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Net box prices may drop

Mitsubishi and Diba try to drive down the cost of Internet information appliances by as much as half using new chip technology.

    Mitsubishi Electric America (MEA) and Diba will try to drive down the cost of Internet information appliances by as much as half using new chip technology.

    The two companies announced today that they will work together to collaborate to run Diba's software platform on just two processors. Current designs from Diba use as many as twelve chips.

    The new platform will reduce the cost of Diba-based appliances by as much as half while also increasing performance. The two-chip solution is expected to be ready in the second quarter of 1997.

    Diba licenses hardware reference designs and application software to companies that use it for devices like phones and set-top boxes with email and Web access. The devices use Diba's small-footprint, real-time, multithreaded operating system, which was built specifically to support a wide array of information appliances.

    To meet the companies' target of a device with a retail price of $300, the goal is to have a board with a build price of under $100, said John Bush, manager of business development for Diba. Bush hopes to meet that goal by next year, with further reductions in price by 1998, when the entire design is packaged onto a single chip.

    The main chip will be based on Mitsubishi?s M32R/D, which is the first chip to combine a 32-bit RISC processor core and 16-megabit DRAM on the same piece of silicon, according to Mitsubishi.

    "We've worked closely with Mitsubishi to get improvements we needed on the processor and demonstrated the full email and browser applications running on M32R/D," Bush said, noting that the porting of the applications and OS, which occupy less than 900K, took just 17 days.

    The second chip, an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) to be jointly developed by both companies, incorporates networking, video, and audio capabilities, as well as infrared technology for remote-control operation.

    A performance advantage is gained by including the RISC processor and DRAM on the same chip, according to John Zucker, vice president of MEA?s Electronic Device Group. The flow of information in and out of memory can be synchronized with the processor's clock, negating the need for memory buffering. Also, the full 32-bit pathway can receive information without having to travel across a smaller pathway on the motherboard.

    It was also the first time Diba demonstrated a device with that uses a 16-color screen. Diba and Mitsubishi have already demonstrated a phone with Internet capabilities at Comdex.

    Looking to the future of information appliances, Diba and Mitsubishi hope to show the same Internet-enabled phone with a touch-screen interface in time for the January Consumer Electronics Show.

    Other devices that could hit the market next year based on this technology include a Internet-enabled phone directory that Diba is working on with a regional phone company and a "tour guide" device with a CD-ROM and built-in camera that visitors could use in self-guided tours of museums and exhibits.