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Motorola's Dragonball pumps up on ARM

The chipmaker is attempting to remain a vital part of Palm devices, despite a lack of commitment from the handheld giant.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-- Motorola is attempting to remain a vital part of Palm devices, despite a lack of commitment from the handheld giant.

Motorola's Dragonball processor is the brains of Palm-based personal digital assistants made by Handspring, Sony and Palm itself. But Palm recently announced intentions to shift to chips made by England's ARM.

But, at the PalmSource developer conference Monday, Motorola laid out development plans to keep Dragonball in hot demand.

The Dragonball product line will be expanded in the first quarter of next year with two different cores, Motorola executives said. The core is the heart of the processor and responsible for its main function: processing data.

An ARM core-based product will allow Palm developers to take advantage of future wireless applications. The 68K core product will also allow existing Palm applications to be used and improved.

"Announcing the addition of the ARM core technology to Dragonball processors is significant because it gives developers and manufacturers choice and scalability," said Ed Valdez, director of marketing for Motorola's Wireless Communications division.

PDA users have long wanted richer features, such as Bluetooth communications capability, wireless access and voice recognition.

"As devices get smarter, Dragonball can scale to integrate and embrace more and richer applications," said Buddy Broeker, Motorola's manager of emerging markets operations for wireless.

Product sampling to manufacturers is expected in the middle of next year.

Most significantly, the addition of the ARM core gives the Dragonball processor line the ability to incorporate wireless connectivity.

This process has already begun with the Palm VII and add-on wireless modems. Future products may include voice recognition and synthesis, displays with richer images, always-on high-speed connectivity, and interactive multimedia capabilities.

"Wireless data communications is the key feature driving this explosive market," analyst Robyn Bergeron of market researcher Cahners In-Stat said in a report last week.

The move comes following an announcement that Palm plans to move to ARM-based chips in its popular line of PDAs.

Palm executives said that the company has not committed to "any particular flavor" of ARM technology.

The 33-MHz Dragonball 68VZ328 processor--designed for high performance and supporting color LCD screens--is at the heart of Handspring's Visor Prism and Platinum PDAs. The Dragonball 68EZ328, on the other hand, is at the heart of the Palm V series, VII series, III series, Handspring Visor Delux, and Sony Clie. The 68EZ328 comes in 16- and 20-MHz configurations.

For developers, the Dragonball family will be supported by CodeWarrior from Metrowerks, a Motorola company.