A trip to VIA Technologies in Taiwan is an eye-opener for those of us thinking technology innovation is driven from the West.
Werner du Plessis, corporate marketing business development manager, VIA Technologies
For over 35 years, Taiwan has helped the world by building the technologies that have changed the world, yet when hardware is mentioned in an information technology (IT) context, Taiwan is, for many, not the first country that comes to mind. Nevertheless, the situation has changed so dramatically over the last few years that Taiwan or Taiwanese-based companies are now designing, developing and manufacturing the majority of the world's computer hardware.
According to Philip Kotler, the renowned marketing guru, IT has taken on a new definition when one refers to Taiwan, in that IT in that country not only stands for information technology but also for innovation technology.
However, despite the dominant position that country now holds in the computer hardware market, many of the technology companies are still comparatively unknown, especially those who are designing and producing the hardware guts for many of the branded names.
One such organisation, who is also significantly involved with the local PC industry, is VIA Technologies, a company that was originally founded in California back in 1987 and one that is now a leading innovator and developer of silicon chip technologies and PC platform solutions. So who are VIA Technologies, how big are they, and, what are they involved with?
VIA Technologies, which is listed on the Taiwanese Stock Exchange, moved its headquarters to Taiwan in 1992, and currently employ some 2200+ staff, 70% of whom are highly skilled and experienced engineers. For the year ending 31 December 2006, its revenues were approximately $660m, up some 11% from the previous year.
More specifically, VIA Technologies is a leading fabless supplier of core logic chipsets, low power x86 processors, advanced connectivity, multimedia, networking and storage silicon, and complete platform solutions and boasts the world's top OEMs, motherboard vendors and systems integrators in its customer base. Only a few weeks ago it announced the industry's smallest full-featured x86 mainboard, which was designed for the new world of ultra compact embedded PC systems and appliances. At Computex 2007, held in Taipei earlier this year, VIA Technologies' Ultra Mobile Platform won the prestigious 'Best of COMPUTEX award' for the best integrated circuit (IC) design.
The above award is yet another in a long line of product and technology firsts for VIA Technologies. It has kept ahead of the industry by anticipating appropriate upcoming technologies and implementing them either as discrete silicon or integrated into the widest range of core logic chipsets in the industry. Implementing support for PC133 SDRAM and subsequently DDR SDRAM memory across all major processor platforms marked the successful introduction of these standards to the industry and clearly designated them as a market driver for new technologies.
There are far too many firsts to mention, but on the audio side alone, VIA Technologies brought the first 6-channel audio codec (VIA Vinyl Six-TRAC) to market in April 2001, and also created the first high-definition 8-channel audio controller supporting the latest 24-bit/192 kHz PC audio in the VIA Envy24HT, released in 2002, with the onboard version (VIA Envy24PT) launched in early 2003.
VIA Technologies has also led the market in miniaturisation of the platform, in order to allow the system design innovation that will drive the next generation of Personal Electronics form factors. The VIA Eden-N processor introduced in October 2003 is the smallest, lowest power and lowest profile native x86 processor ever, and features the world's most advanced hardware security features, while the VIA EPIA N-Series Nano-ITX mainboard launched in 2004 is the smallest standard x86 platform at just 12 cm x 12 cm. Moreover, VIA strives to integrate more technologies into the core logic as part of the Distributed Platform Performance Initiative, which spreads the workload across the platform and also saves on board real estate, and has achieved numerous firsts in this field.
In addition to the above, the technology from Via Technologies also dominates the thin client marketplace. It is recognised as no. 1 at the component level and is no. 1 intellectual property company in Taiwan. Its R&D; continues apace with its mobile-ITX mainboard, which is smaller than a business card, already at prototype stage. It is already a supplier to some of our local PC manufacturers in South Africa, such as Mustek; and is committed to establishing a direct presence in South Africa later this year. Without doubt, it is a company to watch closely, despite its products not being visible as a specific brand.