard S3 Chrome graphics accelerator supports high-definition video and the latest DirectX 10.1 graphics technology in Microsoft Windows Vista. In addition, the technology supports an HDMI output for video and audio playback on a digital television or computer monitor.

VIA did not disclose pricing, or say when the platform would ship in netbooks.

Intel processors and graphics chipsets are used in the majority of mini-laptops shipping today. The so-called netbooks typically have displays of 10 inches or less and sell for as little as $300. The lack of performance, however, has been an issue with consumers. Industry observers say manufacturers have seen a high rate of returns among buyers, who are disappointed with the systems' inability to go much beyond basic Web browsing and e-mail.

Nevertheless, the market for the mini-PCs is growing. Manufacturers this year are expected to ship 14 million units, compared with fewer than 1 million last year, according to market researcher DisplaySearch, which predicts netbooks will settle in at about 16% of the laptop PC market by 2011.

The expected market growth is attracting platform vendors claiming to solve the performance problems. Nvidia has introduced its Ion platform, which combines its GeForce 9400M motherboard graphics chipset with Intel's Atom processor, which is quickly gaining traction in netbooks. Intel is likely to also introduce new products for boosting netbook performance.

While VIA's Nano has been seen in a few netbooks, the vendor has yet to establish itself as a player within the mini-laptop market or within the PC market in general.