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VIA wows with nano-sized x86, entropy-based security, tiny PCs

Oct 15, 2003 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 11 views

At the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, Calif. this week, VIA Technologies unveiled the VIA Eden-N processor, a tiny x86 processor in a nanoBGA package measuring just 15 x 15mm — roughly the size of a U.S. penny. VIA says the new chip, which is based on a streamlined version of its Nehemiah processor core, is less than half the size of Intel's Pentium M processor.

According to VIA, the Eden-N achieves a Thermal Design Power of just 7 Watts at 1GHz. Of note, 7 Watts happens to be considered the magic number for maximum processor power consumption for “typical fanless notebook designs,” according to Transmeta, which also unveiled its latest low-power x86 compatible processor, the Efficeon, at this week's Microprocessor Forum.

Entropy-based security

VIA says it added a significant enhancement to the security features of the on-chip PadLock Security Suite contain within the Eden-N's Nehemiah processor core. A new PadLock Advanced Cryptography Engine (PadLock ACE) and two hardware based random number generators (RNGs) can support the US government approved Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and can supply cryptographic functions for securing email, personal files, online transactions, and networks (including the latest high-bandwidth 802.11g wireless networks).

According to VIA, PadLock ACE encrypts at rates up to 12.5 Gbps on a 1GHz VIA Eden-N processor, which is “more than eight times faster than the best software AES implementation from a power hungry 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor based system that encrypts at a rate of a mere 1.5 Gbps.”

In contrast to software RNGs or multi-chip hardware solutions, the VIA's PadLock technology generates entropy-based RNGs for security keys by deriving entropy from electrical noise on the CPU itself. The entropy value is stored in a collection buffer where it can be accessed directly via a dedicated x86 instruction set without the use of vulnerable software drivers.

According to VIA, security applications that leverage the capabilities of the PadLock Security Suite can be deployed quickly and easily across a broad range of devices including PCs, thin clients, set top boxes, home digital entertainment centers, point of sale terminals, and intelligent network routers in a wide variety of wired and wireless networking environments.

VIA expects the security support to be useful in applications such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), corporate peer-to-peer LANs with restricted access for sensitive projects, and home wireless networks.

“With the PadLock Security Suite, VIA is providing the essential security building blocks for free,” noted Richard Brown, VIA associate vice president of marketing. “The PadLock Security Suite enables developers to create stronger, more powerful security systems that are independent of the operating system and can be tailored to meet the real security needs of corporate, government and individual customers.”

“Our developers have written device drivers for numerous PCI cryptographic devices, which were expensive, slow, buggy, and over-complicated,” commented Theo de Raadt, OpenBSD Project Leader. “There's just no way to describe how happy we were to find such an inexpensive, blazingly fast, and correctly operating device as the VIA Eden-N processor's PadLock ACE . . . and best of all, it was almost trivial to add support. We hope this new functionality becomes very widespread in the near future.”

Demos at Microprocessor Forum 2003

VIA showcased several small form-factor motherboards and PCs based on its Eden processors, including its recently unveiled Nano-ITX motherboard form-factor and several tiny fan-less PCs. These especially caught our eye . . .

(Note: click each image for a larger view; click each title for further info)

VIA Nano-ITX motherboard — VIA's Nano-ITX form-factor measures just 4.7 x 4.7 in. and represents the “smallest standard platform with full PC functionality,” according to VIA CEO Wenchi Chen.

Nimble V5 — this tiny format PC is currently based on a 733 MHz VIA Eden processor with up to 512MB DDR SDRAM and a built-in hard drive. It includes four USB 2.0 ports, two Ethernet ports, four PS/2 ports, two VGA outputs, and provides a PCMCIA Type II slot for wireless or other expansion — all within a mere 2 x 7.7 x 7.7 inch form-factor.

Mini-Box M100 — a tiny PC which resembles an in-dash car stereo. It's based on VIA's Mini-ITX motherboards and powered by 12VDC, and has a built-in LCD display and customizable 14-key keypad, eliminating the need for a keyboard or mouse. Supports Windows and Windows CE. Currently based an 800MHz Eden processor two 168-pin DIMM memory sockets and includes interfaces for Ethernet, VGA and TV graphics, audio in/out, IDE hard drive, USB, printer port, serial ports, PS/2 ports, 4 GPIO bits, PCI card expansion, and front-panel accessible CompactFlash.


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