IBM, start-up unveil energy efficient processor

It would add high-definition video to mobile devices

Yesterday, IBM and a Silicon Valley start-up announced that they have developed an energy-efficient microprocessor designed for users who want to stream live, high-definition video on mobile devices.

The chip can be used for a variety of computing-intensive jobs, including mobile phone gaming and video, image processing and suitcase supercomputing, the companies said. Its main advantages are the data throughput it offers and its ability to save battery life. IBM and Redwood City, Calif.-based Rapport Inc. said that their new chip, the Kilocore 1025, will allow users to view high-definition video on a mobile device at speeds that are five to 10 times faster than those possible with current processors.

The chip combines IBM's Power architecture with Rapport Inc.'s Kilocore technology, which enables greater throughput for data, the companies said in a statement. In bringing the Kilocore 1025 to market, the two companies plan to combine Rapport's software and Kilocore technology with IBM's engineering services, chip technologies and contract chip manufacturing capability.

The companies said Kilocore-based processors use an advanced design that puts hundreds or thousands of parallel computers on a single chip. For example, each Kilocore 1025 chip is made up of more than 1,000 eight-bit processing elements and a single PowerPC core, the companies said. The result, they said, is a "breakthrough" technology and one of the most energy efficient processor designs ever devised.

Users looking for devices with these chips inside would be wise to remember that another "breakthrough" low-power chip technology was trumpeted by Transmeta Corp. several years ago. Although the company's efforts in low-power design woke up the industry to the importance of energy efficiency in the age of shrinking computing devices, Transmeta products have never made a big impact on the market. In fact, the company has wound down some of its product lines and transformed itself into a technology licensing firm. It has lost more than $630 million since 1998, according to financial reports on its Web site (see "Transmeta cashes in its chips, eyes services, licensing").

IBM and Rapport did not say when the chips would be available on the market, nor did they say when working samples would be sent to device manufacturers for testing. New chip designs often face the challenge of whether they will be cheap or easy to manufacture. Chips unable to overcome this key challenge often fail to live up to their billing because device designers work hard to control costs, making it important for chips and other components to meet certain price points.

When Rambus Inc. put some of its first memory chips on the market several years ago, producers discovered they cost more to manufacture than traditional chips. Despite offering significant increases in throughput speeds and other advantages, the chips never led the memory chip market, losing out to lower-cost PC-133 synchronous dynamic RAM chips available at the time.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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