Motorola breathes fire into Dragonball chips

The company makes two additions to its Dragonball line of processors for mobile devices, which it hopes will stave off rivals Intel and Texas Instruments.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
3 min read
Motorola on Tuesday made two additions to its Dragonball line of processors for mobile devices, which the company hopes will stave off competition from Intel and Texas Instruments.

The Dragonball Super VZ is a follow-up to its popular VZ processors, which are inside all major handhelds that use the Palm operating system. The Dragonball MX1 is Motorola's first ARM-based processor.

Motorola processors are found in more than 75 percent of handheld computers. However, the Schaumburg, Ill.-based company's No. 1 position faces threats from the likes of Intel and TI.

To hold off the competition, Motorola has updated its processors by boosting clock speed. The higher clock speeds should allow the processors to better handle multimedia applications, which many industry followers say will show up in the next generation of handhelds. In the case of the MX1, there is also support for Bluetooth, the short-range wireless communications standard.

The Super VZ will run at 66MHz, more than twice as fast as the current VZ processors, and will cost $14 each in volume. The Super VZ will be a transition processor for manufacturers that don't want to switch over to ARM-based processors but do want to keep costs down.

The MX1 will run at 140MHz to 200MHz and will cost $19 each in volume. This chip will put Motorola on par with the performance of Intel's StrongARM processor, which is found in handhelds that run on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.

Both chips support Memory Stick and Secure Digital expansion technology. Palm is using Secure Digital in its m500 and m505 handhelds.

Last year, Palm said it would develop handhelds with ARM-based processors. Motorola followed by announcing it would use ARM technology in its next round of processors.

Palm is the No. 1 handheld maker and is Motorola's biggest customer for handheld chips. However, Palm has not publicly committed to a specific chipmaker's ARM-based processor. Sources say Palm will likely go with Intel.

Motorola plans to send samples of its two new chips to device manufacturers early in the fourth quarter and expects to reach volume shipment levels in the first quarter of 2002, the company said. Products with the new chips are expected to be available in the first quarter as well.

Buddy Broeker, Motorola's operations manager for emerging markets, said the company decided to release two chips--one based on the older 68K core and the other based on an ARM core--because it will be "a while" before applications are available to take advantage of the ARM-based MX1's performance.

Broeker expects a two-year overlap in which manufacturers will use both chips, the Super VZ for entry-level devices and the MX1 for high-end ones.

"There will always be a certain part of the market that will require organizer functions. But another part of the market that is gradually growing will want more, along the lines of multimedia and cellular needs, and now we can address both," Broeker said.

Kyle Harper, Motorola's business manager of emerging markets, said the two chips are purposely based on a similar blueprint so that software developers can write the same applications for both with the least amount of hassle.

But while the chips may be similar in design, the MX1 outclasses the Super VZ in performance. The Super VZ chip improves performance over the VZ by three to four times, Harper said. The performance boost between the Super VZ and the MX1 will be significant, he added, though it wouldn't be fair to offer an exact figure because the two chips are based on different cores.