In Depth – AMD Demonstrates Alchemy-Based Linux PDA

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AMD linux PDA 

AMD has chosen to showcase their Alchemy Au1100 CPU using a linux-based PDA. The device, which was demonstrated at Linux World on August 5th, runs Metrowerks’ OpenPDA, an evolved version of the current Sharp Zaurus OS. The Au1100 CPU is a direct competitor to the XScale which currently dominates the PDA market. If AMD had been a little quicker they would have been able to nicely exploit Intel’s embarassment over the flawed PXA250 CPU (the PXA255 now being manufactured is basically a bug fix).

The AMD handheld, although a working unit, is just part of what is referred to as a Reference Design Kit (RDK). It is not designed for retail distribution and is essentially “anyPDA”. The hardware specs are:

  • 240×320 pixel, 16-bit colour touch screen
  • 266-400 MHz Au1100 CPU
  • 64 MB RAM, 32 MB flash Storage
  • AC-97 audio; speaker, mic’, stereo jack
  • Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) expansion
  • IrDA Infra-Red port
  • 4 buttons, 1 joystick

So, there’s nothing at all remarkable about that description. Only the joystick is innovative and it is not clear whether this is really an analogue joystick (which could enable mouse-like control of applications and games) or just four microswitches and a rubber nipple.

The docking station for the RDK incorporates not only USB and EJTAG (a low-level access port for developers) but also standard serial and a 10/100 ethernet connection. This functionality is built into the Au1100 CPU; given the role of this RDK as a showcase for the technology, it makes sense to include as many features as possible but doesn’t mean they’ll make it to any particular retail device.

It also makes sense that AMD should use OpenPDA, which is already incorporated into the Zaurus SL-C750 (previewed last week here on BargainPDA and with a review to follow) and well tested as a result. Linux has a reputation for extreme portability and efficiency, which would make prototyping a device like this relatively straightforward, and although they’re now an industry giant, AMD have always been slightly at odds with the Windows/Intel camp.

Although it seems highly unlikely, it would be nice if AMD decided to leverage their ground-level chip and component sourcing and hit the market with a dirt cheap linux based PDA, albeit without an integral keyboard.

However it pans out, more competition in the CPU marketplace is undoubtedly better for us consumers.

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