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ARM unveils digital-audio product

The chip designer is getting into the music business with a line of audio products based on Secure Digital flash memory technology.

Chip designer ARM Holdings is getting into the music business with a line of audio products.

On Wednesday, England's ARM announced its first product in development: system-on-chip devices based on Secure Digital technology.

The SD card, which is the size of postage stamp, is a form of flash memory used to store data for portable devices. It is still an emerging form of flash memory but is already used in MP3 players, digital cameras, digital camcorders and newer Palm handheld computers.

SD cards and the competing Sony Memory Stick are particularly key to the growing market for digital audio because they are built with copy protection in mind.

"The kinds of uses we've talked about now include portable MP3 players, digital cameras and mobile phones, but the good thing about SD cards is it's an evolving technology," said John Slater, an ARM product manager. "As the memory size of these cards gets bigger and bigger, you can start to think about putting video on a card."

ARM has already established itself as the leading provider of 16- and 32-bit embedded processor technology for devices such as mobile phones and handheld computers. The company is rapidly expanding into other markets, including audio and video. Chip manufacturers rely on ARM designs because it is cheaper than designing the technology themselves and it allows them to bring products to market more quickly.

The company is taking the same approach with the new SD card technology. ARM's components are designed to be interoperable, allowing chipmakers to quickly assemble system-on-chip designs.

Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from England.