New ARM core to boost PDA performance

ARM Ltd. on Wednesday unveiled a new version of its microprocessor core for handheld computers and other gadgets, promising to boost the performance of audio and video applications and help extend battery life, a top ARM official said.

The improvements should lead to better performance from upcoming PDAs (personal digital assistants) from vendors such as Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Casio Computer Co. Ltd., which are powered by chips based on ARM technology, said John Rayfield, ARM's director of research and development, in an interview Tuesday.

Based in Cambridge, England, ARM doesn't manufacture chips itself but licenses its chip cores to other vendors for use in their own products. For example, Intel Corp.'s StrongArm processor, used in various PDAs and other gadgets, is based on an ARM design.

Rayfield will reveal details about the chip to fellow engineers Wednesday at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California.

The sixth-generation design, known as the ARM Architecture v6, isn't expected to appear in products until the middle of next year, he said.

Improvements over previous ARM designs include a technology known as single-instruction multiple data (SIMD) processing, designed to speed the processing of video and audio files. The new architecture also boasts memory enhancements that could cut the amount of work a processor has to do by 20 percent to 30 percent, leading to longer battery life, Rayfield said.

"One of the most significant benefits will be a reduction in power consumption," he said. "But more visible will be the significant speed increase from the SIMD extensions." The use of SIMD could increase the performance of some video applications by up to 400 percent, according to Rayfield. "This might mean larger images, or it might mean a higher frame rate."

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Douglas F. Gray

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