Intel launches new XScale processors

Santa Clara (IL) - Intel today introduced a new family of PDA and cell phone processors. Formerly code-named Bulverde, the new chips integrate SpeedStep, MMX extensions and are available with a multimedia accelerator chip promising game console graphic performance.

Built around the PXA255 core, which originally was introduced in 2001, Intel offers with its long awaited Bulverde chip several enhancements which should boost performance and decrease power consumption.

The new PXA270 platform introduces "wireless SpeedStep", basically a modified version of Intel's frequency and voltage stepping, which is known from Pentium mobile processors since January 2000. The chips are available with clock speeds of 624 MHz, 520 MHz, 416 MHz, and 312 MHz. Software specifically developed for this platform can request through the chip's power management software a certain frequency and voltage - or the processor adapts to the required performance automatically.

The processors are able to adjust their settings in several steps. Frequency steps depending on the processor are 624 MHz, 520 MHz, 416 MHz, 312 MHz, 208 MHz, 156 MHz, and 104 MHz. Corresponding voltage ranges from 1,55V to 0.9V. Depending on the application, Intel promises power savings between 30 percent (videoconferencing) and 77 percent (video playback), if compared to the predecessor.

According to Intel, the new PXA generation receives a significant performance increase through the addition of MMX extensions. "The instruction set is almost identical to the Pentium platform," said Kyle Fox, Intel product marketing manager. "But this multimedia instruction set adds specific RISC-based optimizations," he said.

If used with MMX-equipped applications, this feature can significantly increase the performance of the processor. According to Intel, a 312 MHz PXA270 processor will perform as a 520 MHz PXA270 processor, if MMX is used. Similarly, a 416 MHz version will reach the performance of a 624 MHz chip and a 624 MHz processor theoretically works as a 775 MHz chip.

A new multimedia accelerator chip, which will be offered for high end implementations of the XScale architecture, will allow Intel to set its stake in the mobile gaming market. The 2700G processor is said to deliver a video playback of 30 frames per second in MPEG-4 and WMV in VGA resolution (640x480) and 30 frames per second in MPEG-2 (720x480). According to Intel, the processor boasts a 2D fill rate of 150 million pixels per second and a 3D fill rate 944,000 triangles per second. The company promises game console performance from the chip (see details here).

The new XScale chip also integrates a "wireless trusted platform module" (WTPM), which is Intel's hardware companion to Microsoft's Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB), formerly named Palladium and widely known as TCPA. The chip basically functions as a vault and keeps certain keys (Alias Identifier Keys, AIKs) which are used to identify the computer or cell phone without user action.

According to proponents of the controversial technology, this mechanism will make computing more secure, critics however believe that NGSCB will negatively influence the way we use computers. Possible applications include not only more protection from hacker attacks but also Digital Rights Management, which controls the way applications and data are used.

Intel's new PXA processors are priced from $32 (312 MHz) in 10,000 unit quantities and are available now. The company has not yet released pricing for the 2700G chip.