by CIO Staff

Marvell Chips Could Speed Mobile Web Browsing

Nov 29, 20063 mins
Data Center

Marvell Technology Group launched a family of chips Wednesday that could speed Web browsing on cell phones, marking the company’s first rendition of the XScale processor it acquired from Intel.

The PXA 300, PXA 310 and PXA 320 chips, code-named “Monahans,” combine enough horsepower to handle multimedia and mobile Web browsing while remaining efficient enough to preserve long battery life, said Gary Forni, the director of platform enabling for Marvell’s cellular and handheld business group in Santa Clara, Calif.

The new product could help Marvell claim a larger share of the hardware used in mobile handsets, smart phones, GPS navigation units and other consumer electronics. The company already sells chips for Hewlett-Packard, PDAs and cell phones from Motorola, Nokia and Samsung Electronics.

As handset designers continually add more features and extend battery life, chip manufacturers are locked in competition to be used in each new generation of products. Marvell competes with Atheros Communications and Broadcom in the Wi-Fi market, and gained additional rivals like Qualcomm and Texas Instruments in June, when it agreed to buy Intel’s applications and communications processor unit for US$600 million.

“The competition in this space is amazing; there’s no standardized platform,” Forni said. “The cell phone space is like the PC market was in 1981 or 1982, where you had multiple architectures and multiple OSes and it wasn’t clear who would win. It’s the Wild West out there.”

Marvell decided to buy Intel’s XScale unit so it could pair those chips with its other offerings, then sell complete technology platforms to cell-phone designers, said Diane Vanasse, senior public relations manager for Marvell.

Marvell already produces an assortment of semiconductors, ranging from the storage controller chips used in Apple Computer’s iPods to the wireless LAN chip used in gaming platforms like Microsoft’s XBox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3, she said. The company also makes chips for gigabit Ethernet, voice over IP, power management and optical storage.

The new PXA 320 chip is power efficient even though it runs at 806MHz, much faster than its predecessor, the 624MHz “Bulverde” PXA 270 family used in smart phones like Palm’s Treo and Motorola’s Q, Forni said. Marvell managed that trick by calculating that a chip would save power if it completed its tasks faster and then dropped into stand-by mode, compared to a slow-and-steady approach.

Until now, mobile-phone designers have been happy to trade longer battery life for slightly slower chip speeds. But multimedia players and secure mobile Web browsers demand much greater power.

All three of the 90-nanometer architecture chips automatically scale their frequency to optimize battery endurance, whether a handset designer chooses the chip designed for numeric computation (the PXA 320), video processing (PXA 310) or low cost (PXA 300).

Marvell is already planning to extend the PXA 300 family for even faster mobile processing, and has demonstrated a chip running at 1.2GHz. The company is now shipping the PXA 320 in volume and the other versions in samples. Handset vendors could begin selling devices with the chips by the first quarter of 2007.

-Ben Ames, IDG News Service (Boston Bureau)

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