Faster XScale Processors To Be Announced Next Month

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For months, Intel has been giving out some of the details of its upcoming Bulverde series, the code-name for the company’s improved group of XScale processors. It is now known these will be officially unveiled next month.

According to The Register, all the details of the next generation of XScale processors will be revealed at the Intel Developer Forum to be held in Taipei, Taiwan on April 12-13.

Faster than Ever

Though the company has talked a bit about the Bulverde series, it hasn’t revealed what the new clock-speeds will be. Fortunately, information about this has leaked out in various ways. For example, ASUS has announced the MyPal A730, which it says will run a 520 MHz XScale processor. This will have to come from the Bulverde series, as that clock-speed isn’t available at this time.

According to other sources, there will be two processors announced. One will be the 520 MHz one that will be used in the A730. This has reportedly been designed specifically for handhelds with built-in Wi-Fi. The second processor will only be slightly slower: 412 MHz.

More than Just Speed

As much emphasis as people tend to put processor speed, it isn’t Intel’s only goal for the XScale line. Intel representatives have pointed out that their company could have put out a 1,000 MHz XScale processor years ago. However, this would have used five times as much power as a 200 MHz XScale and given any handheld running a terrible battery life.

That’s why Intel has included in the Bulverde line the ability to either speed up when the current application is processor-intensive, or slow down and save on power when it isn’t. This isn’t a new feature in processors but Intel keeps refining it.

In addition, the Bulverde line will bring better support for devices with integrated cameras so that these peripherals use less power, as well.

Though the official announcement is expected next month, it isn’t known when the Bulverde processors will be on the market. Justin O’Dea, who owns PROPortable, one of the top sellers of ASUS handhelds in the U.S., says the release of one version of the MyPal A730 may be pushed back because the Bulverde processor it needs has been delayed.

Bulverde processors are expected to be used in both Palm OS and Pocket PC models. Intel is also hoping they will be used in smart phones.

Marathon Graphics Accelerator

Earlier this year, Intel announced plans to release a 3D multimedia accelerator for the XScale line.

This will called Marathon and will be necessary for XScale-powered devices with very high-resolution screens to offer an “unusually real 3-D feel,” according to Sean Maloney, the chief of Intel’s Communications Group. It will also be officially unveiled next month in Taiwan.

Some advance information has leaked out about it as well. According to The Register, it will be able to render just under one million polygons per second.

Intel is reportedly working with about twenty companies to create high-end games that will take advantage of Marathon’s power. These will use OpenGL ES, a standard for displaying 2D and 3D graphics on mobile devices. PalmSource recently announced that OpenGL ES will be built into a future version of Palm OS Cobalt.

The Marathon multimedia accelerator will also support MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and Windows Media.

This chip will be a bit of a drain on the handheld’s battery. It can use up to 100 mW of power, the same as Socket’s CompactFlash Wi-Fi card.

It’s possible to see a bit of cooperation between Intel and Microsoft in the timing of this announcement. Marathon has been created for handhelds with VGA screens. Just last week, Microsoft announced Windows Mobile 2003 with built-in support for VGA screens.

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