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Advanced Micro Devices Inc is taking its desktop fight with Intel Corp into the burgeoning market for embedded Internet-enabled terminals and devices,

Tony Cripps write

.

The move comes courtesy of Sunnyvale, California-based AMD's purchase of highly-rated Alchemy Semiconductor Inc, a privately-owned developer of high
performance, low power MIPS-based chips based in Austin, Texas.

AMD intends to market its new processors as part of a major push in "personal connectivity" devices such as PDAs, web tablets and Internet access devices and
gateways. This will complement its existing PC and memory chip businesses.

The Alchemy acquisition looks strong on paper. Co-founders Rich Witek and Greg Hoeppner were co-architects of the Alpha processor at Digital Equipment Corp.

But perhaps more significantly, Witek was architect of the StrongARM processor, which is rapidly becoming the benchmark chip architecture for high-end PDAs and communicator devices running Microsoft's Pocket PC.

The obvious thorn in the side of AMD's ambitions for Alchemy's technology is the lack of MIPS support in the 2002 version of Microsoft's most widespread consumer-facing embedded OS, Pocket PC (PPC), a decision that has benefited StrongARM supporter Intel to date, although other chip manufacturers such as Motorola and Texas Instruments remain factors.

While this may not appear an encouraging start for AMD's new business, John Hall, VP Europe for MIPS believes this lack of support may not prove a long term disadvantage to AMD. AMD already enjoys a strong relationship with Microsoft in the desktop environment that could help swing the giant back towards supporting MIPS-based products in PPC.

MIPS itself maintains a relationship with Microsoft in the embedded space outside of PPC, and provides the sole chip architecture that supports the 64-bit version of Windows CE.

While Hall conceded that AMD's MIPS based chips may have trouble breaking the stranglehold that StrongARM currently enjoys in PDAs - apart from PPC, Palm Inc is also porting its OS to the architecture for its next generation products - he believes this support for 64-bit embedded Windows could open the door for AMD as requirements evolve for more powerful PDAs.

It may also be an advantage in gaining early market share for the next generation of currently ill-defined "convergent" devices that will offer various permutations on PDA, mobile phone, set top box and home gateway functionality.

"A great deal changed today," said Hall. "AMD could bring new pressure to bear on the market. In the convergence market place there's no real unified architecture."

Apart from the obvious technology competition, AMD's move into the arena could also spark increased price competition in the same manner as its existing battle with Intel for the Windows-powered desktop. This factor could be important in lowering prices on what are currently relatively expensive devices for their capabilities.

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