Tuesday, January 8th 2008

Via Mobile ITX Board Expected in 2009

Via Technologies is not likely to ship its supersmall Mobile ITX motherboard, aimed at ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) and other light portable devices, in production volume until next year, company officials said here at the CES show Monday. The company attracted industry attention when it unveiled the board at Computex in Taipei last June, declaring that it would find its way into markets this year. But "manufacturability issues" will likely prevent the board from being used in commercially launched devices this year, according to Alp Sezen, a sales director for Via based in Fremont, California. Via expects to announce the Mobile ITX production schedule at this year's Computex, and will probably just manage to ship sample boards by the end of the fourth quarter, he said.

"It's normal to take about a year between announcing a board to production," he said. He acknowledged, however, that ultimately in the case of the Mobile ITX, the time between its unveiling and production is going to be more than 18 months.

Like prototypes running last year, current Mobile ITX boards use 1GHZ CZ-M ULV (ultra low voltage processors) and CX700 chipsets. The board measures 7.5 centimeters by 4.5 cm -- smaller than a credit card -- and to get it that small, the spaces between the pins underneath the processor need to be shrunk to 0.5 millimeters from the current 1.0 millimeters in the company's current Pico ITX board, Sezen said.

It's not easy to do this and ensure more than 90 percent of the boards coming off production lines are error free, Sezen said.

Chip packaging technology needs to improve, he added. Via is a fabless chip developer and, on its own, faces difficulties developing new, cost-effective packaging technologies.

In a sense, Via is dependent on Intel ramping up volume of new generation, 45-nanometer process chips. As Intel does so, new surface-mount technology for chips will be developed that can also be used to manufacture the Via Mobile ITX boards.

Although the Mobile ITX is not likely to appear in UMPCs and other light portable devices until next year, the reduced package chipset incorporated into the board will likely be used in com modules for embedded systems by the end of this year, Sezen said. A manufacturer for these embedded systems is likely to make a public announcement this month, he said.

Some would-be makers of new lightweight mobile devices, however, are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the new Via board. The MTube project, a research and development project sponsored by the Taiwan government's Science and Technology Group (STAG), was showing off a Linux-based, prototype Mobile Internet Device (MID) that incorporates the Mobile ITX board and measures 3.3 by 3.3 by 0.8 inches. It sported a 2.8-inch VGA touch screen and supports full rate video playback.

The project wants to spin off from STAG and deliver a commercially available product as soon as it can get its hands on a motherboad with the specs that would make it viable, according to H.T. Kung, the project's advisor. However, to date, neither Via nor Intel could promise to deliver a commercially usable board within that timeframe, he said.Source: PC World
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