Chips Fuel Efficiency

AMD, Mobilian products tackle power consumption, integration.

The airwaves are crackling with news of chip technologies that reduce power consumption in wireless devices and integrate incompatible wireless technologies.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. last week announced a new wireless LAN chip set and reference design kit, which company officials said would best similar products from competitors such as Intel Corp. and Intersil Corp. Meanwhile, Mobilian Corp. has announced availability of its TrueRadio WLAN/Bluetooth chip set.

The moves add to a growing list of similar announcements and should result in more efficient and less costly wireless devices, as well as devices that offer support for more protocols.

AMDs chip set plans come from the Sunnyvale, Calif., companys Personal Connectivity Solutions Group, which was formed in February. The group last week announced widespread availability for sampling of its AMD Alchemy Solutions Am1772 WLAN chip set as well as a complementary mini-PCI reference design kit, both of which support the 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, protocol. The most prevalent of WLAN standards, 802.11b supports data rates of up to 11M bps.

Both chip set and reference design should be widely available in the first quarter of next year, according to officials.

The Am1772 chip set is a CMOS combination that includes a descriptor-based direct memory access host interface. The CMOS design helps reduce power consumption, officials said. The architecture also eliminates the need for an on-chip microcontroller, flash memory and synchronous dynamic RAM, which should lower manufacturing costs, officials said.

Beyond that, the chip sets transceiver uses a method called Direct Down Conversion, which eliminates the requirement for an Intermediate Frequency chip. This helps reduce the CPU load as well.

"This will be ... the first of several wireless products we plan to introduce over the next 12 months," said William Edwards, general manager for the Personal Connectivity Solutions Group.

AMDs chip set includes drivers for most Windows operating systems as well as Linux and VxWorks. For security, it supports Wired Equivalent Privacy and the 802.1x protocol. Future versions of the chip set will support Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, officials said.

AMD also plans to get its solution down to one chip.

"Any time you can shrink the chip count on any device, it usually means lower power, smaller designs and a lower price point," said Kevin Baradet, network systems director at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an eWeek Corporate Partner.

"We think this is going to follow the path of other communications technology," said Jim Robillard, marketing director in AMDs Personal Connectivity Solutions Group.

Robillard said AMD has no immediate plans to support 802.11a. While 802.11a boasts speeds of 54M bps, it has had a slow adoption rate because it does not travel well around walls, while 802.11b does.

For its part, Mobilian last week announced its TrueRadio Wi-Fi/ Bluetooth chip set.

Bluetooth, a short-range wireless protocol designed as a cable replacement, shares the same radio band in the 2.4GHz range with 802.11b.

As this can result in interference, industry players such as Mobilian have been working on possible solutions to the problem. Mobilian announced plans for products that solve the problem nearly two years ago but was slow to develop them.

In the meantime, competitors have moved in. Intels next generation of mobile computer chips, code-named Banias and due in the first half of next year, will be able to support Bluetooth wireless and 802.11b WLAN technology, according to Intel officials, in Santa Clara, Calif.

The company is also working with Bluetooth silicon maker Silicon Wave Inc. to enable operation of both Bluetooth and 802.11b technology in notebook PCs.

On the reference design front, WLAN chip set maker Intersil, of Palm Bay, Fla., and San Diego-based Silicon Wave in May announced their own design that allows collaborative operation of Bluetooth and 802.11b. Their solution, known as Blue802, uses a time-slicing technique in which the two protocols are not actually running simultaneously but switch back and forth fast enough that the connection seems simultaneous.

However, Mobilian officials said that, while their solution may be late, it will best their competitors as it provides true simultaneous operation of the two protocols.

"There are degradation issues that can happen with Blue802," said Mark Grodzinsky, product manager at Mobilian, in Hillsboro, Ore.

TrueRadio is expected to appear in products next year. Officials said they will announce licensees next week at Comdex in Las Vegas.

Future TrueRadio products will support the upcoming 802.11g protocol, which supports speeds of up to 54M bps in the 2.4GHz range, officials said.

"This is cool," said Nathan Lemmon, chief engineer for wireless systems development at FedEx Corp.s Corporate Services unit, in Memphis, Tenn. "I definitely see a requirement for both links in one device. I need to connect to the 802.11b campus network while Im giving a presentation via a Bluetooth link to the slide projector."

Cornell Universitys Baradet agreed.

"If we can build Bluetooth right into the laptop, too [along with 802.11b], then you can use the laptop as a virtual hub," he said.