Trading Places - SiS & VIA

Things are shaping up quite nicely for SiS as they are making huge gains in the Pentium 4 market. With an official license for the Pentium 4 processor bus and competition from VIA nowhere in sight, SiS is doing quite well for themselves selling Pentium 4 chipsets.

Unfortunately the biggest limitation SiS has right now is that they are stuck in the low-cost segment. If you look at any manufacturer's line of SiS based motherboards they are all low-cost solutions, simply because Intel's Pentium 4 solutions are top-notch and it's tough to compete with the 845 series. SiS today is much like where VIA was a couple of years ago, thrust into a position of leadership that they have not seen before.

Moving from their current position as a low-cost leader, it would take a pretty major slipup on Intel's part (akin to the i820 fiasco) or some pretty serious technological leadership from SiS. Until then, if that day ever does come, SiS will just have to be content with being the only major third party chipset manufacturer for the Pentium 4.

VIA on the other hand is facing much tougher times. Without a Pentium 4 bus license no major manufacturers are willing to touch their Pentium 4 chipsets, which limits them to the Socket-A and Socket-370 markets to sell their chipsets. On the Socket-A side of things, it will be interesting to see how pressure from nForce2 effects VIA's once tight grasp on the market. There will be a KT400A; the project was started a little over a month ago.

The Socket-370 world is actually very interesting for VIA at this point because of their ability to offer low cost/low power platforms for set top boxes. VIA's partnership with Interact-TV is a step in the right direction for VIA as it provides another avenue for growth that isn't limited by their lack of an official Pentium 4 license.

As you can see, the majority of VIA's troubles today do come from this pesky license - so what is being done about it? Apparently the current offer on the table is a reasonable fee for the license but coupled with that fee is the stipulation that Intel would receive partial ownership of VIA. This part I haven't been able to confirm but it does sound like an interesting proposition to say the least…

What about VIA's announced support for Quad Band Memory (QBM)? Because of the lack of interest in their Pentium 4 chipsets, VIA has been talking about bringing QBM to an Athlon solution. The downside to this is that without some serious work under the hood of their chipsets, the Athlon XP will not see a benefit from that much additional memory bandwidth which will limit acceptance of a QBM enabled Athlon XP design. What could be done to change this? VIA would have to implement something very similar to NVIDIA's DASP in their Athlon chipsets, but even then does the performance improvement really justify moving to a brand new memory platform?

VIA is facing some very tough times, luckily with WenChi at the helm there is a good deal of hope. What form will it come in? That, I cannot predict but it must come soon.

Final Words

For now it's back to the piles of servers, CPUs, systems and video cards to review before Comdex. We're two weeks away from the show and there's a lot to cover before we head out to Vegas, stay tuned.

Getting aggressive with nForce2
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