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Motorola unveils Palm-powering Dragonball upgrade

VZ version takes speed to 33MHz, integrates colour LCD support

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Motorola has upgraded its Dragonball processor, the chip that powers the Palm family of organisers and their clones. The Dragonball VZ runs at 33MHz, more than twice the speed of the current Dragonball EZ, which will itself be upgraded to 20MHz from 16MHz. However, the real innovation in the VZ is not raw speed, but built-in support for 256-colour LCDs. Palm users have long requested a colour version of the organiser, but the company has always avoided the temptation, citing the battery-diminishing and size-increasing nature of colour displays. The Dragonball EZ already supports colour displays, but requires the addition of ancillary chips and circuitry, upping the cost of the device and increasing the size of its motherboard. Motorola hasn't made the change to help Palm particularly -- the Dragonball is aimed at a wide variety of portable devices, such as cellphones -- but it should help Palm finally deal with the one area in which its products have fallen behind Windows CE. The most recent PalmOS licensee, TRG, is set to unveil its TRGpro device today at the PalmSource Palm developer's conference in Santa Clara, California. Aimed at business users, the TRGpro is believed to offer voice recording and -- another oft-expressed user request -- a CompactFlash slot that can take any third-party card. Given the timing of the launch, the market the company is aiming for and its need to differentiate its products from Palm's executive-oriented line, a VZ-driven colour screen is a distinct possibility too. The on-chip LCD controller isn't the only new feature Motorola has added to the Dragonball -- the company has added SDRAM support, which should up Palm memory performance, plus other useful items, including and extra configurable Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) and an additional Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (UART), both of which should enhance a Dragonball-based device's IO. Motorola is already sampling the VZ -- no great surprise, this, given the TRG rumours. Full-scale production is due to commence next January, just in time for Palm's traditional February/March new product intro schedule. The chip will cost $11 when bought in batches of 10,000. ®

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