Via tries an 'open source' model for its UMPC platform

In a scramble to regain position in a chaotic hardware marketplace, Via Technologies today introduced an ultra-mobile reference design based on its low-power CPU chips.

The company hopes its OpenBook computer assisted design (CAD) documents will persuade manufacturers to use Via motherboards and chips when creating new laptops. The Via framework is for a UMPC that can support up to 2 GB DDR2 DRAM and support a number of different HDDs or solid state drives.

Manufacturers who use Via's parts are also free to use Via's design, with Via requesting manufacturers clearly attribute it back to Via, as well as make sure amended designs are available to the community.

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Via's OpenBook mini-note reference design uses the VIA C7-M ULV processor and VX800 chipset. Currently, it uses a 8.9" mini-notebook screen supporting up to 1024 x 600 resolution, weighs 1 kilogram, has a standard size keyboard, and a 4-cell battery able to offer three hours of battery life. The OpenBook offers several different high-speed broadband technologies, including WiMAX, HSPA, EV-DO, and WCDMA. Via also includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AGPS technologies.

Once built, the notebook can support Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, and multiple Linux distributions including Ubuntu, SuSE Linux, and G/OS.

Even though the CAD files are available for free, big players like Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Asus will likely have no interest in Via's designs, essentially giving smaller companies a way to make an impact in the market. Via pledges to help smaller companies find Asian manufacturers to help develop the materials the design requires.

UMPCs remain a selective niche market, but manufacturers such as Via hope 3G technology and the need for smaller, more efficient devices will help drive demand in the future. The Asus Eee PC notebook -- a $400 ultra portable using the Linux OS -- helped toss the UMPC market into the limelight after its release last year.

It's likely most OpenBook systems will cost anywhere from $500 to $800, and the first notebooks based on Via's CAD plans will ship before the end of the fourth quarter.

It wasn't long ago when Via was mentioned along with Intel and AMD when customers talked about the semiconductor industry, but the company has fallen on harder times to casual users.

The mini-note reference design is available now on a special Via Web site dedicated to the platform, and can be edited under a Creative Commons license.

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