VIA's C7 processor
Before we start on the motherboard, we want to give a bit more information on VIA's new combo that has come out to produce the EPIA-EX motherboard - namely the CPU and chipset.
VIA's latest CPU to enter the market is the new C7 series. Currently there are three variants - C7, C7-D and C7-M - all of which have their own targeted markets. First off the C-D is VIA's green CPU. Supposedly it is carbon free based CPU, making it more earth friendly, it only varies in its carbon free design compared to the C7.
C7-M is the mobile version which is specifically targeted at notebook computers and ultra portable devices, running cooler with less core voltage needed. C7 is the desktop version, while it uses more juice then the C7-M it is by far the most energy efficient x86 CPU out.
C7 is designed from the ground up, this is VIA's first fully built design. C3 was built on the original Cyrix technology that was released for Socket 7, only slightly updated to use the Intel P6 bus. VIA C7 is a new design that houses a single full speed floating point unit which is a lot better than the previous C3 processor's half speed unit. Added to this is a full array of MMX, SSE, SSE2 and even Intel's SSE3 technology for multimedia decoding on chip. This allows the CPU to run all of the latest applications that use the Intel SSE3 instruction set, unfortunately VIA has left out AMD's 3DNow and 3DNow+ technology which would have made it a truly universal processor.
C7 adds VIA's new Step Ahead technology suite. To put it down, Step Ahead is a series of branch prediction instructions and software on the CPU to predict frequently accessed data to allow quicker access to certain programs on the system, this come in handy for the digital home and office environments where prediction is a lot easier than with gaming. The C7 also gets an increased pipeline, up from 10 stages on the C3 to a 16 stage pipeline - that is two stages more than the Pentium M series had from Intel.
Lastly VIA's V4 bus may sound new, and in fact it is for VIA - it is the first time they have used this bus, however V4 is simply another name for the Intel FSB used on the Pentium 4's and Pentium-M CPU. Currently the C7 uses a 100MHz quad-pumped bus (or 400MHz QDR) which is the same as what the original Pentium 4's came out with - it does give the VIA CPU a lot more bandwidth to play with over its C3 counterpart.
VIA have plans to increase the bus speed to 533MHz and 800MHz with its next generation of C7. This is all made possible thanks to VIA sticking with the Silicon On Insulator 90nm CPU die, same as what AMD Athlon 64 uses for its current processors. And while AMD is going to move to 65nm process very soon, VIA is still able to get better power results out of its C7 than AMD could ever hope for on the K8 or K10 architectures.