EPF - ARM readies new chip design for smart phones, PDAs

Promising to boost the quality of audio and video playback for users of PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other portable gadgets, ARM Ltd. is offering a sneak peek this week at the next major release in its family of embedded microprocessor designs, the ARM 11.

The new chip family was designed in part to address an emerging class of PDAs and smart phones that allow users to send and receive small audio and video clips as well as run other types of applications that use data. It's also designed for use in digital cameras, in networking gear such as switches and routers, and by the automotive industry for applications such as antilock braking systems.

Based in Cambridge, England, ARM doesn't make chips itself but licenses designs to chip makers like Motorola Inc., Texas Instruments Ltd. and Intel Corp., which turn the ARM blueprints into finished products. ARM expects to release the first completed chip design based on the ARM 11 by the fourth quarter this year, and chips based on that design should be available in finished goods in the second half of 2003, said Eric Schorn, a CPU product manager at ARM.

The ARM 11 is the first family of chips to use version 6 of the ARM instruction set architecture, first discussed in October last year. It makes use of a longer, 8-stage integer pipeline that should help boost initial clock speeds to 350MHz to 500MHz. It also includes new processor instructions that reduce the time it takes to encode and decode MP3 music files and MPEG 4 video clips, which should make for smoother playback, Schorn said.

Chip cores based on the ARM 11 design will typically measure about 7 millimeters square and consume less than 0.4 mW/MHz when manufactured using a 0.13-micron process, he said. It will be available for Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC, PalmSource Inc.'s Palm OS, Symbian Ltd.'s Symbian OS and the Linux operating system, ARM said.

ARM engineers are due to present a paper on the new architecture Tuesday at the Embedded Processor Forum, a conference for chip engineers that kicked off Monday in San Jose, California. ARM will also present a paper on a new member of its existing ARM 10E family of chips, the ARM 1026EJ-S, according to the conference agenda.

Separately at the event, MIPS Technologies Inc., an ARM rival, announced a new 32-bit chip core that's also aimed at consumer gadgets like set-top boxes and handheld computers, as well as networking equipment and other embedded systems.

Called the MIPS32 M4K, the chip core was designed to make it easier for designers to put two processors on a single chip, which helps address the demand for increased data bandwidth in networked storage equipment, residential gateways and other products, the Mountain View, California, company said in a statement.

The core offers a typical clock speed of 300MHz or more and consumes as little as 0.10 mW/MHz when manufactured using a 0.13-micron process, MIPS said. The MIPS32 M4K is available now for licensing, and general availability is expected in the third quarter, the company said.

More information about the Embedded processor Forum is on the Internet at http://www.mdronline.com/epf/index.htm/.

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