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Via spins netbook motherboard

Mar 18, 2009 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Via has announced a compact mainboard design targeting first-time netbook manufacturers. The “Surfboard C855 Reference Design” includes a Via C7-M ULV processor and VX855 core-logic chip, accepts up to 2GB of RAM, and enables 1080p HD video playback, the company says.

(Click here for a larger view of Via's Surfboard C855 Reference Design)

Eschewing the netbook moniker popularized by its rival Intel, Via says the Surfboard will “reduce development time of affordable, power-efficient mini-notebooks.” The board offers all the key ingredients of a portable computer, including real-world ports, a memory card reader, and even an integrated touchpad (apparently on the opposite side from the one pictured above), according to the company. Seemingly, all manufacturers will need to add is a display, a keyboard, a battery, and a case to wrap them all up in.

A key feature of the Surfboard touted by Via is the board's “flawless playback of high bit-rate 1080p HD video” — something Intel's popular Atom N270 and 82945GSE northbridge are reportedly unable to provide. The enhanced video is courtesy of the recently announced VX855, a core-logic chip that combines northbridge and southbridge functionality, uses just 2.3 Watts, and measures only 27 x 27mm. According to Via, this chip permits decoding of H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and VC-1 video, while using only 40 percent of a host CPU's resources.

Dr. Mobile's FreeStyle 1300n
(Click image for further information)

The VX855 is designed to support Via's Eden, C7, and Nano processors. The relatively new, 64-bit Nano has just started to appear in netbooks, such as Samsung's NC20 and Dr. Mobile's FreeStyle 1300n (right), and we're a bit surprised not to see it in the Surfboard. Presumably for cost reasons, Via has instead selected its older C7-M ULV, which dates back to 2006. At the same time, with its in-order execution pipeline, the C7 is arguably more akin than the Nano to the Atom chips that have fared so well in the netbook space.

The 1.6GHz C7-M ULV used here has a maximum TDP of eight Watts, according to Via, bringing the Surfboard's overall power consumption to just over 10 Watts. Dwarfed by the VX855, as shown in the photos above and below, the C7-M ULV measures just 21 x 21mm, and is manufactured for Via by IBM using a 90nm process.

According to Via, the Surfboard supports internal display resolutions of up to 1366 x 768 pixels, while its VGA port supports external displays up to 1920 x 1440 pixels. Other real-world interfaces on the board include two USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet jack, a microphone input, and a headphone output, the company says.

Via's Surfboard
(Click to enlarge)

As pictured above, the Surfboard has a single SODIMM socket, which accepts up to 2GB of DDR2 RAM. Also onboard are a “3 in 1” card reader, plus support for 1.8-inch PATA and 2.5-inch SATA HDDs (hard disk drives), says Via.

Via says the Surfboard can optionally include a 3G module, a 0.3 megapixel USB webcam, and, if more external USB ports are desired, a USB hub. The device also has two Mini Card slots, though the company says it has only used the USB part of the Mini Card interface, implying that PCI Express devices are not compatible.

Features and specifications listed by Via for the Surfboard include:

  • Processor — 1.6GHz Via C7-M ULV
  • Memory — Accepts up to 2GB of DDR2 RAM
  • Display — Supports internal LVDS displays up to 1366 x 768 pixels, and external displays up to 1920 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera — 0.3 megapixel webcam (optional)
  • Touchpad, including left and right buttons
  • Storage — Supports 1.8-inch PATA or 2.5-inch SATA HDDs
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet
  • Other I/O:
    • VGA port
    • 2 x USB
    • DC input
    • Mic in
    • Headphone output

  • Expansion:
    • “3-in-1” card reader (presumably SD/MMC/Memory Stick)

    • 2 x Mini Card slots

  • Battery — 24.4Wh version supports three-cell batteries; 48.8Wh version supports six-cell batteries
  • Dimensions — n/s, but designed to support netbooks with ten- or 12-inch screens


Via did not say when the Surfboard C855 Reference Design will show up in complete netbooks. More information on the Surfboard may be found on the company's website, here.

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