Freescale's new PowerPC chip targets home media devices

Freescale has a new PowerPC chip for embedded networking devices that it also hopes will work in the living room.

Freescale Semiconductor hopes to move its 7400 series PowerPC processors beyond the telecommunications and industrial design markets with the fifth generation of the chip.

The MPC7448 will be unveiled at the Freescale Technology Forum in Orlando.

The company built the 7448 chip on its 90-nanometer processing technology, which lowered the power consumption of the chip even as it reached faster clock speeds, director of marketing for the MPC PowerPC processors, Glenn Beck, said.

Freescale, the former chip-making division of Motorola, sells most of its MPC7xxx series processors to networking and telecommunications equipment makers, which build the chips into blade servers, routers and other embedded devices.

In this world, power consumption was an extremely important factor, Beck said.

The MPC7448 would consume less than 10 watts of power running at around 1.4GHz, and just under 15 watts of power running at its top speed of 1.7GHz, Beck said.

There is a direct relationship between clock speed and power consumption in chip design, but moving from an older manufacturing technology to a newer one generally allows chip makers to increase the speed of their chips while reducing power consumption. Newer manufacturing technologies allow chip makers to build smaller transistors, which are the key to making this happen.

Ten watts is an important threshold, because chips that consume more than 10 watts generally need some type of external cooling, while chips that consume less than that do not always require a cooling fan.

Fanless devices cost less and could be used in more demanding environments, Beck said.

But fanless devices were also quiet, making them well-suited for home multimedia applications such as set-top boxes, digital media hubs or gaming consoles, Beck said. Freescale hoped to capture design wins outside of its traditional strength in networking devices by emphasising the MPC7448's performance and power consumption.

Performance was enhanced by increasing the chip's top speed from 1.4GHz to 1.7GHz, and Freescale also doubled the amount of Level 2 cache on the chip from 512Kbytes to 1Mbytes. Cache memory stores frequently accessed data in a repository close to the central processing unit (CPU) where it can be accessed more quickly than data stored in a system's memory.

The MPC7448 had been available to manufacturers in sample quantities since February, and Freescale planneds to begin mass-producing the chip in October, Beck said.

Pricing would vary depending on the quantity ordered, but a 10,000-unit order would cost just under $US100 per chip, he said.

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