Special Features

XScale
By: Dave - January 31, 2002

With the recent news item from Fujitsu about their entry in the PDA market, I feel it is time to go talk about the core of the PDA, the processor.  I have a technical overview of all the processors, but I think it could be a good idea to talk about little bit about the next big processor, the Intel XScale.  This chip has been talked about for some time, but it isn't until now that we are finally going to start hearing about it and actually seeing it in some devices.

Intel's XScale is their second generation of ARM based processors.  The first ARM based processors, StongARM, are used in many devices including all Pocket PC 2002 devices.  They have been the fastest chips for handhelds and in many other embedded systems and devices.  For the last year, Intel has been preparing the market for XScale with specifications and charts with one of the most important things for a PDA, power consumption statistics.  The XScale processor is an extremely economical chip, using sometimes as little as half the power as similar StrongARM chips.  Why should you care about power consumption?  Battery life.  Though by far the processor does not require the most power, the processor always requires power when your device is running.  The less power it uses, the more power the device has to power expansion cards and the display.

XScale will also bring fast processors to your device (or should I say new device since your processor is not upgradeable).  Intel estimates that XScale will be able to reach the 1GHz mark, if not go higher.  Now, just because XScale is going to be 1GHz one day, don't think that day is coming soon.  There are two things you should think about in this area.  First, it takes time to develop various chips and you can't just start at the top speed.  Developing various chips can give companies time to refine their processes and make future chips better.  The second reason 1GHz isn't going to be here soon is marketing.  Why do you think that we saw so many Pentium chips?  The difference between a 800MHz PIII and a 833MHz PIII is, well, 33MHz (basically a Palm OS device).  That really isn't a huge help to your PC, but people that want the fastest, newest, and best, might consider upgrading.  The initial rumor was that the new XScale chips would start at 412MHz (twice 206Mhz, the fastest StrongARM).  Frankly, that makes little sense.  Mobile processor speeds in the last couple years have never exactly doubled (except in the case of the DrangonBall chips).  It is more likely that (like in the case of the Fujitsu device) we will see 300MHz chips first and speeds will slowly trickle up from there.  If Intel is smart (which they usually are), the speeds will vary slightly between different manufactures.  This could also help shape the whole PDA market by causing manufactures to find more ways to make their device better then just by a faster processor. 

What will XScale mean for you?  It depends on what you own or plan to own.  If you are in the market for a PDA now, and want one now, you aren't probably going to want to wait another couple months for the possibility of an XScale device.  If you recently bought a device (like a new Pocket PC 2002 device), this probably won't affect you either because you have a reality new device.  As for the people with Compaq iPAQ 3600's, 3100's, or other older PDA's, this will apply to you.  You have a device that can keep you running for now, but in the near future there will be a great new product for you to upgrade to.  Keep a watch, because no matter what, XScale is going to make an impact on the market and how you use your PDA.
 

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Feel free to email me about your own PDA, questions, comments, articles, rumors, and reviews.  I can be reached at dave@davespda.com.