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Companies double up for dual-chip cell phones

NEC and ARM team up to design chips that will contain two or more processing cores, the calculating unit inside microprocessors, to be inserted into phones and home electronics devices.

Today, a multiprocessor computer typically refers to a server or workstation, but in the future the definition may include cell phones.

Japan?s NEC and ARM, A British chip designer, are teaming up to design chips that will contain two or more processing cores, the calculating unit inside microprocessors. These chips are designed to eventually be inserted into phones and home electronics devices.

Dual-core chips, like the IBM Power 4 for servers, are a rapidly growing trend in the semiconductor market. Sun?s forthcoming UltraSparc 4 is actually two UltraSparc III chips integrated into a single piece of silicon. Intel will enter the multi-core market in 2005 with Montecito.

Putting two processor cores on the same piece of silicon nearly doubles the performance of the chip, or the computer that houses it. Dual-core chips, however, cost less and take up less space in computers.

In the cell phone market, a dual-core chip, ideally, will help conserve power.

"More and more we are seeing the symmetric multiprocessing approach," said John Rayfield, vice president of technical marketing at ARM last April, when the idea of putting two processors into a cell phone was emerging. "Rather than one processor running at 600MHz, with two at 300MHz you could drop the volts on the die."

A dual-core cell phone could also help manufacturer?s segment different applications. One core could be used to handle telecom functions, for example, while a second could handle Internet traffic.

The two companies will collaborate on the design and marketing of multi-core processors. The first multi-core chips are expected to be based on the design of the ARM 11 core, the company?s most current processor core.

"We view this next-generation processor core as a key technology to expand the application-rich markets from car multimedia to mobile consumer," said Hirokazu Hashimoto, executive vice president of NEC Electronics, in a prepared statement. "The core will be a combination of NEC Electronics' multiprocessing technology and the ARM core architecture, which is widely deployed in various products including mobile handsets.?