Fabless chip, chipset and board designer VIA has announced its latest pc2500 and pc3500 mainboards, its term for motherboards. These are very energy-efficient and VIA makes the world's smallest and most energy-efficient X86 platforms. The world's only EPEAT gold-rated desktop, made by Zonbu, uses VIA componentry.

VIA makes X86 processing chips and reckons it has around 3 percent of the X86 market, with AMD having around 27 percent and Intel 80 percent. It has focussed on energy-efficiency rather than chasing higher clock rates and/or all-out performance. Because of this it has also focussed on small size and, as well as making desktop PC mainboards, it has ones for laptops, Nano-ITX board for mini-laptops, Pico-ITX for hand-held PDA/PC form-factor devices and a new Mobile-ITX board for mobile phones combining hand-held PC and phone functionality.

VIA's green credentials come from this and also from it purchasing carbon offsets to try and remove carbon from the atmosphere equivalent to that released from power plants providing the electricity its products need. VIA only deals in offsets certified by The Gold Standard, a scheme endorsed by Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and over 45 other non-governmental organisations. VIA says its CD-7 is the first carbon-free processor because of this.

Its low power draw products means that solar power is become practicable as an energy supply source for them.

Low energy use

The pc3500 mainboard offers the lowest power consumption for Windows Vista PCs; a complete VIA pc3500-based PC draws 50 percent less than the Energy Star 4.0 requirements specify. According to VIA's corporate marketing VP, Richard Brown, Intel's Low Power CPU for Vista draws around 60 watts. A complete PC using this would draw around 100 watts. A PC built around VIA's pc3500 would draw about 60 watts, 40 percent less.

The Energy Star 4.0 requirement is for a PC in idle mode to draw less than 50 watts. Such a VIA-based PC would draw about 23 watts. Even when very busy with, for example, DVD playback, it would only draw around 34 watts. Running a Vista performance test it would draw about 50 watts. In comparison a Pentium 4-type mid-range PC would draw around 250 watts, five times more.

Brown thinks that thin client use will expand: "Globally every one will have to digitise. The standard PC model is not well-suited for this, having size, power-draw and waste issues." Several OEMs, such as HP, use VIA products in their thin client products.

Green organisations and standards

VIA is not a member of the Green Grid, with Brown saying it is dominated by Intel and AMD, as well as being US-centric. Nor is it a member of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, it also being dominated by Intel and AMD though less US-centric.

He says VIA prefers worldwide standards. An example of this Energy Star 4.0: "Energy Star is becoming a global standard. It's easy to implement and doesn't take too much tracking. ROHS is also becoming pretty much a global standard. China and India want it too."

VIA has concentrated on developing its technology and is now in a position to pay more attention to publicising its green credentials.

One of the things it is doing in its own organisation is to use video-conferencing more. In Brown's view high-definition video conferencing is improving matters. VIA uses video-conferencing for regular business meetings between its Taipei and Beijing offices. Previously people would regularly fly between the offices for such meetings. He said: "Video as a whole is going to change things and is becoming a viable tool." Possibly it should be paid for from a business' travel budget and some kind of mandate issued about its use to overcome any reluctance to use it.

VIA may be the smallest volume fish in the X86 market but it punches far above its weight in the energy efficiency stakes and is a supplier qualified to be ranked with the best in this sector; think David and Goliath.