New Arm processor core targets WLAN, Bluetooth chips

Less is more, at least when it comes to Arm Ltd.'s new processor core design. The company reduced the size and the number of transistors on its new ARM968E-S core in order to reduce the power consumption of chips used to connect to wireless networks, it said Wednesday.

Arm, based in Cambridge, England, doesn't manufacture any processors. It designs the cores that semiconductor manufacturers use in finished products for personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones and networking devices, among other things. Companies such as Texas Instruments Inc., Toshiba Corp., Motorola Inc. and Intersil Corp. all use Arm designs in their processors.

The ARM968E-S core is designed to be incorporated into chips for 802.11 wireless LANs as well as chips that support the Bluetooth short-range networking standard, said Richard Phelan, embedded cores product manager for Arm. The core is 20 percent smaller than the preceding ARM966E-S core design and uses 10 percent less power, because fewer transistors were built into the core, he said.

A new memory architecture helps move data into and out of the processor core from the memory more quickly than previous designs without affecting processing performance, Phelan said. This is ideal for communications devices that need to process a stream of data, such as audio or video, he said.

Arm incorporated a direct memory access controller into the core design that improves the efficiency of the processor, Phelan said. Normally the manufacturer would have to add this product in after licensing the core design, but by having the controller validated as part of the Arm core, the manufacturer saves money and time with a more complete product, he said.

PDAs and cell phones will be the primary target for wireless networking chips based on the 968 core, Phelan said. Expansion cards for devices that lack built-in wireless support could also use this processor core, he said.

Initially, chip manufacturers will be able to use the core in chips with clock speeds ranging from 100MHz to 120MHz, but those speeds will probably increase over time, Phelan said.

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Tom Krazit

IDG News Service
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