Sony reveals some specs for PSP handheld

The PlayStation Portable is going to have one complex processor running the show for games and multimedia.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Sony is coming out with its own portable game player this year, and it's going to have one complex processor inside it.

The PlayStation Portable will come with a 333MHz processor that includes integrated graphics, a specialized core for video, a reconfigurable processing core that will enhance sound and 4 megabytes of integrated memory, said Masanobu Okabe, a Sony researcher attending the Hot Chips conference this week at Stanford University.

The system will also include a 4.3-inch screen and play 1.8-gigabyte optical disks based on the Universal Media Disc standard from Sony, he said.

Integrating all of these functions into a single piece of silicon will help reduce both power consumption and size, important characteristics in a handheld. Overall, the processor will run on 0.8 volts to 1.2 volts. Integration was a major characteristic of PlayStation 2 chips as well.

Sony executives have touted the PlayStation Portable, which combines game and multimedia features, as "the Walkman of the 21st century." Sony, the market leader in living-room consoles with its PlayStation 2, plans to enter the market for handheld games with the device later this year, with releases in Japan, then in the United States.

The Japanese company will be competing with a growing number of ornate 3D handhelds. Nintendo's Game Boy has been the dominant player to date, but Nokia recently released a handheld player, and Samsung will come out with a phone designed to play games.

In the PSP, the core microprocessor unit--which essentially runs the handheld and manages the integrated chip cores--is based on the MIPS R4000 chip design, Okabe said. Both the PlayStation 2 and Sony's Qiro robot are based around MIPS processors, which are derived from chip designs created originally for Silicon Graphics Inc. servers.

In contrast, Sony's next living-room console, the PlayStation 3, will have a Cell processor derived from IBM's Power line of chips.

Half of the 4MB of integrated memory in the PSP chip will connect directly to the main microprocessor, while the other half will link to the media cores, Okabe said. The memory split is possible because the processor has a separate bus. The direct connection from the chip to the memory should help ensure that there's a steady flow of data, he said.

Earlier presentations by Sony showed the chip with 8MB of integrated memory.

The graphics unit will be enhanced by Sony technology that will smooth out geometric wrinkles in graphical images, Okabe added.

The reconfigurable core inside the processor, called the Virtual Mobile Engine (VME), exists so that the main chip can make changes depending on its workload, offloading calculations or operations that tend to require a lot of power, if necessary. (Chips from Xilinx and other makers also have this capability.)

Like the integrated graphics core, the integrated VME runs at 166MHz. Sony first started integrating VMEs into products last year with the Network Walkman, a portable music device.

The graphics unit, the VME unit and the video unit are designed to power down independently when not in use, to cut energy consumption.

The chip will be made on the 90-nanometer process, Okabe said.