The New VIA Cyrix III: The Worlds First 0.15 Micron x86 CPUby Matthew Witheiler on January 5, 2001 12:01 PM EST
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Cyrix has undergone quite a few changes since the release of their first product. Forming from a small number of former Texas Instruments employees in 1988, Cyrix originally did not produce CPUs at all, but rather math coprocessors for 286 and 386 systems. A slow progression into the world of processor soon produced the well received Cyrix 6x86 from older products such as the Cyrix 5x86. The Cyrix 6x86 was a chip that got quite a bit of attention as a result of its good business performance and low price. It seemed that Cyrix was on its way to becoming a major player in the Intel dominated field of CPUs.
This forecast changed, however, with Cyrix's acquisition by National Semiconductor. In 1997 National Semiconductor altered Cyrix's focus, forcing the up and coming chip producer to put their efforts into integrated CPUs. This push brought forth the Cyrix MediaGX chips, chips with integrated sound and video controllers targeted at the extreme budget market.
Next came the highly delayed and very disappointing launch of the Cyrix MII chips. Taking almost a full year to move from a PR-300 to PR-333 speed, it seemed that National Semiconductor was leading Cyrix down a road that would almost certainly result in failure.
Cyrix lay on the brink of destruction in August of 1999 when seemingly out of the blue Taiwanese chip manufacturer VIA swooped in and bought the dying company from National Semiconductor. For the net sum of $167 million, VIA Technologies bought the right to not only the MII processor line but also future Cyrix products. The CPU industry looked gleefully to the future, hoping that VIA could turn the Cyrix line around and make it a competitive product once again.
Cyrix was not the only company to be purchased. Shortly later in September of the same year, VIA Technologies acquired Centaur from IDT. This transaction, costing VIA $51 million, gave them the rights to not only the WinChip processor but also the Centaur x86 microprocessor design. A few of us out there remember the launch of the WinChip processor that promised to bring low cost performance to the budget market. Unfortunately, it seemed that IDT's WinChip processor was destined to fail, as each WinChip processor met criticism from the hardware community and OEMs alike. Once again, it was hoped that VIA Technologies could turn around this seemingly hopeless product and team.
Now holding two of the formerly large budget chip producers, the future of both the Cyrix processor line as well as the WinChip processor line lay in the hands of VIA Technologies.
The first product to arrive from the company that now included both Cyrix as well as IDT was named the Cyrix III. This chip, which arrived in April of 2000, was based off the Cyrix developed Joshua core. The trend of previous Cyrix processors continued, as the Cyrix III with the Joshua core provided respectable application performance at a relatively low cost. Still, enthusiasts and OEMs remained unimpressed. After being abused for a number of years, it was not long before the whole original Cyrix CPU engineering team, leaving the Joshua without much room to grow.
Next came the confusion created by the launch of a new Cyrix III chip, one different from the old. Although the new Cyrix III chip bore the Cyrix name, it was powered by the IDT developed Centaur x86 microprocessor core, code named the Samuel core. Gone were the notorious "PR" ratings and the new Cyrix III featured the same name, a different core, and slower performance than the previous Joshua based Cyrix III. This left many frustrated, as it seemed that Cyrix was certain to go the way of the dodo. People wondered how a company could allow a newer product at higher clock speeds to perform slower than an older one at lower speeds. Cyrix enthusiasts bowed their head in shame: it seemed that the die shrink and decrease in power consumption that came with the Samuel powered Cyrix III were not enough to save the Cyrix name.
But VIA did not give up so easily. Gone are the engineers who developed the original Joshua based Cyrix III, replaced by a hardworking IDT team that would not give up. Their newest creation; another Cyrix III, this time based off a new and improved Samuel core, the Samuel2.
Perhaps, as the old saying goes, third times the charm.
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