RealTime IT News

Intel Airs New Mobile Gadget Chips

Chipmaking powerhouse Intel Corp. Tuesday unveiled new microprocessors geared to power wireless gadgets such as cell phones, handhelds and telematics systems in motor vehicles.

The chips are based on the Santa Clara, Calif. firm's XScale technology and are the latest maneuvers by Intel to forge processors for small devices whose functions involve supporting large chunks of data, such as what exists in multimedia applications.

So, new on Intel's chip menu are the PXA250 and PXA210 processors, which the firm believes will facilitate the delivery of music, movies and games, as well as enterprise applications, on multimedia-capable handsets and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Meant for high-powered PDAs and telematics systems, the PXA 250 runs at speeds up to 400 MHz, while it's lower-end counterpart, the PXA210, clocks in at speeds up to 200 MHz and is designed to power cell phones and entry-level handhelds.

More generally, the release marks Intel's first XScale microarchitecture for the wireless device market. These new processors feature support for the new Turbo mode technology, which lets the processor scale the performance as high or as low as necessary in a single clock cycle, which helps conserve battery life while still providing the necessary boosts in performance. And that is the goal of chipmakers such as Intel and archrival AMD, who wish to serve the wireless devices market -- conserving a device's battery life without sacrificing the horsepower necessary to enable multimedia.

Right now, there is a shortage of small devices with powerful, corresponding chips, according to research firm Cahners In-Stat/MDR, which found that of the 400 million handsets sold worldwide in 2001, only about two to three percent are capable of processing large amounts of information. By 2005, the analyst firm believes that more than 50 percent of the 900 million cellular phones sold will be data enabled.

Major device manufacturers are lining up to take advantage of Intel's new chip lines, including Casio Computer Co., Ltd., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. . Moreover, the mainstay operating system vendors are supporting it as well, including Palm Inc. , Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE.Net, Windows Pocket PC 2002, Symbian and embedded Linux from multiple vendors.

What's perhaps most notable here, is Palm's embrace of the new XScale microarchitecture, because in the past it's OS has not been as juiced as Microsoft's Pocket PC OS. Software vendors Adobe , Macromedia , PacketVideo, RealNetworks Inc. , and other firms have also readied their software to provide Intel-powered devices with audio, video and gaming capabilities.

Both the Intel PXA250 and Intel PXA210 applications processors are available today in sample quantities. The PXA250 processor at 400 MHz has a list price of $39.20; the Intel PXA210 processor at 200 MHz has a list price of $19 in 10,000 unit quantities. Products using the new processors are expected to be available to consumers by mid-2002.

It's no secret the push for speedy, low-power-consuming chips is underway. Just last week, AMD bought Alchemy Semiconductors, which makes low-power, MIPS-based microprocessors for portable gadgets for an undisclosed sum.