Building a Cool and Quiet PC

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The VIA C3 CPU

Rather than bore you with a comparison of the VIA C3 and Intel Celeron or AMD Duron of the same speed I’m going to take a different approach. Let’s take a look at a few different C3 setups and see what the differences are. Besides, most of the tests I might run won’t really show the C3’s true potential for the market VIA is targeting. But first lets take a quick look at the new VIA C3 CPU – what it is, where it came from and what it will do for you.

The latest VIA C3 CPU is currently available in 800 and 866MHz versions using both a 100 and 133MHz FSB (the C3 800 tested here used a 133MHz FSB). Although most readers might think of this as a Cyrix based CPU it isn’t. VIA bought both Cyrix and Centaur and (as I understand it) found that the Centaur core had more potential than the Cyrix. The latest versions of the C3 use a .13 micron process, which allows for lower voltage (1.35v in this case) and less heat output. The CPU core code name is Ezra, it has 128K of L1 Cache along with 64K of L2, and VIA claims it has the smallest x86 die in the industry. The C3 supports both the MMX and 3DNow! extensions, but not SSE (although I’ve seen road maps that show a future CPU with SSE that is more performance oriented).

So what market is the C3 targeted for? VIA states that it’s market position is for low power and low cost systems with the ability to provide “…robust performance for all the most popular mainstream productivity and Internet applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as the leading web browsing and email programs.” Pretty much covers your average office type use doesn’t it? As for gaming and graphics applications, “… not been designed for high-end graphic intensive applications that usually rely on floating point calculations. VIA does not believe that performance in these applications is an important factor for the VIA C3 processor’s target market”. Pretty much tells the whole story as to what to expect from the C3 doesn’t it?

One other market the C3 is aimed at is server and rack mount systems. With today’s powerful desktops, the server doesn’t need to do much other than hold data on it’s disk for use by systems on the network, and that is definitely not CPU intensive, so a CPU like the C3 should work just fine. The C3 runs cool, costs very little, fits into existing Socket 370 Mainboards and even saves a few dollars on the power bill if a large number of them are used. Other uses could be in a dedicated firewall or system that routes and sorts incoming E-Mail, rack mount systems, notebooks and appliances with an embedded x86 CPU.

If you read the C3 info posted on VIA’s web site (http://www.via.com.tw/jsp/en/products/C3/c3.jsp) you’ll see that they compare the performance of the VIA C3 800 to an Intel Celeron 800 under Winstone 99. You might ask why they used an “older” benchmark rather than a current one like Winstone 2001 or SYSmark 2001? Well I’d say there is a simple answer. VIA has designed a CPU to go head to head with the Intel, but only under some common business type applications and that type of use is profiled better under Winstone99 than some of the newer tests. Nothing wrong with that, as I know of a lot of uses where the user would never notice the difference between a Intel Pentium 233 or Celeron 800, AMD Duron 800 or the VIA C3 800.


Courtesy Wikipedia

Now, I didn’t run those test or the one below, they are from VIA, but I think they give you a good idea how the VIA C3 performance compares to a Celeron running the type of programs that VIA states the C3’s market is. I think it is important to keep in mind what the target market is and how it performs in that market, not just how fast it will run a number of different benchmarks using the latest applications that are more graphic intensive.

The graph above might be just as important as the one showing the Winstone scores, as it reflects one of the strong points of the VIA C3 CPU. The PC market is not just about raw CPU power, there are niche markets where things like power consumption and heat output may be more important.

One thing I haven’t touched on is pricing. While the VIA C3 currently costs about $11 less than an Intel Celeron 800 at the wholesale level, that just isn’t a big factor when they both are so inexpensive anyway. But that could add up if building a large number of systems, and the Celeron 800 is on its way out, as the current Celeron core is soon to be replaced by the PIII Tualatin core (running at 100MHz FSB, but still with the 256K of L2 cache). Since the new Celeron will be available in faster speeds only, I would suspect there will be an even larger price difference and pricing may then become a bigger factor.

Now you might think I’m trying to make excuses for the VIA C3 or portray it as a better product than it is by “rigging” the test, but that is far from the truth. All I’m trying to do is give a fair evaluation for a product in the environment it it intended to be used in. Seems fair to me.


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