Motorola launches hybrid chip family

A range of devices including MP3 audio players and IP (Internet Protocol) phones will cost less and take less time to build following the unveiling of a family of hybrid chips from Motorola Inc., the company said Monday.

The new family of processors, the 56800E series, is Motorola's first chip family to offer the functionality of a microcontroller and a DSP (digital signal processor) on the same chip, said Michael Ponzo, director of marketing for Motorola's DSP standard products division. "This is basically a melding of the two," he said. "Several of the spaces we work in have applications that need both, but needed a lower price point."

For example, a portable MP3 player needs a DSP for the number-crunching involved in decoding the data into an audible format, as well as a microcontroller for other functions, such as sending commands for playing and pausing the audio from the buttons to the mechanical elements in the player, said Sam Khoury, strategic marketing manager for the DSP division.

"The (microcontroller) controls the events, and the DSP controls the accuracy," Khoury said. The fact that the chips come in a hybrid family makes it easier for both hardware and software designers to work with them, Khoury said. "The design team or software development team only has to learn one compiler or one tool environment (set of tools)," he said.

Motorola estimates it can sell the hybrid chip at about the price of stand-alone DSPs from some companies, saving money for both the device manufacturer and the end user.

The chips also take up less space in a device using less power because they combine the DSP and microcontroller.

"Real estate and low power consumption become very key as devices get smaller," Khoury said.

The six new chips run at 120 MIPS (million instructions per second) and feature between 8K bytes and 48K bytes of data memory. They are currently shipping in sample quantities to device manufacturers, and volume production is expected to begin by the second half of next year, Khoury said.

Pricing of the processors depends largely on quantity. A high-volume customer ordering hundreds of thousands of chips would pay between US$2.50 and $2.75 for the low-end 56852, while the top-of-the-line 56858 would cost under $10 in the same quantity, Ponzo said.

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