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Intel sells XScale business to Marvell for $600m

Wants to push x86, not ARM, for handhelds

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Intel is to flog off its XScale processor operation, the chip giant said today. The move paves the way for it to push low-power x86 CPUs at mobile phone and PDA makers. The buyer is comms chip company Marvell Technology Group, which is paying $600m cash for the product line and taking on "certain liabilities".

The deal covers the full XScale line-up, including the PXA9xx series of mobile phone chips and the PXA27x line aimed at PDAs. Intel has some 1,400 staff working on and around the XScale family, many of whom it expects will leave Intel and join Marvell, Intel said - handy for the chip giant's restructure plans. Selling the business had been forecast by analysts.

It does not appear that Marvell will get its hands on 'Monahans', the gigahertz successor to the PXA27x 'Bulverde' chip. Intel announced Monahans in August 2005 but it has yet to ship the part. Intel is keeping hold of its Wi-Fi and WiMAX chippery too. It's also retaining its ARM licence.

The ARM-based XScale line-up grew out of the StrongARM team Intel acquired in 1998 from DEC. Intel sold the products to PDA makers and, later, to smart phone manufacturers. It names RIM, Palm, HTC and others among its customer list, all of whom will now be serviced by Marvell, assuming they stick with the architecture.

Intel presumably hopes they won't. It wants to push low-power x86 chips into the handheld space and as it ramps up its 65nm dual-core Core 2 archtecture, it will undoubtedly be promoting this next-generation architecture at the kind of companies it would once have sold XScale chips to.

In August 2005, Intel CEO Paul Otellini forecast for the 2010 timeframe the availability of a 0.5W CPU capable of running Windows Vista. As we noted at the time, that announcement effectively pulled the rug from under the feet of the XScale operation. The schedule Otellini mentioned provides plenty of time for interested parties to stick with ARM chips for a few years then migrate over to x86. Intel will no doubt be dangling the carrots of its chips' energy efficiency, processing power and multimedia friendliness to encourage them to do so.

In the meantime, Intel said it will continue manufacturing XScales to meet the needs of its existing customers, both for current devices and products they have in the pipeline. Once Marvell sorts out a manufacturing deal, ramps it up to volume production and can maintain supply to XScale customers, Intel will presumably pull the plug on its own manufacturing. ®

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