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Power and performance for portable devices

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Intel , a major player in the desktop and server processor market, has targeted the lucrative wireless portable communications sector with the introduction of its XScale family, specifically designed to deliver “high performance and long battery life” to wireless device makers.

The PXA250 and PXA210 applications processors complement the existing StrongARM SA-1110 devices, which are used in several vendors’ handheld PCs. The processors are claimed to overcome the trade off between computing power and battery life – previously not a problem where devices are handling calendars and simple databases – to allow applications such as mobile digital music and colour video.

“Consumers today want to access the Internet, share information and stay connected wherever they go, and that puts significant processing demands on their [mobile] phones and PDAs,” said Peter Green, general manager of Intel's Handheld Computing Division.The PXA250 runs at between 200-400MHz, offering around 450MIPs performance at the higher speed with a claimed power consumption of 500mW. It includes integrated LCD controller and MMC/SD/PCMCIA/CF card support. Port expansion is available for USB, IrDA, I2C, I2S, AC97, UARTs and 32bit bus. The processor supports a 1.84MHz baseband interface, and Bluetooth at 920kbit/s. The device is packaged in a 17 by 17mm 256pin BGA. The PXA210 runs from 133-200MHz. The 400MHz PXA250 is priced at $39.20 in the US, with the 200MHz PXA210 costing $19 in the US (in 10,000 unit quantities). The PXA250 is aimed at PDA applications while the PXA210 suits mobile phones.

Based on Intel’s StrongARM technology, the processors are said to be fully ARM architecture (v.5TE) compliant. ARM has become a standard microprocessor core around which virtually every major silicon manufacturer has created chipsets for the handset market. Intel is one of only two companies (the other being Motorola) that have publicly disclosed its “architectural” license to modify the ARM core giving it the freedom to create the StrongARM and XScale processors.

The processors feature architectural enhancements including support for “Turbo mode technology”. Turbo mode enables the processor to scale the performance as high or as low as necessary in a single clock cycle, which helps conserve battery life while still providing the necessary boosts in performance. In addition, micro-power management features for these devices are said to allow the devices to potentially use less than half the power at the same performance levels of today's StrongARM SA-1110 processor.The devices are key components of the Intel Personal Internet Client Architecture (Intel PCA), Intel's development blueprint for designing wireless handheld communication devices that combine voice communications and Internet access capabilities. Microsoft’s Windows CE.NET will include an optimised compiler, kernel, and board support package for the PXA250 and PXA210. A growing community of developers, called the Intel PCA Developer Network, offers wireless companies development, technical and marketing support for designing cell phones, PDAs and other mobile Internet devices and applications supporting Intel PCA.

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