Battle of the low-power chips

Intel has found itself embroiled in yet another processor battle, this time with VIA Technologies, a company long known for its chipsets.

The battlefield? Low-cost processors for mobile devices and even desktop PCs.

Last month, VIA introduced its Nano processors, and Intel followed earlier this month with its latest Atom line of low-power chips, the N270. Such chips value low power consumption as much as performance.

'Speed is important for running standard applications, but you also must have the right power envelope to make sure that you have good battery life on the devices,' said Richard Brown, vice president of marketing at VIA.

VIA's chips promise to be speedier, though Intel's use less power. VIA's five 64-bit processors range from 1 GHz to 1.8 GHz. They each have an 800 MHz front-side bus (FSB) and 1M of Level 2 cache. Power usage ranges down from 25 watts to 5 watts.

Five watts is pretty impressive, given that even the most frugal Intel mobile Centrino pulls 35 watts. Intel's N270 ups the ante even further though, even if it doesn't have quite the same performance metrics as VIA's processors.

The N270 runs at 1.6 GHz but sports only a 533 MHz FSB and 512K L2 cache. Power-wise, however, it uses only 2.5 watts.

Intel also has a line of Z-series Atoms that use even less power, though they are designed for handheld computers, said Chris Tulley, an Intel marketing executive.

VIA expects manufacturers to start shipping Nano-powered laptops by the end of the year. Intel's N270 can already be found in the recently introduced ASUS Eee 901 and the Acer Aspire. Intel said Atom-powered machines could cost as little as $200.

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