Next-Gen XScale Chips Coming Late this Year

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One of the most significant events from last week’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF) was what didn’t happen: the release of a full description of the next generation of XScale chips. Instead, the company scarcely mentioned the XScale line. A formal announcement is now expected by the end of June, with the first chips becoming available in the second half of the year.

Last year, Intel released some of the details of its upcoming Bulverde series, the code-name for the company’s improved group of XScale processors. At that time, the company didn’t say when these would be available.

Though Intel has discussed some of the features of the Bulverde chips, it has yet to reveal some important facts, like what the new clockspeeds will be. According to rumor, there will be two PXA263 processors in the Bulverde series. The fastest of these will be 540 MHz, while even the low-end model will be 412 MHz. In addition, Intel is supposedly designing the 540 MHz version specifically to power Wi-Fi enabled handhelds.

According to rumor, the first Bulverde processors were going to debut in May, and many were hoping that they would be out in time to be included in the first devices running Windows Mobile 2004 and Palm OS Cobalt, but at this point this seems unlikely.

A Graphics Accelerator

At the IDF, Sean Maloney, the chief of Intel’s Communications Group, announced plans to release a 3-D multimedia accelerator for the XScale line.

According to The Register, this will be code-named Carbonado and will be necessary for XScale-powered devices to offer an “unusually real 3-D feel.”

This will go into production later this quarter.

Improved Memory Chips

Mr. Maloney also announced that Intel will begin production of its first 90-nanometer NOR flash memory chips by the third quarter of this year, according to SiliconStrategies.com.

These will be physically smaller than current chips and also use less power.

Competition in the Mobile Market

Though Intel processors are on a good percentage of the handhelds sold, Texas Instrument’s processors dominate mobile phones, putting it in a strong position for the future, as handhelds become increasingly wireless and smart phones become a larger percentage of the market.

To help it compete better, Intel intends to release a generation of processors designed for wireless devices in the first half of 2005.

Intel has definitely been trying to generate interest in the next generation of XScale processors among handheld makers. For example, it was at the recent PalmSource developer conference showing off the Palm OS running on a Bulverde development board. (See picture at right.)

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