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Prophets guide Via's chipset profits

CEO guided by religion

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Interview Via's president and CEO, Wen-Chi Chen, used to work at Intel but he doesn't subscribe to Andy Grove's view that only the paranoid survive.

"We're Christians, and we're never paranoid," he told The Register today. "We think we're following good guidance from God."

Nor does Chen see any dichotomy between his training as an engineer and a scientist or his religious views, he said, suggesting that as human beings discovered more about science, what were once seen as miraculous things have turned out to be scientific.

It's evident that Chen takes his religion seriously – codenames for future projects are named after biblical figures such as Ezra, Joshua or Samuel, and he frequently starts presentations by making references to his beliefs. Those beliefs are always, quite evidently, sincerely held.

Whether it's from the "good guidance of God" or for other reasons, Via is certainly on a roll. Chen says that Via has been lucky, but the firm projects that it will have something like 60 per cent of the chipset market by the end of this year.

The figures for the breakdown of the different chipsets is particularly revealing. For example, it is currently shipping two flavours of its 133 chipset, one which supports the AMD Athlon and the other the Pentium platform. Two million support Intel chips, and one million AMD processors. That in itself may indicate just why Intel issued a profit warning yesterday evening.

The culture of Via is certainly quite different from either AMD's or Intel's. While Chimpzilla and Chipzilla continue to slog it out, Chen agrees that his company takes a different approach, believing that partnerships with other companies will continue to drive profitability.

"We won't be able to take over the whole market," he said. "We're coming up more from the grass roots." That approach certainly appeals to the Taiwanese motherboard community, where the cost of components such as chipsets may be the difference between profitability and loss.

For example, there's some evidence that Intel's i815 chipset is languishing in warehouses, while mobo makers are going for Via's PC-133 solution instead. The difference in price is pretty significant – Via's chipsets cost around 25 bucks, while Intel's are closer to $45.

"Our attitude is that there is enough room in the market for money to be made," says Chen. The Virtual Internet Architecture which Chen announced at his keynote speech in Taipei on Wednesday, is attempting to fill the gap between dedicated information appliances and performance PCs costing more than $500.

And the partnerships Via is forging are interesting. Chen describes this a the Lego approach. It has a deal with 3Com to incorporate networking into the south bridge of chipsets, it will use 1394 Firewire technology, and it has been the main promoter of double data rate (DDR) memory and PC-133, eventually forcing Intel to do a series of somersaults. It also has a range of cheap and cheerful CPUs which it will use in its push to promote PCs for the masses.

Not that Via has a bad relationship with Intel, however. Despite their little difference with the chip giant over alleged patent violations, Chen agrees that Via tries to get on with everyone. And that includes Intel and AMD.

Chen thinks that its push to promote Information PCs will open up the emerging markets, including Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and India to the benefits of PCs. He says that it will expand its operations in Europe.

He likens prayers to the wireless Internet, and his view of God seems to be of a supreme but ultimately scientific great architect of the universe. Truth, he says, will eventually out, and quoting from the Bible, he says that truth will make people free, whether inside or outside of the chip business. ®

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