National Semi puts scanner on a chip

National Semiconductor has developed an integrated circuit that squeezes virtually all of the electronics needed for a colour image scanner onto a single silicon chip smaller than a thumbnail, the company said today.

For consumers the chip could lead to the development of scanners that operate more quickly, and also help lower the cost of high-performance scanners enough to appeal to general retail shoppers, according to National Semiconductor.

Dubbed Merlin, the chip is expected to find its way into products on the shelf by the second quarter of 1999, National Semiconductor spokesman Mike Brozda said. The chip maker won't say yet which manufacturers have agreed to use the product.

National Semiconductor is a big proponent of single-chip designs. By mid-next year the company's Cyrix subsidiary has pledged to release a "PC-on-a-chip" -- a single device that handles virtually all of the memory, graphics, processing and other tasks needed to run a desktop computer.

The number of separate chips used in scanners has been reduced in the past two years from as many as 40 to as few as six or 10, as chip suppliers bring out increasingly integrated designs. Merlin takes the remaining discrete components and crams them onto a single chip.

"There's some pretty fancy electronics going on in there," Brozda said.

Besides allowing manufacturers to build less expensive scanners, Merlin also noticeably improves the quality of scanned images, he said. In addition, the system-level design will allow manufacturers to bring products to market more quickly because using a single chip reduces the cost of designing a system, Brozda said.

Merlin, which also goes by the catchy moniker of LM9830, is available now to manufacturers in a 100-lead TQFP (thin quad flat pack) package, priced at $US10 each in 1000-unit quantities, National Semiconductor said.

Scanners built using the chip will be able to scan images at a rate of 6 million pixels per second in 36-bit colour format -- the current standard for high-accuracy colour reproduction. The chip can also provide a range of resolutions from 50 dots per inch to 600dpi, the company said.

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