National Semiconductor offers "PC-on-a-Chip"

National Semiconductor has released a so-called "PC-on-a-Chip" capable of integrating most of the functions of a computer and information appliances.

The chip, called the GeodeSC1400, can work in TV set-top boxes that provide Web browsing features; in "thin client" computers that use servers for most processing functions; and in portable Web-access devices, according to National Semiconductor.

The Geode uses National Semiconductor's MediaGX processor to integrate into a single silicon chip digital video and major PC functions, with the exception of DRAM (dynamic random access memory) and high voltage components, said Mike Brozda, a National Semiconductor spokesman. The major functions integrated by the chip include the processor, system logic, graphics, MPEG video decompression, audio, TV input/output and peripheral input/output, all of which require at least six separate chips in a conventional set-top box.

The chip will be altered to fit the use envisioned by customers, according to Brozda. "This is almost chip technology on demand," he said. "We can mix and match functionality or defer to customer requests."

Since National Semiconductor first announced its plan to produce a "PC-on-a-Chip" in April 1998, increasing demand for Internet access has led the company to specifically target the Internet-capable information appliance market, such as set-top video. National Semiconductor also has added the MPEG video decoding function to the original feature set.

The chip will allow manufacturers to build new information appliances that will give consumers easier access to the Internet, according to an analyst. "This chip looks like it can do a lot of things," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, a research and consulting firm in Saratoga, California.

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