RealTime IT News

A Chip in the Hand is Worth Two in the PC

With PC sales dragging along, two Silicon Valley-based semiconductor giants are hedging their bets with the introduction of advanced processors for handset devices and PDAs.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel and National Semiconductor Monday debuted new low-power chips as additions to their processing portfolios. Both companies are using the latest technologies to cram as many transistors and radio systems on the die as possible.

Waving its XScale product banner, Intel released three new chips. It's PXA263, which represents the company's first stacked processor for PDAs; a pin compatible PXA260; and its new < href=http://siliconvalley.internet.com/news/article.php/1576661 >PXA255 as a low-power replacement to its Intel PXA250 processor.

The Intel PXA263 processor (available in 200 MHz, 300 MHz, 400 MHz versions) stacks 32 MB of 32-bit Intel StrataFlash memory with an Intel XScale technology. The chip will retail starting at USD$42.35 in 10,000 unit quantities.

Intel says stacking in a "system-in-a-package" design reduces the number of components in a PDA and lets manufacturers use the space for other applications such as MPEG4 video decode, speech and handwriting recognition, and games.

Likewise, Intel's PXA260 processor (available in 200 MHz, 300 MHz, 400 MHz versions) is a standalone device that is nearly 53 percent smaller (13 mm by 13 mm by 1.4 mm) than prior versions. Retailing for USD$22.85 in 10,000 unit quantities, the chip is pin-compatible with other PXA26x processors.

The PXA225 is ARM Architecture v.5TE compliant and application code compatible with Intel SA-1110 processor. The embedded application chip comes in 200MHz, 300MHz and 400MHz speeds and runs at 1.3 volts. Acer, Casio, Dell, Intermec, Symbol and Toshiba have all expressed interest in the chip for their PDAs and/or Tablet PCs.

Intel said products using its new PXA26x family of processors would be available later this year. One of the expected products will be Microsoft's new Media2Go device, which Intel co-developed. Intel's regular XScale customers -- BenQ, Philips, Trigem, Wyse and ViewSonic -- all pledged support for the new processors in their upcoming products.

Meantime, National Semi released four separate designs for its PLLatinum family series that combine phase locked loop (PLL) and voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) functions in a single chip. The processors are optimized for CDMA mobile handsets.

The LMX2502 is designed for PCS-band CDMA and data, while LMX2512 is tweaked for cellular-band. National's LMX2522 (PCS) and LMX2532 (cellular) chips add in GPS to the mix.

The chips range in price between $2.66 and $3.19 per unit in 1000 unit quantities and feature low phase noise of -138 dBc/Hz at 1.25 MHz offset from 1.6 GHz, and -139 dBc at 900 kHz offset from 1 GHz. They also feature fast lock time of 600 microseconds, low spurs, 2.7 to 3.3-volt operation, and low power consumption, all in a small 5 mm x 5 mm x 0.75 mm 28-pin leadless leadframe package.

Shift From PC to PDA

The increased emphasis on by two traditional PC chipmakers is very indicative of the slowdown in PC sales.

Analyst group IDC recently adjusted its 2003 prediction shipment growth in the personal computer market. The group now says it expects 6.9 percent growth over 2002, down from its previous estimate of 8.3 percent. IDC blames the weak outlook on lighter spending in government and education markets.

Meantime, vendors shipped 12.1 million PDAs and other handhelds in 2002, down 9.1 percent from 2001, according to recent stats from Gartner Dataquest.

"What we're seeing here is an attempt by vendors to get into the lucrative PDA space in particularly in this environment where PC sales are slumping and vendors are looking for places to make this mark," Jupitermedia Analyst Michael Gartenberg told internetnews.com. "One of the problems is getting the software providers to come up with software that will take advantage of the chips.