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Firms give wing to Intel's Hummingbird

Major handheld computer makers are adopting Intel's little-known Hummingbird processor,

Major handheld computer makers are beginning to adopt Intel's Hummingbird processor, breathing new life into this little-known 486 chip.

In the past several weeks, both NEC and Panasonic have declared their intentions to use the chip in handheld devices to be marketed in Japan, according to Intel. The NEC device will be called Mobile Gear, but the Panasonic product won't be formally announced until July.

But Intel is out to seed the market in the United States as well by supplying "evaluation" motherboards that use a chipset from PicoPower and BIOS software from Phoenix Technologies. According to Jim Neves, marketing manager in Intel's embedded computing operations, the strategy is starting to work with American handheld device manufacturers.

But as those vendors start looking, Intel is preparing to improve the Hummingbird's performance with faster versions of the current 486 design and possible Pentium versions. "The Pentium is a pretty obvious extension" for this chip, Neves said.