Intel launches cell phone chip

Intel wants to be inside your next cell phone. The microprocessor giant is introducing a wireless Internet-on-a-chip processor that integrates communications, applications processing, and memory functions--the key components of a smart cell phone.

The Intel PXA800F is the first of Intel's Personal Internet Client Architecture chips featuring separate subsystems for applications and communications plus integrated flash memory. The PXA800F combines a processor based on Intel's same XScale technology used in personal digital assistants with a digital signal processor based on Intel's new MicroSignal Archicture, a GSM/GPRS module, and flash memory. The new chip was previously known by the code name Manitoba.

It is intended for use in mainstream next-generation cell phones, which Intel defines as priced in the US$100 to $250 range and equipped with a color screen and digital camera, as well as the capability to play MP3s, videos, and games, plus personal organizer software. Optional features would include GPS for location-based services and a video-capable camera. Phones based on the PXA800F should be available either late this year or in 2004.

Tech Specs

The PXA800F's XScale core features a 312-MHz CPU with 4MB of integrated flash memory and 512KB of SRAM. For communications, the chip's use of MicroSignal Architecture gives it a 104-MHz digital signal processor, 512KB of flash, and 64KB of SRAM. Rounding out the chip's design is the GSM/GPRS module and integrated support for USB, Secure Digital/Multimedia cards, Bluetooth, LCDs, infrared, and cameras. It also contains power-management technology that should help prolong battery life.

Intel representatives say the high degree of integration will make for smaller, more efficient phones by saving space while consuming less power than a collection of separate chips. They say other benefits include faster screen redraws for improved imaging, faster loading of applications, better multitasking, and faster execution of Java and other programming languages.

Chip Competition

The announcement of the PXA800F comes ten days after cell phone chip giant Texas Instruments announced its next-generation cell phone chips. While Intel may be newer to the cell phone business, the company's debut is highly promising, says Richard Doherty, research director of the technology assessment and market research firm The Envisioneering Group.

"I think you'll see a lot of manufactures supporting both platforms, but we think Intel has spent more time listening to what manufacturers want, and that TI is giving them more what they are familiar with," Doherty says.

Among other things, Intel's chip will produce phones that are easier to use as wireless modems for notebooks and PDAs, Doherty says. You can do this with some phones today, but "it's not a pretty experience. Only the most diehard early adopters try to brag about it for their friends," Doherty says.

Intel's PCA technology means the company should be able to produce similar chips for other cellular networks (such as the CDMA networks used by carrier giants Sprint and Verizon) faster than TI, he adds.

Finally, the Intel brand may carry some weight with consumers. "Not a lot of phones say 'TI Inside,'" Doherty says.

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