For the C3's target markets, this approach may make sense. The question is: how fast is fast enough? For mainstream applications, 2GHz is a waste; users may in fact be better off with a chip that consumes less power, and produces less heat, all while being "fast enough."
So has VIA succeeded in lowering the power requirements and heat dissipation to the point where the C3 becomes compelling? Is the C3's performance "good enough"and for what? Are there worthwhile C3 applications, even for the enthusiast? Read on to find out.
VIA's microprocessor solution
The subject of our attention today, VIA's C3 800 "A" MHz processor is based on the relatively new Ezra core, designed by VIA's Centaur group in Austin, Texas. Ezra is the third in a series of C3 processors, succeeding the Samuel 2 and Samuel 1 cores. Ezra C3s, fabbed by TSMC on an advanced, 0.13-micron process, have been available since September. C3s currently top out at 933MHz.
So what does this Ezra core have to offer? Let's check out some specifics.
VIA estimates that over 90% of processor instruction execution time is due to only a small number of basic x86 instructions. To keep the Ezra core simple, these simple instructions are performed in hardware, while the rest are executed in microcode. This arrangement isn't supposed to have a major effect on real world performance, but we'll see what happens in the benchmarks.
An added benefit of Ezra's low voltage is its modest cooling requirements. The 800MHz C3 requires only a passive heat sink, which barely gets warm under load. Even in cramped cases with poor airflow like Shuttle's SV24, no fan is required.
The floating point unit on Ezra runs at only half the processor speed, or 400MHz in the case of our 800MHz C3. VIA even includes this warning in their C3 literature:
The VIA C3 processor has not been designed or optimized for high-end graphics intensive applications that usually rely heavily on floating point calculations. VIA do not believe that performance in these applications in an important factor for the VIA C3 processor's target markets.The Ezra's "half-pumped" FPU doesn't bode well for performance to begin with, and this explicit warning leaves little room for optimism.
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