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Intel to use next-gen architecture for CE SoCs

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IDF Intel's next-generation microarchitecture (NGMA) will not only form the basis for the processor products the company pitches at its traditional markets, but will underpin future chips for the consumer electronics market.

Detailing Intel's CE roadmap today, the company's Digital Home Group chief, Don MacDonald, said NGMA and the company's system-on-a-chip products will "intersect" in 2006.

He pledged Intel will "lead the industry" on SoC solutions next year.

To pave the way, MacDonald today launched the Oplus MM301 display processor, the latest offering from the company Intel acquired in February this year. Israel-based Oplus designs chips used to drive large-format TVs and other displays, with an eye to HD content.

Alongside the Oplus line-up, Intel separately offers older Pentium processors and chipsets to CE device makers through its broader efforts to target embedded markets.

Next year, however, Intel will bring these strands together, MacDonald suggested, with the low-power NGMA core forming the foundation for a series of SoCs that combine processing power, display control facilities and other device management features.

It's a move that will set Intel head-to-head with ARM, which currently provides the technology on which Intel's XScale processors are based. Indeed, Intel's goals for NGMA's performance:power ratio - specifically to put the processing power associated with the PC into handheld devices, as demonstrated by Intel CEO Paul Otellini earlier this week - will exert downward pressure on the XScale line.

XScale won't become redundant overnight - ARM's strength in the PDA and phone markets will see to that - but Intel's desire to establish the x86 instruction set as the foundation for products targeting all but the highest and lowest market segments will weaken the XScale proposition over time. In the meantime, new XScales are on the way, including the gigahertz-class 'Monahans' part unveiled yesterday.

Certainly, Intel will prefer to push x86-based NGMA-derived low-power processors at vendors designing mobile media players, PDAs and so on rather than XScale, for which it has to pay an ongoing royalty to ARM. That goes double for devices that aren't mobile and have traditionally used ARM-based processors for power management reasons.

In addition to the x86 foundation, Intel will pitch its Linux and Windows CE/Windows XP Embedded expertise to CE vendors, and its Digital Media Infrastructure software layer, now up to version 3.0.

MacDonald admitted intel is "not really much of a player in the CE space", however he believes the market has "significant" growth potential for Intel going forward. The more Intel can base its efforts on its own architecture rather than another company's, the greater that growth potential will be. ®

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