Intel Throws Down the Gauntlet

UPDATE: The chipmaker unveils 11 wireless chips as well as plans for a new communications chip with twice the speed and 2.5 times the transistors of today's communications chips, all at a lower cost.
Posted September 16, 2002
By

Thor Olavsrud


Intel , faced with continuing uncertainty in its traditional bread-and-butter market -- PC chips -- has been pushing hard to take share in a market where other semiconductor companies, like Texas Instruments, Intersil and Motorola, rule the roost: communications chips.

At the same time, Intel does not plan to leave its core business languishing. In fact, while it made a play for the communications space with high-speed, low-cost chips Monday, it also unveiled 11 new mobile PC processors, designed to help keep it on top of the PC market as computing continues to move away from the desktop and onto the notebook.

Intel has already developed itself into a leader in the Flash memory market, used in devices like cell phones. Flash memory is one of the few areas where Intel has experienced growth lately. By expanding into the communications chip market, the firm hopes to further diversify its revenue streams, though the communications market has not been going through the best of times, either. And Intel's nascent communications business faces stiff competition from entrenched competitors, unlike the PC space, which it more or less owns, though AMD stands ready to capitalize on any missteps.

But Intel Monday also asked its communications competitors to step up to the plate Monday, when the chip giant announced plans to use high-speed silicon germanium transistors and "mixed-signal" circuitry to create a "new wave of faster, more integrated, less-costly communications chips" which could be used for single-chip hand-held devices like cell phones and wireless data network devices.

Silicon germanium increases the speed and reduces the noise of transistors for high-speed communications equipment like optical switches and wireless base stations.

The plan calls for Intel to use silicon germanium to add communications capabilities to its 90-nanometer manufacturing process, allowing the firm to combine analog and digital functions on a single chip, thereby allowing it to integrate critical analog components directly onto silicon and change the way some functions are implemented. At the same time, the company will manufacture the chip on its 300-mm wafers, reducing manufacturing costs.

The company said silicon germanium and CMOS transistor circuitry on its 90-nm process could cut the number of chips and processes used to create an optical subsystem in half, or allow connection of wireless components directly to antennae without intervening circuitry that consumes space and power.

"This integration of computing and communications technologies will enable us to create microchips that are twice as fast, contain 2.5 times more transistors, and are substantially less expensive than anything that exists today," said Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Communications Group. "The combination of mixed-signal, silicon germanium, and our most advanced CMOS manufacturing process will bring the benefits of Moore's Law to communications silicon and help keep Intel at least a generation ahead of the competition."

Moore's Law, named for Intel founder Gordon Moore, states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years.

Intel expects to have its new chips ready to ship in early 2004.

Meanwhile, on the traditional PC chip front, Intel unleashed 11 new mobile PC processors (6 Pentiums and 5 Celerons), including the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 Processor -- M (400 MHz PSB), which boasts 2.2 GHz (1.2 GHz in battery mode), while still averaging a draw of less than 2.2 watts in battery mode. For the really battery conscious, Intel released two chips at the other end of the scale, the Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Intel Pentium III Processor -- M (133 MHz PSB and 100 MHz PSB, respectively), which feature 866 MHz/400 MHz in battery mode and 850 MHz/400 MHz in battery mode, while drawing less than 0.5 Watt.

The other three mobile Pentium chips fall between the mobile Pentium 4 and the Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Pentium IIIs in horsepower and power consumption.

The Celeron additions range from 1.80 MHz to 700 MHz.






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