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Cirrus bets on all-in-one chip

Cirrus Logic tells of a "system on a chip" processor that's intended to give the chipmaker a slice of the growing small-device market.

Cirrus Logic today moved one step closer toward releasing an integrated processor, or "system on a chip," a product that's intended to give the chipmaker a slice of the growing small-device market.

Cirrus said its system-on-a-chip prototype now includes audio capabilities, but still lacks graphical capability. When finished, the processor will run on embedded Internet appliances like set-top boxes and network computers.

Integration has become one of the buzzwords among specialty chip vendors such as Cirrus, as many of their traditional segments, such as the graphics chip market, are being eroded by low prices and high competition. The decline has coincided with the need for versatile and relatively inexpensive microprocessors with built-in modem, audio, and graphics functionality for set-top boxes and cell phones.

The search for new markets is especially important for Cirrus, a company that has seen most of its graphics business vanish.

"Cirrus and S3 are both finding there are some premium chips out there that are outperforming them," says Will Strauss, a market analyst for Forward Concepts. "They both know that Intel is going to be moving more and more [graphics] functionality onto the Pentium."

The upcoming Cirrus chip, which goes by the ungainly name of CL-PS7500FE-56, will incorporate a 32-bit ARM RISC processor running at 56 MHz, a memory controller, and an interface for a 56-kbps modem, among other features. The chip will cost $28 in quantities.

The chip will also supports Java applets and a CD-quality audio control. The chip's architecture allows it to share system memory, which eliminates the need for separate SRAM and Flash memory.

Cirrus expects to release its "system on a chip" sometime in 1999 or 2000.