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Intel returns to its PC roots with wireless processor

Posted: 27 Oct 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:intel? mmx technology? processor? cellphone? pda?

Intel Corp. is going back to its PC roots by adding MMX technology to its upcoming Xscale applications processor for cellphones and PDAs.

Bulverde, named after a Texas town where Intel engineers have stayed during hunting excursions, also adds QuickCapture and SpeedStep technologies to bolster support for mobile multimedia and power hogs that have become major stumbling blocks for next-generation wireless devices.

To find its way into an equally crucial building block in cellphone RF, Intel will use digital CMOS expertise to stage what it calls a radio renaissance.

Bulverde is targeted at the high-end of wireless smart phones and multimedia-capable PDAs with games, still image and video applications in mind. Intel said the processor will be commercially available in the first quarter of 2004.

After launching Manitoba, where the main theme was integration of processor cores and memory, Intel is beginning to integrate more PC functionality into Xscale processors, which it claims will bring the key graphics capabilities.

The first tenet of Intel's next-generation Xscale technology is QuickCapture, an interface the company said will allow imaging devices to connect to a cellphone or PDA, enabling video and high-quality still images from a wide range of camera sensors.

QuickCapture technology consists of three primary modes: Quick View mode providing low-power, real-time reviews; Quick Short mode providing high-resolution image capture of up to 4 megapixels; and Quick Video mode offering full-motion, high-quality video capture.

The camera phone seems to be the next killer application in the wake of forecasts projecting as many as 94 million such devices in 2004. Intel said its QuickCapture technology is compatible with the majority of available CMOS sensors.

"Basically, what we've created is a flexible camera interface that hooks up with about 90 percent of CCD and allows designers to get rid of the DSP part doing the image processing," said David Rogers, marketing manager at Intel's PCA Components Group. "It enables you to capture up to 30fps and it's all done in the Xscale processor."

Rogers said developers might prefer it since there is no DSP coding involved. "The guys writing applications don't want to know how to code a DSP."

"Now you can [use] a variety of camera sensors, build a board at the low-end and go all the way to high-end by differentiating it with processor speed, memory configuration, and whatever camera you put on it," Rogers added.

SpeedStep dynamically adjusts the power and performance of the processor based on CPU demand. The technology is able to change both voltage and frequency on-the-fly by intelligently switching the processor into various modes - deep idle, standby, and deep sleep - saving additional power while facilitating the necessary performance to run advanced applications.

With SpeedStep having three low-power modes, Intel engineers claim to also have reduced the leakage current at the gate level.

The third addition is MMX technology, a set of multimedia instructions that will help bring desktop-like multimedia performance to the wireless applications processor.

"Same [MMX] instruction set into Xscale will help developers simplify porting PC applications to handsets," said Ron Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Wireless Communications and Computing Group.

Given Microsoft's struggles in bringing the PC technology to handsets, Intel faces many challenges. Manny Lopez, senior analyst for personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific, said Intel has technology on its side.

"I don't know if this will become an issue for processors the same way it proved for software," he said. "Microsoft tried to compress a giant OS into small handset; Intel technology is more proportionate to the form factor."

- Majeed Ahmad

EE-Times Asia

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