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Mobile chips set for jump to multi-core

23 июля 2009

Processor power of next-generation of smartphones could rival laptops.

You could say mobile chip makers are trying to kill one bird with two stones.

In order to give smartphones enough computing power for the myriad new software applications and features consumers crave, companies making the semiconductors that run cell phones are doubling the number of processors on each chip. The technological leap will offer next-generation smartphones the performance to rival netbooks and possibly even laptop computers.

Chip makers such as Texas Instruments Inc., joint venture ST-Ericsson and others are already developing so-called multi-core chips, which contain more than one processing engine, or core, on a single piece of silicon.

The innovation, seen in computers earlier this decade, will offer better power efficiency and allow faster performance amid an intensifying battle for consumers between makers of handsets and other portable devices.

"As you go into multi-core, it just opens up further possibilities to do things that just weren't possible," Gartner wireless-chip analyst Jon Erenson said."People will be able to use their phones more in place of a netbook or a low-end laptop."

For computers, chip makers Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. moved to multi-core chips to counter the decline in performance gains occurring as more processing power was jammed on a single semiconductor.

Several factors, from power constraints and product development to plain-old physics, led handset makers to wait a few years after PC chip makers to head for multi-core.

While chips are continuously improving in power efficiency and performance, those gains get smaller with each successive generation. At some point, chip makers essentially run into a wall and can't produce big performance gains any longer, said Brian Carlson, a marketing manger for TI's wireless group.

That's where mobile chips are today.

By moving to multi-core - the first phones are expected to hit the market late next year - chip makers can use two or more processors for the work normally done by one. The first chips using this technology could be made 20% to 30% faster or have 20% to 30% greater battery life, said mobile-chip analyst Linley Gwennap of the Linley Group.

TI and ST-Ericsson - a 50-50 joint venture between Sweden's Ericsson and Swiss firm STMicroelectronics - unveiled the first dual-core chips at a wireless industry conference in February. But nearly all makers of cellular chips are expected to start development.

In order for smartphones to take advantage of the performance gains, software makers need to be on board. Operating systems from Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and others need to be written to allow the two processors to work in tandem.

"We have to make sure that companies such as Microsoft and Google ... take advantage of the multi-core processsor capability that we have," said Alex Katouzian, a vice president in Qualcomm Inc.'s chipset unit.

With the new chips, handset makers will have the chance to offer longer battery life or run intensive programs - such as video capture and location finding - smoothly and simultaneously.

"It's going to enable a lot of interesting applications that we can't envision today," TI's Carlson said.

But most importantly, chipmakers say, is the potential for a Web-browsing experience on par with that of PCs - which could help smartphones close the gap in an increasingly crowded market of mobile gadgets.

"The big difference then is just a form-factor one," said Gartner's Erenson.


By Jerry A. DiColo, Dow Jones Newswires


Источник: Total Telecom

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