Back in the day, Asus made motherboards based on Via chipsets. The PC market looks quite different now, and it seems the partnership is changing with the times. A report from Taiwan Economic News claims that Asus will use a Via processor in a new budget tablet. According to "industry sources," the unit will cost $99-149 and employ an SoC based on ARM's Cortex-A9 CPU core. The SoC is likely WonderMedia's Prizm WM8950, which has a single CPU core clocked at 1GHz combined with ARM's Mali-400 GPU. (WonderMedia is a subsidiary of Via.)
Details are otherwise scarce, but it looks like the device will have a 7" screen. This cheap-and-cheerful tablet may not wash up on US shores, though. The unnamed device is reportedly destined for China early next year. Asus apparently thinks that's a fertile market, because the initial shipment is supposed to be 2-3 million units. Interestingly, contract manufacturer Wistron is said to be building the device. Asus serves in a similar role making the Nexus 7 for Google.
While profit margins may be slim on uber-cheap tablets, the goal here seems to be volume. Asus intends to sell 12 million tablets in 2013, and moving lots of budget models may be the best way to reach that goal. Market observers cited by Taiwan Economic News suggests that Nexus 7 sales will total only 7-8 million units next year. Perhaps Asus doesn't think its Transformer and VivoTab models can pick up the slack.
While this Via-based tablet may be a China exclusive, there certainly seems to be a lot of demand for budget tablets on this side of the Pacific. Plenty of folks have been asking me for advice on cheaper slates, including models that sell for a fair bit less than the $200 Nexus 7. I typically tell them the Nexus is the benchmark for budget devices, but I have to admit I'm curious about what sort of experience can be had for half the price.