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Commentary: Intel's XScale design would fit handily into a Palm

It's impossible to predict whether Palm will design new versions of its handheld devices using Intel's new XScale chip architecture. But XScale would be a good choice.

By Thomas Starnes, Gartner Analyst

It's hard to predict whether Palm will design new versions of its handheld devices using Intel's new XScale chip architecture. But XScale would be a good choice for a personal digital assistant (PDA), especially one with a wireless connection to the Internet.

That's because handheld devices can exploit one of XScale's advantages: low power consumption. When handling demanding applications, the PDA can then crank up the frequency and even the voltage. The ARM instructions that XScale runs will assure that the vast amount of code already in use to handle wireless communication will be directly useable. In addition, the digital signal processor and multimedia extensions Intel has added would provide a boost in multimedia applications.

See news story:
XScale allowing Intel to StrongARM into Palm handhelds

Although other PDA devices have taken the spotlight from the original PalmPilot, all but the latest of them have faded. The Palm is by far the best-selling PDA, and it has garnered its huge market share using an old, slow, cheap microprocessor. Despite that microprocessor, the Palm had the right level of support and a means for hobbyists to cobble together little applications that they could share or give away. That made it popular.

All the blazing fast and flashy PDAs are still just used to take notes or keep a calendar, so most of their horsepower and sophistication is wasted. That's not to say that far more performance and lower power consumption can't be used: When you connect to the Internet or the Web, you have more need for performance.

Intel is assembling an array of applications and application programming interfaces for its architecture and points to Compaq Computer's iPaq as a PDA enjoying success with the earlier StrongARM at its heart. So the ARM architecture and the predecessor to the XScale have a solid heritage in PDAs.

(For related commentary that provides tips and resources for enhancing the performance of PalmPilots, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

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