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Intel unveils low-power chip

New XScale design could power PDAs and mobile phones

Intel yesterday unveiled a new low-power chip design for use in smart phones, handheld computers, and wireless network equipment.

The new XScale microarchitecture is based on Intel's existing StrongARM chip, but offers much lower levels of power consumption, said Ron Smith, vice president and general manager of Intel's wireless computing and communications group, speaking here at the Intel Developer Forum.

The design will appear in a new family of Intel processors that will roll out over the next several quarters, including chips for personal digital assistants and Internet-enabled mobile phones.

The chips will also appear in networking storage products, routers, and switches, Smith said.

XScale processors could let manufacturers offer handheld computers and mobile phones that combine personal management and calendar functions with wireless Internet access and even full-motion video, he said.

One analyst praised the product for being "extremely versatile," but notes that Intel will run into stiff competition from the likes of Hitachi and Motorola, who make similar types of processors.

The first XScale processor could arrive by the end of the year, says Linley Gwennap, principal analyst with the Linley Group.

Palm is rumoured to be looking at XScale for its future Palm devices, which currently use a microprocessor from Motorola, Gwennap says. "Palm holds 80 percent of the PDA market; it would be like capturing the crown jewels," he says.

Intel demonstrated a prototype XScale chip, running at 200 MHz and consuming just .05 watts of power. At 800 MHz it consumed less than 1 watt of power.

Intel is already developing two next-generation StrongARM chips for smart phones and handheld computers that operate at low-power levels, according to a source familiar with the company's plans.

XScale appears to represent a new brand name for the follow-on StrongARM chip that observers had expected to be called the StrongARM 2. Intel seems keen to drop the "ARM" moniker and brand the chip as one of its own, Gwennap says.

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