Intels XScale Chips Grow Up

New processors are optimized for broadband multimedia applications such as streaming video.

Intel Corp. has its eye on wireless broadband applications for cell phones and PDAs. On Monday, the company announced a new family of processors in the XScale line, saying the devices can handle various forms of wireless broadband with enough muscle for applications such as DVD quality full-motion video conferencing on cell phones. The chips include a new multimedia accelerator for 3D rendering, and there is optimized software that could let mobile device manufacturers bring XScale products to market faster.

As senior Yankee Group analyst John Jackson notes, the processors bring together a number of Intel technologies. "Intel is leveraging some core competencies in one chip architecture, here, such as memory stacking and SpeedStep power management technology, which are critical for advanced multimedia-centric devices." On handheld electronics, SpeedStep is important for streaming video, among other multimedia applications. Jackson continues, "There are also a number of security bells and whistles in there," referring to Intels Wireless Trusted Platform for tasks such as device authentication.

"Advances in wireless broadband demand a new kind of wireless device," said Sean Maloney, the executive vice president and general manager of Intels Communications Group, in announcing the new chips. "As various forms of wireless broadband access become increasingly available—3G, Wi-Fi, or WiMAX—mobile devices must have plenty of performance balanced with low-power capabilities to be able to handle all that the Internet has to offer."

The chip series, formerly known as Bulverde, will be called the Intel PXA27x XScale family of processors. It includes Wireless MMX technology, which aims to increase 3D game performance while conserving power. There is also Intel Quick Capture, which is designed to enhance images taken with cameras in PDAs and phones, and a new Intel 2700G multimedia accelerator for advanced video playback on VGA displays.

With broadband network technologies such as 3G and WiMAX arriving and maturing, Gartners Jackson foresees multimedia applications—including streaming video and audio—becoming prevalent on devices such as cell phones and PDAs. "In these kinds of processor architectures…the availability of MIPS isnt an issue," he says. "For the broadband applications that Intel has its eye on, you have to keep your eye on what the networks are capable of."