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Will Rise rise again?

A Silicon Valley start-up that once planned to take on Intel for the low end of the PC processor market is following the path of many who failed at that task: It is targeting the Internet appliance market.

    Rise Technology, a Silicon Valley start-up that once planned to take on Intel for the low end of the PC processor market, is following the path of many who failed at that task: It is targeting the Internet appliance market.

    After National Semiconductor and IDT left the PC chip market last year, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Rise took another look at its product and decided the appliance market was a better target.

    In the PC market, "the major focus is megahertz, not power consumption," chief executive David Lin told CNET News.com. The strength of the company's iDragon chip is how little power it uses, compared with existing chips from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, Lin said.

    Lin said he also sees a market for Rise chips in third-generation wireless devices.

    "Depending on the frequency, we are under 1 watt or half a watt" in power consumption, Lin said. That's comparable to power consumption goals for other chips intended for the appliance market.

    "Our future generations will be even better," Lin said.

    The company's best-known design win to date is in the next generation of the I-opener, which is start-up Netpliance's low-cost Internet terminal. Lin said Rise's chips are also being used in several set-top box designs.

    Unlike Intel's cheapest Celeron chips, which have a list price of $69, Rise's information appliance processors sell in the $40 range, although they do offer less than half the performance.

    Lin said future wireless networks will be able to handle much more data, and handhelds may need the compatibility offered by an x86, Intel-compatible chip.

    Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said he was not convinced the wireless market will head in that direction, but he gives Rise credit for its tenacity.

    "Rise gets points in my book for designing a product and bringing it to market," Brookwood said. "But it's one thing to design a product; it's another thing to keep improving the performance."

    Brookwood said Rise appears to have had difficulty improving the performance of its design. He added that so far, no one has been able to get an x86 chip to the power levels needed for a cell phone.

    "I remain skeptical," Brookwood said.

    Rise is a fab-less chip maker, meaning it does not manufacture its own chips but relies on outside foundries, including Taiwan's UMC, which is an investor in Rise.

    Still, Lin said, his company has continued to attract investments, most recently from companies in the telecommunications market, although Lin would not be more specific. Lin, who made a presentation this week at the Robertson Stephens Semiconductor Conference in San Francisco, said bankers have told him that a public offering could be feasible by the middle of next year.

    So would Lin ever think of re-entering the PC market against Intel?

    "No," Lin said, shaking his head emphatically. "That market is very difficult. You really need to have a fab."