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Start-up pushes chips for low-cost PCs

Rise Technology continues to ratchet up its processor offerings for the low-cost PC market, further evidence that the most intense competition in the market is taking place in the low end.

Start-up Rise Technology continues to ratchet up its processor offerings for the low-cost PC market, further evidence that the most intense competition in the chip market is taking place in the low-end.

Rise Technology said today that it will show off its newest and fastest Intel-compatible x86 chips for the low end of the PC market at the CeBit conference in Germany, which starts today.

The company also previewed an upcoming processor that could become, in effect, the first Pentium II or Pentium III clone, a significant differentiator for the company.

Rise joins Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and National Semiconductor's Cyrix arm in fighting for a bigger piece of this burgeoning market. This segment now comprises more than half of the retail desktop PC market, according to market researchers. The low-cost PC trend is gaining ground within big corporations, too.

Cheap chips from Cyrix and AMD are spawning a number of start-up companies such as Emachines and Microworkz, both of which sell PCs below $500, some as inexpensive as $300.

Rise will show off its new mP6-300 processor and offer a sneak peek of its mP6 II chip. The MP6-300 will be Rise's fastest chip yet, while the mPr6II is a new design with on-chip secondary cache memory and better performance for playback of DVD titles and 3D graphics, according to the company.

The mP6II, in fact, could well become the first Pentium II or Pentium III clone. Rise itself does not have a technology license with Intel, but its manufacturing partner does, according to David Lin, Rise's CEO. This means that Rise can make a processor that is so technologically similar to the Pentium II or Pentium III that it will fit into motherboards designed for these chips without running the risk of incurring lawsuits from Intel or significant royalty costs, Lin has said.

To date, no other processor vendor has made a compatible Pentium II clone Instead, these companies make processors that are compatible with circuit boards, chipsets, and computers from the Pentium era. Intel recently signed licensing deals with chipset makers which will allow them to make Pentium II and Pentium III chipsets.

Currently, Rise chips are not used by any top-tier PC makers. But, with the sub-$1,000 market full of small PC makers willing to gamble on new chips, Rise may find a ready audience for its chips.

Rise is also striking deals with companies to pave the way for more customers. Late last year, Rise announced that Acer Laboratories chipsets will support the mP6 microprocessor. Acer is one of the world's largest vendors of chipsets, which, together with the processor, form the electronic core of a PC.

"This combination of multimedia performance and low power consumption allows the Rise mP6 and mP6 II microprocessors to provide multiple end-user price and performance options in the sub-$1,000 computer market," the company said in a statement.

But Rise has plenty of challenges, price being the most important. Intel, AMD, and Cyrix continue to drive down the prices of their processors, making it that much harder for a company like Rise to be a low-cost leader. Late last year it was selling its least expensive chip for about $50, which won't turn many heads since Cyrix and others are already there.

Analysts also point to the lack of customers from the ranks of top-tier PC makers. These customers typically demand tens of thousands of chips, improving a chip maker's prospects for turning a profit.

Founded in 1993, Rise Technology supplies chips for low-cost notebook and desktop PCs and Windows-based terminals, Windows-CE platforms, and TV set-top boxes.