After a couple of failed attempts to get to visit VIA to have a look at the new VX855 chipset, we finally managed to get to pay them a visit earlier today. Although we didn't manage to find out much new in terms of upcoming products, we got to have a play with the VX855 demo platform.
The system itself is an internal test platform and it's quite different from the Surfboard that was launched last month. You can clearly see that this is a different motherboard from the images below. The VIA C7 CPU was cooled by a small heatink and a cooling fan, although in an actual netbook this would be replaced by a heatpipe.
The demo board also had a few more ports than the surfboard, as well as a pair of memory slots. Again, a lot of the extra connectors fitted to this test platform are meant for debugging and won't make their way to actual production netbooks. In saying that, the Surfboard is of course not the only solution, as VIA's partners are free to design their own motherboard layouts. The Surfboard was specifically developed for partners that aren't experienced in designing their own PCBs and more precise some of VIA's Chinese partners.
Considering that the demo platform only had a 1.6GHz C7-M CPU, it did a remarkably good job in terms of playing back HD content, although the screen resolution was limited to 1,024x600. VIA demoed a wide range of file formats, all in 1080p, including H.264 AVC, MPEG2 and WMV. As you can see from the picture we took during the playback of the H.264 AVC file, the CPU utilization is very low ta between four and 10 percent which can hardly be considered heavy CPU usage, although it did peak when the various files were opened. It's worth noting that the Samsung NC20 with the Nano U2250 processor clocked at the same speed paired up with the VIA VX800 chipset used up to 96 percent CPU playing back similar video content.
The only format that the VX855 was struggling with was WMV in 1080p, as it was unable to play this back without hitting 100 percent CPU utilization. However, we could live with that on a netbook and a Nano CPU should help a little bit here too.
We asked about future chipsets and got told the usual "we don't comment on our roadmaps" answer, but at least we were given the understanding that VIA is busy working on a new chipset which will hopefully offer slightly more high-end features now that VIA has mostly nailed the video playback features for its chipsets. We're hoping to see something new from VIA at Computex, but it's anyone's guess if this will be the case or not.
For now, despite the somewhat lacklustre feature set of the VX855 for some slightly more high-end netbooks or mini-notebooks, we're quite impressed with what we were shown and kudos to VIA for managing to put together a chipset that beats Intel's netbook offerings hands down. We doubt even the "mighty" GN40 will be able to offer better video offloading from the CPU than the VX855.
VIA shows off Surfboard C855 design
The demo system
The front, note the card reader, what appears to be a SIM card slot and the bottom mounted Mini Card slot
CPU utilization during H.264 AVC video playback is kept at between four and 10 percent