VIA Technologies (TWSE: 2388) is a Taiwanese manufacturer of integrated circuits, mainly motherboard chipsets, CPUs, and memory, and is part of the Formosa Plastics Group. It is the world's largest independent manufacturer of motherboard chipsets. As a fabless semiconductor company, VIA conducts research and development of its chipsets in-house, then subcontracts the actual (silicon) manufacturing to third-party merchant foundries, such as TSMC.
In 1983, the firm was founded from the Symphony Company in Silicon Valley by Wen Chi Chen (陳文琦), among others. He was employed at Intel before joining Symphony, and is still CEO of Symphony. Chen transferred the employees of Symphony to Taiwan, to start chip production. VIA stands for "Very Innovative Architecture".
In 1997, the headquarters were moved to Taipei, Taiwan.
In 1992, VIA took a major part in the PC Common Architecture standard group, pushing the move from the ISA bus to the PCI bus.
In 1998, VIA acquired most of Cyrix, then a division of National Semiconductor, and also Integrated Device Technology's Centaur, marking its entry into the x86 microprocessor market. VIA is the maker of the VIA C3 and VIA C7 processors, and the EPIA platform. The Cyrix MediaGX platform remained with National Semiconductor.
In 2001, VIA established the S3 Graphics joint venture.
In January 2005, VIA began the VIA pc-1 Initiative, to develop information and communication technology systems to benefit those with no access to computers or Internet. In February 2005, VIA celebrated production of the 100 millionth VIA AMD chipset.
In 29 August 2008, VIA announced that they were releasing official 2D accelerated Linux drivers for their chipsets, and would also release 3D accelerated drivers.
VIA's business focuses on integrated chipsets for the PC market. Among PC users, VIA is best known for its motherboard (core-logic) chipsets. However, VIA's products include audio controllers, network/connectivity controllers, low-power CPUs, and even CD/DVD-writer chipsets. PC and peripheral vendors such as ASUS then buy the chipsets for inclusion into their own product brands.
In the late 1990s, VIA began diversifying its core-logic business, and the company has since made business acquisitions to form a CPU division, graphics division, and a sound division. As advances in silicon manufacturing continue to increase the level of integration and functionality in chipsets, VIA will need these divisions to remain competitive in the core-logic market.
While historically VIA chipsets had suffered compatibility and performance issues, especially regarding AGP implementations, an internal program to raise standards had also begun, and VIA's fast performing, stable, mature chipsets, suddenly found huge market appeal, and profits soared. Many companies that had previously maintained Intel-only buying policies, placed volume orders with VIA, and were satisfied with the results. Intel eventually restarted their SDRAM development, and produced the 815 chipset, with 133 MHz SDRAM support and a 133 MHz Front Side Bus CPU interface. As NVIDIA came out with the powerful nForce2 chipset for the Athlon, VIA's market share started to decline. At the same time, VIA benefited from AMD's popular Athlon processor, for which VIA sold millions of chipsets.
In response to increasing market competition, VIA decided to buy out the ailing S3 Graphics business. While the Savage chipset was not fast enough to survive as a discrete solution, its low manufacturing cost made it an ideal integrated solution, as part of the VIA northbridge. Under VIA, the S3 brand has generally held onto a 10% share of the PC graphics market, behind Intel, ATI, and NVIDIA. VIA also includes the VIA Envy soundcard on its motherboards, which offers 24-bit sound.
While its Pentium 4 chipset designs have struggled to win market share, in the face of legal threats from Intel, the K8T800 chipset for the Athlon 64 has been popular.
VIA has also continued the development of its VIA C3 and VIA C7 processors, targeting small, light, low power applications, a market space in which VIA is successful. In January 2008, Via unveiled the VIA Nano, an 11 mm × 11 mm footprint VM-enabled x86-64 processor, which debuted in May 2008 for ultra-mobile PCs.
On the basis of the IDT Centaur acquisition, VIA appears to have come into possession of at least three patents, which cover key aspects of processor technology used by Intel. On the basis of the negotiating leverage these patents offered, in 2003 VIA arrived at an agreement with Intel that allowed for a ten year patent cross license, enabling VIA to continue to design and manufacture x86 compatible CPUs. VIA was also granted a three year grace period in which it could continue to use Intel socket infrastructure.
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