VIA introduces tiny mainboard

Latest iteration of chipmaker's ultra-small design features complete PC architecture in playing card format

Taiwan's VIA, purveyors of various system chipset and mainboard designs as well as its own line of x86-compatible processors, has been working for years to establish itself as a leader in low-power, small form factor computing. The company recently unveiled a new breakthrough in compact PC design in the form of its "pico-ITX" specification, a mainboard measuring just 72 cm square. Conventional PC motherboards are several times larger"even the company's own mini-ITX format, introduced five years ago and a revolution in small computing standardization at the time, is approximately four times the size. Using off-the-shelf, standard PC parts in a new package, pico-ITX devices could provide complete PC functionality in much smaller form factors than ever before.

Although the mainboard could be considered "handheld" at less than three inches across, the platform does not appear to be aimed at pure pocket-sized designs"its 30 watt power requirements, while easily 90 percent less than the average desktop computer, is not PDA or smartphone-grade. But it could enable new classes of both tethered and mobile devices with considerably more computing power than is normally available in a truly small form factor. Desktop PCs and even workgroup servers could find their way into cases on par with a hardback novel or double-sized DVD case.

No pico-ITX products have yet been shipped, although VIA has made a reference design available which employs SATA and laptop-style SO-DIMM memory paired with a low-power VIA C7 or Eden CPU and VX700 chipset to provide complete PC functionality. Onboard VGA output and an Ethernet port are included in the design. In the past, VIA has introduced these small form factor reference designs, followed by retail product aimed at specialty system builders and PC enthusiasts while using the reference designs as an introduction to embedded computing builders.

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