Via plans to release a dual-core version of its Nano processor – the low-power chip designed to take on Intel's Atom - next year and shift production of the new chips to a more advanced 45-nanometre process.

Formerly called Isaiah, the Nano is expected to hit the market in systems released during the third quarter. The Nano is currently a single-core processor that is produced using a 65-nanometre process.

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"Towards the end of next year, you'll see dual-core and you'll also see 45 nanometres towards the end of next year. That is in the roadmap," said Richard Brown, vice president of marketing at Via Technologies.

Via initially held off on a dual-core chip because the increased size of the chip required for a second core would mean more leakage, and lower power efficiency. But adding a dual-core version to the Nano lineup could open new markets for the chip.

Shifting production to a 45-nanometre process would also give the chip a boost. This number refers to the average size of the features on a chip, and smaller is considered better. When chip designers do a 'shrink', adapting an existing processor for production using a more advanced process, they can increase performance substantially while reducing power consumption.

As the name implies, the chip also gets smaller as transistors get smaller and can be packed more closely together. This means more chips can be produced on a single silicon wafer, reducing unit production costs. That allows chip makers to improve their profit margins and lower prices.

Releasing a dual-core chip and moving to a 45-nanometre process could also help Via gain some ground against Intel.

The next version of Intel's Atom processor is called Moorestown and is scheduled for release in 2009. Moorestown will integrate an on-chip memory controller with a processor core on a single piece of silicon. Currently, the memory controller is part of the chipset. But Moorestown will use a Silverthorne processor core, the same core that is at the heart of Intel's current Atom lineup.

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