Via keeps battling Intel and AMD even as its x86 chip market share shrinks further

Via's x86 processor shipments totaled only 80,000 in the fourth quarter last year, a fraction of the 97 million units shipped

While Intel and Advanced Micro Devices battle for the top two spots in the x86 microprocessor market, the third player, Via Technologies, saw a slip in its already-marginal market share, but it isn't ready to fold, research firm IDC said on Thursday.

Worldwide x86 processor shipments during the fourth quarter last year totaled 96.9 million, and Via's x86 shipments totaled only 80,000 units, IDC said. In the previous year's fourth quarter, Via had a market share of 0.3 percent and shipped 310,000 x86 PC processors.

Via offers low-power chips with up to four cores for low-end PCs, but the company has hit a low after being held to a market share of under 1 percent for many years now. The microprocessor market is a two-horse race that is topped by Intel, which held an 80.3 percent share during the quarter, and AMD, which was a distant second with a 19.6 percent share. Worldwide processor shipments in the fourth quarter went up by a small amount compared to the year-ago quarter, when 95.64 million units were shipped.

Via is a player in the netbook market, in which unit shipments have been declining as users gravitate to tablets. That netbook drop could have affected Via, said Shane Rau, research director at IDC, in an email.

"Netbooks had traction in 2009 and early 2010 when the value was on inexpensive systems. Now, the value is on other factors, like performance," Rau said.

Via's shipments of processors were comprised mostly of its C7- and Nano-branded products, both targeted at low-end PCs. Via's Nano chips in the past were used by Lenovo and Samsung in netbooks and also by Dell in purpose-built, low-power servers.

Rau said he was not aware of any major computer maker today offering Via products as primary chips in specific PC brands.

"Most of their volume ships into Asia Pacific-based channel players," Rau said. Many PC makers in Asia Pacific offer custom-built systems, also called white-box PCs.

Via has also fallen behind Intel and AMD in chip design and development. The company's latest chips are made using the 40-nanometer process, while Intel is scheduled to release faster and more power-efficient chips made using the 22-nm process later this year.

Despite challenges, Via will continue to compete in the PC market, Rau said. One of Via's parent companies is Formosa Plastics Group, which has deep pockets and could provide a cash flow for Via to continue competing, Rau said.

Via's future is embedded computing, in which the company has a notable market share, Rau said. In a typical quarter now, Via ships about 400,000 to 500,000 processors designed for embedded systems, such as thin clients and digital signs.

"It has built out a product line to make building an x86-based embedded system fairly simple, by providing processors, chipsets, graphics, motherboards, chassis and other elements such as development support," Rau said. IDC does not account for embedded chip shipments in its PC processor numbers.

Beyond embedded chips, Via also offers graphics cards and processors based on ARM designs for mobile phones and tablets. In July last year, smartphone maker High Tech Computer (HTC) acquired graphics chip maker S3 Graphics from Via for US$300 million.

Via, which is based in Taiwan, could not be reached for comment.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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