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Intel lends performance to embedded chips

The chipmaking giant will offer 166- and 200-MHz MMX Pentium processors for use in low-profile industrial and telecommunications applications.

Intel (INTC) is now offering up one of the highest performance Pentium platforms for the embedded market.

At the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, California, this week, the company said it will offer 166- and 200-MHz MMX Pentium processors for use in low-profile industrial and telecommunications applications.

Embedded processors are basically microprocessors that aren't used in standard computers, such as PCs and mainframes. Instead, they control a limited number of functions and might run only one basic program. Often the processors are designed to consume small amounts of power, for use in everything from cell phones to cable set-top boxes, but they can also include current-generation desktop processors such as the Pentium.

Intel is targeting the processors and related chipsets for use in applications such as point-of-sale terminals, telecommunications systems, and systems that control a factory's manufacturing process.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.

It isn't surprising that Intel is offering fairly cutting-edge technology to the embedded market, says Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research.

"The embedded market for PC-based solutions has been growing for a number of reasons," says McCarron. "The unit volume of the PC market is driving hardware prices down and most of the programmers in the world are PC-oriented programmers," which makes it easier for companies to develop custom software they need because there are more programmers available to program inexpensive boxes, he says.

Intel is offering the high-performance 430TX chipset, which is used in most current notebook designs, along with the 200-MHz MMX Pentium for situations where a customer needs high performance.

The company is also offering an Embedded Processor Module with a 166-MHz MMX Pentium. McCarron says customers might use this in situations where they need to do continuous measurements of materials in the manufacturing process or real-time adjustments on production equipment.

The offerings depart somewhat from Intel's past practice of offering "retired" processors to the embedded market. MMX Pentiums are still being used in a number of consumer desktop PC offerings, although the company is slowing down production of these processors and increasing production of the next-generation Pentium II processor.