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Intel launches Bulverde, Marathon

Next-gen XScale details emerge

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Update Intel today formally launched 'Bulverde', the next generation of its XScale processor family, as the PXA270.

The chip giant also announced it would ship Bulverde's graphics accelerator companion chip, formerly codenamed 'Marathon' but now officially dubbed the 2700G, in volume this quarter.

Bulverde will initially ship with a clock frequency of 312MHz, but the platform scales to 624MHz. With the current PXA255 chip already available at 400MHz, the PXA270's speed may disappoint some observers, but Intel is touting the superior performance the new processor offers through its improved architecture rather than raw clock speed.

That means Wireless MMX, the XScale version of the Pentium family's integer maths-oriented, multimedia-friendly instructions. Wireless MMX, the company claims, allows said 312MHz part to offer the performance of a 'regular' ARM-based chip running at 520MHz, such as the PXA255. Intel's benchmarks say a 416MHz Bulverde is equivalent to a 624MHz part that lacks Wireless MMX, and the 624MHz version is equivalent to a 775MHz ARM chip.

Comparing the PXA270 to Intel's existing PXA262 mobile phone chip, yields a longer battery life in the order of 42 per cent for MP3 playback, 77 per cent from QVGA video playback, 63 per cent for QVGA video encoding - at a higher frame rate, 24fps as opposed to 17fps, too - and 30 per cent for video conferencing, given the same power source, Intel claims.

In addition to the performance increase, the PXA270 also provides better power management than its predecessor, Intel said, through the use of Pentium M-style SpeedStep technology, which drops the chip's core voltage and clock frequency according to demand, though apps can now be coded to override the settings if they need to keep the chip running flat out, or vice versa.

Bulverde's announcement last September mentioned the chip's video and camera system, which supports 640 x 480 image capture at 15fps (30pfs at QVGA), and can cope with four-megapixel sensors directly linked to the chip - which makes for cheaper handsets, Intel claims, by shortening manufacturers' component lists.

Chip features discussed today for the first time include Intel's handheld security system, the Wireless Trusted Platform, which essentially leverages Wireless MMX to provide hardware acceleration for encryption and decryption, improving applications like DRM, SSL, VPN and, in phones, IMEI, for example. It also incorporates a secure, signature-backed boot ROM.

Intel also touted the PXA270's new 1.8V peer-to-peer system bus, Mobile Scalable Link (MSL), which provides up to 416Mbps of bandwidth across two one-way independent links one, two or four bits wide.

The bandwidth is pitched at performance-heavy multimedia roles, which is also where the 2700G comes in. It offers 30fps MPEG 4 and Windows Media playback at 640 x 480 and MPEG 2 at the same framerate at 720 x 480. Graphical output can run to SXGA resolutions, and Intel quoted a 2D fill rate of 150m pixels per second and 944,000 polys per second for 3D.

The 2700G also contains its own SDRAM bank stacked on top of the processor packaging for graphics RAM - 16MB of it, we understand.

Pricing for the 2700G was not available as we went to press, but the 312MHz PXA270 will cost $32 in batches of 10,000. The 270 is sampling now, with volume production to follow later this quarter, Intel said. The 2700G is available in volume now for $17 a pop. ®

Bootnote

Intel nicely cleared up for us the codename confusion that has surrounded the 2700G. Readers may recall Intel COO Paul Otellini discussing the part in January under the codename 'Carbonado'. Later, it appeared to change to 'Marathon'. Now the truth can be revealed: Marathon is the 2700G, Carbonado is Intel's wireless PDA reference platform built around Bulverde and Marathon.

Related stories

Intel to run with Marathon mobile graphics chip
Intel chief touts mobile 3D chip, ignores next-gen XScale
PDA makers unveil Wi-Fi, GPRS PDAs
Intel adds Wireless MMX support to XScale tools
Intel preps Xbox in a phone XScale chip

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