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Intel Unveils Next-Generation XScale Processors

By Ed Hardy | Editor-in-Chief
Apr 12, 2004

Intel has taken the wraps off its next generation of processors for handhelds and smart phones. These chips, long known by their code name "Bulverde," have been officially named the PXA270 series.

What many high-end handheld users have been hoping for with this new series is higher clock-speeds; the XScale line has topped out at 400 MHz since early 2002. These people won't be disappointed, as the PXA270 series will include chips with clock-speeds of 624 MHz, 520 MHz, 416 MHz, and 312 MHz.

Multimedia Performance

The PXA270 processors have Intel's Wireless MMX built into them, which enhances their multimedia performance.

According to the company, the 312 MHz chip can handle multimedia as well as a standard 520 MHz ARM processor, if Wireless MMX is being used. In the same way, the 624 MHz version is supposedly equivalent to a 775 MHz ARM chip in multimedia performance.

Power Savings

These processors will offer Wireless Intel SpeedStep Technology, which dynamically adjusts the power and performance of the processor based on CPU demand. This can result in a significant decrease in power consumption.

The processors are able to adjust their clock-speeds in several steps. Of course, the maximum frequency depends on the processors, but the steps for the fastest PXA270 processor are 624 MHz, 520 MHz, 416 MHz, 312 MHz, 208 MHz, 156 MHz, and 104 MHz.

According to Intel, PXA270 series will use significantly less power than its current PXA262 chips. For example, battery life will be 42 percent longer when playing MP3s and 77 percent longer when playing QVGA video.

Graphics Help from a Co-Processor

Though the PXA270 processor can handle the multimedia for QVGA screens, Intel has unveiled a graphics co-processor for handhelds with higher-resolution displays.

The 2700G multimedia accelerator will give devices with VGA screens a 2D fill rate of 150 million pixels per second and a 3D fill rate of 944,000 triangles per second. It can play MPEG2, MPEG4, and Windows Media video at 30 frames per second.

Intel announced in January that Dell will release a Axim model with a 2700G graphics co-processor in the second half of this year.

Wireless Trusted Platform

Intel has also built the Wireless Trusted Platform Module (WTPM) into the new PXA270 processors. This dedicates a bit of secure memory for storing cryptographic keys and will be used for Digital Rights Management (DRM). This will allow companies to license content (such as audio and video) to a single device.

It is the mobile equivalent of Microsoft's Next Generation Secure Computing Base, which will be built into the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn.

WTPM will also make running VPNs in handhelds and smart phones even more secure.

Coming Soon to a Handheld Near You

Intel says that all the versions of the PXA270 will soon be available in large quantities.

The first handheld with one of the new chips should hit the market next month, though Intel declined to say who the manufacturer would be. A good candidate is ASUS, who announced last month that its upcoming MyPal A730 will run a next-generation XScale processor at 520 MHz.

XScale processors can be used in devices running the Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and other mobile operating systems.

Going Head to Head with Motorola

Though handheld users will be pleased by the improved XScale line, it has really been created to help Intel capture a larger percentage of the mobile phone market. This market is currently dominated by Motorola, and Intel has lost hundreds of millions of dollars trying to compete.

The first smart phones to use PXA270 processors will be released later this year.