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Will Via’s 64-bit Isaiah II run both x86 and ARM code?

Jul 11, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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Leaked benchmarks show Via’s 64-bit Isaiah II edging out AMD’s Kabini and trouncing Intel’s Atom Z3770, amid speculation it may run both x86 and ARM code.

German site 3Dcenter.org has published (translation) SiSoft Sandra benchmarks said to be leaked by Via Technologies subsidiary Centaur Technology for an upcoming Isaiah II architecture, the first major x86 refresh since the much neglected Via Nano. The benchmarks show the processor soundly beating the quad-core, 2.4GHz Intel Atom Z3770 (Bay Trail-T) tablet system-on-chip while edging out a 2GHz, quad-core AMD Athlon 5350 “Kabini” SoC.

According to TechPowerUp, the results emerged from public tests performed by Via on the first Isaiah II samples at its InfoComm 2014 booth. (Via didn’t mention the benchmarks in its press release detailing its Via Video Wall Mini signage system at InfoComm 2014.) Meanwhile, Centaur launched a teaser website with a down-counter, set to run out on Aug. 31, the presumed Isaiah II launch date.



Centaur’s teaser home page (as of July 11)
(click image to enlarge)

In the leaked benchmarks, the Isaiah II is listed as a quad-core, 2GHz, 64-bit x86 core with 2MB of L2 cache and up-to-date instruction sets including AVX 2.0. No fabrication process, TDPs, or other details were listed.

The AMD Athlon 5350 has a 25 Watt TDP, and although Intel has not released TDPs for its Atom Z3000 SoCs, it lists a Scenario Design Power (SDP) rating of only 2 Watts. The SDP is an Intel invention, and is considered to be lower than the actual TDP. Still the 22nm Atom Z3770 is likely considerably more power efficient than the Athlon.

 
Patented x86/ARM hybrid?

The idea of a competitive new x86 processor is interesting enough, but ExtremeTech suggests the Isaiah II may be even more intriguing than the tests suggest. In covering the benchmark story, the publication referenced an email from a reader pointing to a patent Via received in 2011 for a hybrid x86/ARM processor. The publication, which recently speculated that AMD may be building a hybrid ARM/x86 processor, is now suggesting that Via may have its own hybrid design in play, and that it may well be the Isaiah II.

Specifically, Via’s patent is for a “Microprocessor that performs x86 ISA and ARM ISA machine language program instructions by hardware translation into microinstructions executed by common execution pipeline.” The patent shows how a processor can translate both ARM and x86 instructions into a third microinstruction set. As ExtremeTech notes, all AMD processors and all Intel Core CPUs already translate native x86 into an internal instruction set, so it’s not much of a leap to add ARM. (The Atom continues to use native x86 directly.)

The patent explains how an instruction could read either ARM or x86 instructions, dependent on device boot settings. “The native x86 and ARM instructions would be cached in an instruction cache and handed over to a translation circuit as needed,” says the ExtremeTech article. Presumably, the chip would not only be 64-bit, but would support ARMv8, as a new ARMv7 processor would be considered obsolete, adds the article.

It’s unclear whether a hybrid ARM/x86 SoC would be in high demand. Conceivably, companies could gain efficiencies by standardizing on a single SoC for both ARM and x86 designs. However, the idea of a tablet or notebook dual-booting into either ARM or x86 — or running applications and drivers written for both ARM and x86 code at the same time — has less appeal now that x86 does a pretty good job of running Android.

 
Nano Déjà vu

As ExtremeTech suggests, the leaked benchmarks are not that surprising considering how competitive the Nano (Isaiah I) was compared to the Intel Atoms of the time. The LinuxDevices Archive has plenty of background on the circa-2008 Nano and other early Via processors. The Nano’s 64-bit Isaiah architecture, which was first leaked by Via and Centaur Technology back in 2004, updated the 32-bit Esther architecture of Via’s earlier C7 and Eden x86 processors. The originally single-core Nano processors ran at 1GHz to 1.8GHz, with initial TDPs ranging from 5W (Nano U2300 at 1GHz) to 25.5W (Nano L2100 at 1.8GHz).

The Nano performed surprisingly well in third-party benchmarks published in 2008, showing the chip to be between 15 and 30 percent faster than the Atom 230, the most competitive Atom processor of the time. The Atom 230 did beat the Nano at power consumption, however, and combined with the difficulty of a relatively small company like Via competing with Intel’s marketing might, the Nano never took off.

Via released a dual-core Nano X2 in 2011, followed by an embedded-focused Nano X2 E-Series later that year. Yet, neither was able to add much momentum to the platform. In 2009, Via announced a new subsidiary called WonderMedia Technologies, which released an ARM9 processor called the Prizm 8510. WonderMedia continued to release more powerful, ARM-based Prizm processors, including a Cortex-A9 model called the Prizm WM8950 unveiled in 2012.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

One Response to “Will Via’s 64-bit Isaiah II run both x86 and ARM code?”

  1. Robert says:

    Yes, “leaked”.

    VIA are the masters (or maybe runners up) of promising much but delivering little.

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