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Report: Asian firms eye alternative chips

Japanese electronics companies are designing a chip that will compete with Intel, while a China-based manufacturer says it's working on devices using an alternative chip design, according to reports.

Updated on September 16 at 6:30 a.m. PDT: adding information from Hironori Kasahara, a professor of computer science at Waseda University

Large electronics companies are building a chip for consumer electronics devices in Japan, while a China-based device manufacturer said it is working on devices using the ARM chip design, according to reports.

Waseda University's Hironori Kasahara wrote software for chips that Japanese companies are developing
Waseda University's Hironori Kasahara wrote software for chips that Japanese companies are developing. Waseda Daigaku

In Japan, some of the country's largest electronics and chip manufacturers are collaborating in an effort to develop a new low-power processor design for consumer electronics devices, according to Nikkei, which Forbes reported earlier.

The Japan-based group includes Fujitsu, Toshiba, Panasonic Renesas Technology, NEC, Hitachi, and Canon. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will offer between 3 billion and 4 billion yen (between $32 million and $43 million) to support the project, according to Nikkei.

Each company will develop their own central processing unit, or CPU. The report claimed that the chips would be compatible with "energy-saving" software developed by Hironori Kasahara, a professor of computer science at Waseda University, Nikkei said. Kasahara said he was developing an application programming interface (API) for multi-core processors, in response to an e-mail query.

A prototype is able to operate using less than 30 percent of normal power consumption and works even when a power outlet is not available, according to Nikkei.

Once a standard is established--the companies are targeting 2012--the CPU will be used in TVs, digital cameras, and other products. The companies may also sell the chip to other companies for use in automobiles, servers, and robots, Nikkei said.

That doesn't mean, however, the CPU will be adopted across Asia. Following the Nikkei article, Taipei-based Digitimes reported that circuit board makers in Taiwan are not enthusiastic about the prospects of a new CPU architecture.

A more immediate threat to Intel--and possibly a more potent rival to any chip that emerges from the Japan-based chip consortium--is ARM, the power-stingy processor design already used by a host of chip manufacturers including Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm.

Hon Hai--also referred to as Foxconn--the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, is readying small laptop designs based on the ARM processor, according to various reports.

A special assistant to the Hon Hai CEO was quoted by Reuters as saying that the company has "a few smartbook projects" based on the ARM chip. Smartbooks are essentially a smartphone in a larger format, such as a small laptop or tablet. These designs are being promoted by Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Freescale, among other chip manufacturers.

Intel is developing a new version of the Atom processor, a so-called system-on-chip, or SOC, that is slated for use in smartphones as well as consumer electronics products. The smartphone and consumer electronics segments are already highly competitive, unlike the PC market, which is dominated by Intel.