Texas Instruments announces new wireless chips

New processors from Texas Instruments (TI) promise to increase the performance of cell phone and personal digital assistant (PDA) applications while allowing manufacturers to build devices that are smaller and that consume less power than current devices, the company said Monday.

The processors also feature on-chip security hardware in the form of hardware accelerators for security algorithms and for the Java programming language, said Avner Goren, architecture marketing manager for TI's wireless terminal business unit.

All five new OMAP (open multimedia applications processor) processors are based on the ARM926 core, licensed from ARM Ltd. of Cambridge, England. They all run at 200MHz, and feature an Extreme Deep Sleep mode, which allows the processor to match the amount of current flowing through the processor to the demands of the application at a given point. This increases battery life and reduces heat given off by the processor, Goren said.

One of TI's hardware accelerators allows the processors to more quickly process complex security algorithms such as DES (Data Encryption Standard), Goren said. The Java accelerator takes a programming language that has traditionally been addressed with software, and speeds up downloads of Java games, he said.

Transmeta and Via Technologies have also announced PC processors with hardware accelerators in recent months.

Two of the new chips -- the OMAP730 and OMAP732 -- are designed for mass-market phones and PDAs that are smaller than high-end models for GSM/GPRS networks. The OMAP73x series features a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)/GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) modem integrated directly onto the chipMeanwhile, the three other new chips -- the OMAP1610, OMAP1611, and OMAP1612 -- belong to the OMAP161x series and are designed to be used with separate chipsets for high-end cellular phones and PDAs, Goren said. The 161x series contains a digital signal processor for multimedia applications that is not found on the 73x series, he said. The 161x series is aimed at high-end multimedia cell phones that can be used on a variety of networks, such as GSM/GPRS, UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) or CDMA2000 (Code Division Multiple Access) networks, he said.

Users of PDAs or cell phones based on the 73x series processors will be able to enjoy smaller devices than 161x- based devices with adequate performance, but are constrained to GSM/GPRS networks, Goren said.

The OMAP1612 and the OMAP732 feature 256M bytes of stacked memory on the chip, ultra-low power DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) on the 1612 and mobile SDRAM on the 732. This is a fundamental difference from the way PC processor powerhouse Intel Corp. is approaching its entry into the high-end cell phone market.

Intel is expected to release a new processor code-named Manitoba in a few weeks that features an application processor, communications processor, and flash memory on a single chip.

DRAM is much more important to the performance of a handset because it is accessed far more frequently than flash memory, Goren said. The stacking of the memory, as opposed to the integration of the memory directly onto the chip, also saves power, he said.

One analyst agreed with Goren. "You don't access flash memory as quickly; it works more like the hard drive," said Alan Liebovitch, an analyst with market research firm IDC. But integrating the flash memory does allow the manufacturer to cut costs, he said.

Cell phone users demand that their new phones be smaller, lighter, and provide more features than their previous phones, which is causing headaches for processor designers, Liebovitch said. This is leading companies to integrate both flash memory and DRAM onto a chip, he said.

All the processors are compatible with a wide variety of cell phone and PDA operating systems, including PalmSource's PalmOS, Linux, Symbian's Symbian OS, and Microsoft's Pocket PC and Windows Smartphone.

The new processors are expected to be available in production volumes by the fourth quarter of this year, and samples for all the chips will be available in the first half of the year. TI is not releasing pricing information for the processors.

TI also announced two new chipsets for mobile phones and 3G (third generation) network base stations Monday. The four-chip TCS4105 UMTS chipset and reference design can be incorporated with one of the OMAP161x series processors to build a wireless phone for 3G networks, which offer video and audio content as well as data exchange capability. The base station chipset allows manufacturers of base stations, which enable a 3G cell phone's wireless capability, to purchase a chipset for their equipment without having to build one themselves, TI said.

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