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NEC ships chip for Windows CE

NEC says that Windows CE, the lightweight version of Windows, is ready to run on a less expensive yet powerful chip targeted for TVs with computing capability.

NEC said today that Windows CE, the lightweight version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, is ready to run on a more powerful yet less expensive processor targeted for network computers and TVs with computing capability.

NEC's new 64-bit chip will give Intel chips a run for their money. Literally. It runs as fast as some Pentiums but comes a lot cheaper, less than $30, according to NEC. Intel processors are typically well over $100.

Unlike Intel's 32-bit processors, the new NEC VR4300 processor handles data in 64-bit chunks, offering potentially better performance. The chip runs at either 100 or 133 MHz, comparable to Intel Pentium processors.

Digital set-top boxes in particular, possibly those using the Windows CE operating system, may provide a large sales opportunity for the processor. Also, some 65 million older cable boxes are eligible for upgrades. Set-top boxes are much like cable TV boxes, but they add computerlike features such as Internet access and an enhanced interface for more user interaction.

Future set-top boxes promise to bring even more powerful capibilities to TVs and may require more speedy processors, such as NEC?s 64-bit chip.

The chip could also find a home in upcoming network computers, though this is less clear at this point.

Nevertheless by offering its processor for use in a range of new applications, NEC clearly hopes to fend off the entrance of Intel into the set-top box market.

"Windows CE is a multi-architectural offering which, makes it an interesting battleground as this market matures. For the money, [the NEC VR 4300] offers very attractive performance," says Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with market research firm Dataquest.

So far, though, Intel has been slow to move into high-volume, low-margin chip markets. Intel is currently working on moving Windows CE to a low-power processor sometime in the second half of 1997.

Though Intel's processors are 32-bit processors, not 64-bit like the NEC chip, faster speeds and architectural differences boost Intel performance to high levels. The fastest Intel chip runs at 300 MHz.