Intel targets XScale at 3G handheld sweet spot

Plans for PDA world domination

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Intel Corp kicked off its campaign to dominate the market for 3G devices yesterday when it unveiled its first XScale processors for PDAs and other handheld products.

The Santa Clara, California-based vendor's PX250 processor runs at up to 400MHz. It is pitched as a low power applications processor for advanced PDAs. The PX210 runs at upto 200MHz is described as "extremely low power" and is aimed at multimedia phones. The chips are also expected to be taken up by the telematics sector.

A raft of vendors, including Compaq, has already announced support for the chips, which are expected to begin appearing in devices around the middle of this year.

The XScale architecture supersedes the vendor's previous StrongARM line. Both are based on core technology designed by Cambridge, England-based ARM Holdings Plc. The chips are based on the ARM 5 TE instruction set, equivalent to chip designs using the ARM 9 core.

Reducing power consumption while racking up clock speed is clearly a major selling point for the latest chips, although Intel refused to compare the latest processors to other ARM-based designs. However, David Rogers, communications manager for the vendor's handhelds group, said the 400MHz part consumed a third less power than the 200MHz StrongARM.

Rogers said the reduction in power needs was achieved through a combination of clock gating, low power modes and the use of 2.5v memory versus the 3.3v parts used in most hand held devices. Both chips feature a "turbo mode" which, Intel claims, enables the processor to scale the performance as high or as low necessary in a single clock cycle.

The chips are being built on a 0.18 micron process. Intel is currently ramping up its 0.13 micron production capacity - the 0.13 micron process promises even more power savings in chip designs. Rogers said sticking with the 0.18 micron process meant the Xscale chips had1 access to more manufacturing capacity. However, Xscale will eventually move to 0.13 micron manufacturing, he said, although he could not say whether the current designs would shift to the newer process.

Rogers said the debut of the XScale parts did not automatically spell the end of StrongARM in the handheld device market. He said the platform had proved remarkably resilient, and the company expected to see further handheld StrongARM devices before the chip fades into the embedded market.

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