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AMD seeks Wi-Fi alchemy with new chips

The chipmaker's long-planned foray into the wireless fray is set for this month, with the launch of an Alchemy-spawned Wi-Fi chipset and reference design kit.

Advanced Micro Devices will launch its expansion into wireless networking chips this month when it begins shipping a Wi-Fi chipset and a Wi-Fi card reference design to manufacturers.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker will begin sampling the products this month, with volume shipments to begin in the first quarter of next year, AMD said. The AMD Alchemy Solutions Am1772 wireless LAN (local area network) chipset and mini-PCI card reference design kit will be the first products to carry the AMD Alchemy brand name, announced last month.

AMD has been expanding its push into embedded processors and chipsets as a way of bolstering its flash memory unit, which along with its PC processor business dominates the company's products. The chipmaker bought Austin, Texas-based Alchemy in February, and then in April it licensed a 64-bit embedded processor architecture from MIPS Technologies. Having a significant embedded chip line allows AMD to bundle the products with its flash memory, a tactic also employed by rival Intel.

The embedded efforts may have a significant impact on AMD's bottom line, as the company's PC chip business has been hit by technology delays and falling market share.

The Alchemy wireless LAN chipset is aimed at system builders who want to embed Wi-Fi into laptops, handheld computers or other mobile devices that require low power consumption. The reference design kit makes it easier for manufacturers to come up with a mini-PCI add-in card using the chipset. Wi-Fi has become popular as a way of creating wireless Internet connections in public areas such as coffee shops and airports.

"This will be AMD's bold first step into the wireless market, and the first of several wireless products we plan to introduce over the next 12 months," said William Edwards, AMD's vice president and general manager for the Personal Connectivity Solutions (PCS) Group, in a statement. He said that the technology would eventually be integrated into the company's MIPS-based system-on-a-chip (SOC) processors.

Wireless LAN card companies such as Z-Com, Ambit and Askey expressed interest in the chipset, although AMD did not announce any specific deals.

The Am1772 is a two-chip product incorporating a baseband and a medium access controller (MAC). It uses the CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) manufacturing process, which is a common technique for manufacturing semiconductors at low cost and with low power consumption: AMD said the chipset consumes 134 milliamps of power while receiving and 232 milliamps while transmitting.

The design is highly integrated in order to allow manufacturers to reduce costs by using as few components as possible; for example, it does not require an on-chip microcontroller.

AMD's PCS unit was created with the acquisition of Alchemy, which specializes in energy-efficient chips built around designs from MIPS, the chip spinoff of SGI. The PCS group initially concentrated on expanding Alchemy's Au line of processors, but the unit is now moving into the market for Wi-Fi chips and other components necessary for building consumer electronics.