In showing a new MIPS processor running at up to 167 MHz, NEC also made a splash at this week's Embedded Systems Conference, where IBM and Motorola made their announcements. Advanced RISC Machines further took the wraps off new tools for developing applications on processors using the ARM architecture.
Embedded processors are designed to consume small amounts of power and are used in everything from cell phones to network computers and set-top boxes for satellite and cable TV. The number of these low-cost, "no-name" processors sold dwarfs the total annual output of processors for desktops, servers, and workstations using Intel processors, according to analysts.
Motorola today announced the EC603e at clock speeds ranging from 100 MHz to 200 MHz for use in devices such as high-performance network routers. The new processor is essentially identical to the PowerPC 603e used in a number of current Mac desktop and notebook systems, except that the capability for "floating point" calculations has been removed.
While important for scientific and engineering applications, floating point capabilities aren't generally needed in embedded applications, Motorola says. The company can reduce the cost of the processor by leaving them out--a 100-MHz EC603e costs around $20 in quantities of 10,000, Motorola says.
"It's been a rough, uphill struggle [for PowerPC] against x86 processors and Windows. What Apple has done with clone issue is frustrating for anybody buying Macs or selling PowerPC processors. But regardless of what happens on the desktop side, [PowerPC] has tremendous potential in the embedded market," says Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research.
Motorola and IBM recently announced that they were increasing their focus on non-PC markets for the PowerPC architecture. Both companies jointly develop the PowerPC architecture at the Somerset Design Center in Austin, Texas, but separately manufacture PowerPC processors for Macintosh computers.
Motorola is already a leader in the embedded market with 17 percent of shipment volume, according to Dataquest, but as demand for desktop processors from the Mac market continues to shrink, the company is looking for ways to fund further development of the PowerPC architecture.
IBM, too, is looking for ways to expand the use of its line of PowerPC processors.
IBM says its line of PowerPC 403GC and 403GCX processors can now be used in Windows CE devices.
Windows CE is the slimmed-down version of the Windows operating system that is used in the majority of PCs sold worldwide. The newest version of Windows CE, in conjunction with more powerful processors, will give rise to a number of new mobile computing devices and set the stage for CE's use in consumer electronics devices such as Internet set-top boxes.
Even more important, though, Windows CE is not tied to the use of any particular processor. Windows 95 and Windows NT are closely tied to the use of x86 processors such as Intel's Pentium and Pentium II.
"On the Windows CE side, it's very much an emerging market," says Semico's Massimini.
"There is no clear-cut winner. Really anybody selling a handheld isn't talking about the processor," according to Massimini. "Nobody wants to get into the shoot-out there where you continually ramp up processor speeds," he says, noting that instead there is an emphasis on interoperability with desktop PCs and ease of use, so customers don't have to worry about which processor is inside, he says. In this kind of market, the PowerPC has a good opportunity for success.
In related news, NEC introduced the VR 4310 MIPS processor in 100-, 133-, and 167-MHz versions. The 64-bit processors are designed for use in "tethered" applications where a device is hooked up to a power supply. For instance, Internet set-top boxes such as a WebTV could use the chip. The new processors are set to ship in November and will be priced at $25 in quantities of 10,000.
Also, Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) says Hewlett-Packard has released new tools for designing systems which use the ARM processor architecture, a move which will speed system development.
Finally, new operating systems such as the CMX-RTX real-time OS are now available on the ARM architecture, and ARM will provide Chinese language support using Zi Corporation's input software.