Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Green Interview with VIA

TFOT recently interviewed Gaynor de Wit, deputy director of processor platform marketing at VIA Technologies, to learn more about the company’s green-technology initiative and future plans.

Q: Can you describe when and why VIA decided to “go green”?
A: Early on, VIA recognized that massive adoption of computing technology on a global scale had the potential to result not only in the creation of vast amounts of waste material when components became obsolete, but also in significant stresses on existing power-supply infrastructures. With this in mind, in 2001 we opted to take an approach to product design that factored in the impact its products and processes might have on the environment.

Since the introduction of the VIA C3 processor in 2001, we have led the industry in the design of energy-efficient x86 platforms. From thin clients to laptops to industrial computing systems, VIA processor platforms have built a reputation for leading performance per watt and cool operation.

With the challenges presented by the forward-thinking European Union directives on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), VIA implemented internal procedures that ensured a smooth transition for the development of RoHS-compliant products.

While the RoHS directive came into effect in July 2006, VIA’s move toward lead-free manufacturing started much earlier, with the introduction of the Enhanced Ball Grid Array (EBGA) package for its processors and the Heat Sink Ball Grid Array (HSBGA) package for its chipsets. In fact, VIA has been shipping lead-free VIA Eden and C3 processor platforms into the market since the end of 2003, with the current VIA C7 processor family lead-free at launch in 2005.

With the launch of the VIA C7-D processor in late 2006, we’re seeking to define a new era in eco-friendly computing, and to further heighten awareness of computing’s impact on the environment. Conceived as the ideal desktop processor for corporations seeking to significantly save on their power bills, while delivering the performance and reliability needed for productivity applications, the VIA C7-D processor is the world's first computer component to be sold as carbon-free.

Q: Does green computing reduce costs for VIA in the short term as well as the long?
A: One of the great things about green computing is that it’s not just a more sustainable, environmentally friendly approach to computing; it also means very real savings in dollar terms. With office equipment currently accounting for up to 20 percent of total energy output and the fastest-growing area of energy use, a large company like VIA can cut costs enormously by utilizing energy-efficient, green-computing technologies.

And the savings don’t stop at lower power consumption through more efficient components. Cooler-running systems don’t heat up office spaces to the same extent, enabling significant air-conditioning cost reductions. Additionally, cooler components extend the useful life of hardware, further reducing costs. The business case for saving energy is very clear.

But green computing extends out of the data center and the desktop, encompassingsuchmobility issues as encouraging work from home and video conferencing that discourages travel. VIA is a global organization of nearly 3000 people, with engineering teams needing to collaborate regularly, so there are significant financial savings as well as lower carbon emissions that can had through reduced travel. As technology improves, that’s been easier to achieve, and to this end we have an in-house videoconferencing suite that has gone a long way toward cutting back on costs.

Q: What obstacles do you face, in research or development, with your environment-friendly products?
A: Our leadership in energy efficiency, miniaturization, and integration at the silicon and board level is a testament to VIA’s R&D capabilities.

On the design side, ensuring energy efficiency in IC chips requires a keen focus on reducing voltage, while retaining performance and enabling our signature rich-feature integration within ever-smaller packages. This is not a simple process and demands high levels of skilled engineering, which is why, to this day, we can offer the lowest power-consuming embedded, notebook, and desktop processors in the world.

Achieving such high levels of energy efficiency and low heat production also allows us to build smaller, which in turn allows our partners to build smaller systems, providing savings for consumers not only in terms of power requirements but also in disposal costs. For portable systems, such as the new generation of ultra-mobile devices, this also means longer battery life, an essential element of ultra-mobility Other companies cannot achieve this, as their chips consume too much power and emit too much heat.

On the manufacturing side, the removal of hazardous substances raises several technical challenges, especially the replacement of lead as a stable solder substance. However, an aggressive approach to the problem, starting five to six years ago, allowed our engineers the time to experiment with effective replacement alloys, so that our processor platforms were effectively manufactured lead-free long before the industry was mandated to do so.

Q: How would you respond to critics who claim that lead-free products are dangerous and unreliable?
A: This has become a hot topic in the wake of the recent RoHS directive. The issue is that lead-free solders have higher melting points than traditional tin-and-lead solder. Lead has been used in solders for hundreds of years because tin-and-lead solders have a low melting point, are easy to use, and give reliable solder joints. The argument is that most useful alternative alloys have higher melting temperatures, which can cause damage to laminate and to heat-sensitive components and raise concerns about stresses put on components. This unreliability can become dangerous in systems people rely on, such as medical devices, and can cost lives. Such reliability concerns have kept manufacturers from transitioning to lead-free soldering, and exemptions for certain industries (for example, aerospace, military, and computer-server products) have been taken as a tacit admission that lead-free is unreliable.

The fact is, lead-free components and manufacturing processes can be completely safe and reliable. VIA, and other companies who have been lead-free for a while, are in a good position, because we have already worked through the transition problems. Everyone else is just going through it now, which is why we’re hearing so much about it.

Not all lead-free soldering is the same. Some alloys are better than others, and some temperatures work better than others. For many companies, there will be an element of trial and error in discovering what works best for them. Certainly, we’ve seen real advances in the last few years with some electronics manufacturers offering lead-free soldering that rivals their leaded counterparts in reliability. We feel comfortable that criticism will die away as companies progress through the transition, and this is being borne out already by the European Union’s removal of several of the exemptions to the RoHS directive.

Q: How do you see VIA's green-initiative progress in the future?
A: VIA will continue to innovate in the x86 platform space and push forward with more power-efficient, smaller-form-factor components. Since it’s not just businesses that should be aware of the impact of their computing activity; this includes taking our green-computing message into new settings and product areas. So, for example, we’ll be attending the Green California School Summit in Pasadena, California, in December to showcase low-power client-servers and ultra-mobile devices for the education market, and there will be other events that help get the message across.

We’ll also continue to work closely with organizations and companies involved with renewable energies in an effort to develop more sustainable computing platforms.

At VIA, we believe that the computing device you’ll be using in the future will be very different from the one you’re using today. Devices are using less and less power at the same time as renewable energy is getting more and more portable and effective. The materials computers are made from are becoming less hazardous. At the end of the road will be a computer that not only connects us to the world through information technology using renewable energy, but is also constructed through a cycle of manufacturing that doesn't hurt us or future generations. How long that road is isn’t clear at the moment, but VIA intends to continue to lead the way forward through its green-computing initiative.



Ben said...
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