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Intel, Analog Devices unveil design for cell phone chips

The two companies want to take on Texas Instruments with their joint architecture for digital signal processors, the chips used in cell phones, digital cameras and other handheld gadgets.

Intel and Analog Devices on Tuesday unveiled their long-awaited joint architecture for digital signal processors, the chips used in cell phones, digital cameras and other handheld gadgets.

As previously reported, the announcement comes about 20 months after the two companies said they would develop a joint design. Intel and Norwood, Mass.-based Analog Devices said they will each develop and manufacture their own chips based on the architecture, with the first chips available to development partners early next year.

Jerry Fishman, Analog Devices' chief executive, said the performance demands of next-generation cell phones and handheld computers require an all-new architecture.

"Extending the life of an old DSP architecture simply would not do," Fishman said at a press conference.

According to the two companies, the new chip architecture includes a power-saving feature that allows the core to run at different speeds and voltages depending on the task it is performing. At its peak performance, the new chips should have enough power to run video, read text aloud, recognize handwriting and accept voice commands.

Intel and Analog Devices also said they are making available a software compiler that allows programmers to write signal processing code in the C/C++ languages already commonly used in software programming.

"In record time, the data-processing leadership of Intel and the signal-processing leadership of Analog Devices have created the world's easiest-to-program DSP architecture,'' Ron Smith, vice president of Intel's wireless communications and computing group, said in a statement.

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Can Intel and Analog Devices erode TI's market share?
Aaron Bauch, DSP Architect, Analog Devices
At the press conference, Smith said the core will initially run at 300 MHz but can be raised over time to 1 GHz, far faster than the speeds at which most of today's digital signal processors run.

Such efforts take aim at Texas Instruments, the leading maker of digital signal processors. Hans Mosesmann, an analyst with Prudential Securities, said last week that 70 percent to 80 percent of the engineers working on designs in the industry know the DSP software for the TI architecture.

"The die has been cast," Mosesmann said. "TI is No. 1. The question is who is going to be No. 2."

Analysts have said they doubt Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel can challenge TI's 50 percent market share right away. But Intel has an advantage that TI's other competitors don't: Intel also makes the flash memory and microprocessors needed to make cell phones.

"If Intel has a way to put lots of cheap flash on a die, it will give them quite a cost advantage," Forward Concepts analyst Will Strauss said recently. "TI has a version of the DSP with flash, but it is expensive for them to make."

Strauss predicted that cheaper integrated chips from Intel will likely first appear in phones from second- or third-tier manufacturers, Strauss said. The major manufacturers, such as Nokia and Ericsson, are likely to be more resistant to switching from TI, Strauss said.