Windows 10 support comes to Via x86 chips

You can build Windows 10 PCs with Pico-ITX boards powered by Via x86 chips

Via Technologies, the third-place x86 chip maker and once a real threat to Intel and AMD in PCs, is still around, making new x86 chips and bringing Windows 10 support to existing processors.

Via's profile has declined in recent years but the company's chips are still used in thin clients and ITX boards, and have a dedicated fan following.

The company has added Windows 10 compatibility to its EPIA-P910 and EPIA-M920 Pico-ITX boards, which are motherboards with PC-grade components. The boards run on older quad-core Via processors originally designed for low-cost PCs.

It will be possible to run Windows 10 on the Pico-ITX boards. Add a case, and you'll have a full PC much like Intel's NUC mini-desktops.

But there are some disadvantages. For one, the graphics processors support only DirectX 11 graphics, not the latest DirectX 12.

The CPUs on the boards are also much slower than Skylake chips on Intel's latest NUCs. Beyond PCs, Via's ITX boards can be used as media servers, point-of-sale systems or for the creation of robots and other electronics.

Via is the third x86 chip maker whose processors are now compatible with Windows 10. The x86 chip market, however, is essentially a two-horse race between Intel and AMD, with Via way behind. Via's market share was under 1 percent in 2015, not a big change from 2014, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Via processors in the 2000s were viewed as an alternative to Intel's and AMD's chips, but the company has since fallen behind in development and technology. Via's x86 chips were used by Samsung and Lenovo in netbooks, which ultimately fell victim to tablets and Chromebooks.

"I'm surprised they are still around," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

The PC market slump has led Via to carve a space for itself in the IoT market. The low-price of its chips have always given Via a foothold in the market for embedded devices, which now drive IoT implementations, analysts said. The company is now  tweaking its chips for that market. 

"It's a more natural progression," McCarron said, adding that Intel and AMD are also following that path.

Via has released a new single-core x86 chip called Eden X1 for IoT devices. The company's older low-power C7, Nano, Eden, QuadCore and other low-cost PC chips are being repurposed for IoT devices.

The new Eden X1 single-core processor is being used in Via's ETX-8X90 board for industrial automation and other IoT applications. The board isn't compatible with Windows 10, but it works with Windows 7, XP and Linux.

Via also makes ARM-based chips for smartphones and tablets. The company offers ARM-based boards for machine-to-machine communication, digital signs, smart devices and other industrial applications.

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