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AMD Targets Web Pad & PDA Processor Market 143

According to this press release and this article from The Register , AMD has leveraged the technology portfolio of recently acquired Alchemy Semiconductor to introduce an ultra-low-power processor designed for sub-PC applications. The chip is based on the Alchemy Au1 core and features, among other things, an integrated LCD controller and a pair of Secure Digital controllers.
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AMD Targets Web Pad & PDA Processor Market

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  • Come on, where are the real men who design their own TTL to run an LCD screen? We need AMD to do this?

    Seriously though, that is pretty cool... always good to see AMD expanding ;)

  • Sub-PC applications? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Troed ( 102527 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @03:33PM (#3311612) Homepage Journal
    What's wrong with ARM? Wonderful little chips, used in all possible places. This new AMD-chip runs MIPS instructions, and while the new JVM techniques from Sun (Monty) might be ported to MIPS also ARM dominates totally in the wireless world (which will replace PDAs)

    Symbian [] OS runs exclusively on ARM processors, and with the backing of _everyone_ in the mobile industry, that's a momentum you can't ignore.

    Oh, right. Intel has the XScale (next-gen StrongArm) so AMD has to fight back :/ Here we go again, although this time, they're not binary compatible!

    • Geez, God forbid that we have more than one instruction set available for the embedded market. There's nothing wrong with ARM, but there's nothing wrong with MIPs either, and a little competition never hurt.

      • There's nothing wrong with the ARM instruction set.

        There's nothing wrong with the MIPS instruction set. However, like most "classic" RISC instruction sets, it has poor code density. This doesn't matter much in the workstation market, but in the embedded market it can be very important sometimes.

        Competition is good thing, but it seems to me like ARM is a better instruction set for the market.
        • That's a good point, esp. since ARM has the "thumb" 16-bit instructions. It's been my experience lately though (in embedded industrial controllers), that the systems I deal with have a surplus of RAM and flash memory. This is mostly because the older lower density RAM and flash chips are either discontinued or more expensive than slightly-less-old and higher density chips. For consumer products, where people will pack as many applications and data as they can into the available space it still is an issue.

          There are plenty of embedded niches left to fill, and I'm sure this will find it's way into a few of them.

        • Erm, ARM is 32-bit. MIPS is 32-bit. Both has 16-bit instruction size variants, Thumb and MIPS16 (IIRC). So in terms of code density there is not too much to choose between the two.

          This chip is going to compete against the XScale processors primarily, and the other ARM based PDA processors as well from Motorola and TI. It is not going to be easy for AMD of course.

          However if the processors are significantly more powerful than the previous two, then they have a good chance...

          • RISC code generally takes more instructions per Thing That You'd Want To Do than CISC code. So even if each instruction is the same size, the RISC code will be less dense.
          • My impression, I could be mistaken, was that MIPS16 was simply a 16-bit variant of the MIPS instruction set, and not capable of being arbitrarily intermixed with ordinary MIPS instructions.
        • You do realize that the "R" in "ARM" stands for RISC, right? You know, "Advanced RISC Machines"?

          • by orz ( 88387 )
            I realize that ARM is called a RISC instruction set, and has all the RISC goodness: load/store instructions, 3-operand arithmetic, simple decode, simple operations, and (almost) a flat register file. However, unlike "classic" RISC instruction sets, it has multiple instruction sizes, and therefore achieves noticably better code density.
    • Power consuption is the bottom line! ARM kicks the living shit out of x86 by a factor of 2 or 3, but MIPS kicks the shit out of ARM by that much again.

      You can piss away 5 watts to run a 133 mhz pentium, you can use a moderate 2 watts to run an ARM of equivilant computational power, or you can spend 300mW (.3 watts) to run a MIPS chip with the same might. Any questions?
  • AMD on a handheld?! There are several benefits there...
    • Put your PDA in your pocket as a hand warmer in the winter
    • Use the cooling fan in your new AMD PDA to keep comfortable while playing golf
    • Weight of battery to power AMD processor will keep you in shape
    • by Anonymous Coward

      And yet, had parent post contained "Intel" instead of "AMD," this would have been modded up for being funny. Go figure.

  • Sorry, when I see the word "leveraged" used as a verb, I filter out the entire article, because it's usually marketing robot speak.
  • by blankmange ( 571591 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @03:40PM (#3311659)
    Strange, we see AMD branching out, moving into what would seem to be an obvious market, and people bitch about it (jeering their desktop procs, etc), and yet, the same crowd can bitch about MS and AOL and Intel (and any other big corp) monopolizing their respective markets.... AMD branching out forces existing players into re-thinking their current and future strategies, creates new opportunities and possibilities, and gives end-users more choices in the marketplace. All kewl... It is always good to hear of additional competitors for my (our) dollars. Go to it, AMD.
    • Just one note, the consumers in this case, are large corporations and embedded systems developers. 99% of the population will never shoose their car's CPU architecture, so the point is rpetty moot in a consumer sence.

      PS: AMD in MIPS is not so much of a big deal. There are MIPS in the mebedded market already, so the portting issue is only relevent if a company has used strongARM, etc.. derivatives in the past.
  • AMD (NYSE- AMD) today announced the introduction of the Alchemy(TM) Au1100(TM) processor, targeting the non-PC mobile internet appliance market, such as web pads, telematics, and PDAs.

    What in god's name is a telematic, and do I want one?

    • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Funny)

      by cheezit ( 133765 )
      I don't know, do you want to post to Slashdot while driving 60 mph? You don't? Come on, we came up with such a great name for it: "telematics"! It's so useful, because if we say "internet in your car" people usually start laughing at us. "Telematics" sounds so much more...uh...uh...I don't know, just BETTER. Come on---you could bid on a closing auction while backing out of your driveway! Doesn't that sound SAFE?
  • Secure Digital? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rayonic ( 462789 )
    > "The AU1100 also adds two Secure Digital (SD) controllers for small storage devices"

    Wait, secure as in the "keep-bad-guys-from-getting-in" way, or the "keep-me-from-performing-basic -functionality-because-I'm-presumed-to-be-a-crimin al" way?

    It's a shame I have to ask that.
    • I presume it's referring to the small memory cards made by Secure Digital that so many other devices support. I believe this is the same card that Palm now uses.
    • Wait, secure as in the "keep-bad-guys-from-getting-in" way, or the "keep-me-from-performing-basic -functionality-because-I'm-presumed-to-be-a-crimin al" way?

      I think "secure because the RIAA/MPAA thinks you're a criminal" - since it has this 'SD' and no IDE controller (think mp3 players with harddrives - IDE is still the cheap way to go and with an IDE it would make a great cheapo linux platform for cost sensitive markets [3rd world countries for example]) - I suspect this is one of the first hardware shots in the upcoming 'secure platforms' war we've all been dreading - a great reason to NOT use this chip
    • uhm people .. the same cards pda's and mp3 players have been using for quite some time ... basically they are the version of the MMC that the RIAA luves .. as in they get a say as to how you manage your dat on your devices .. there is a whole group working on this .. i think the lead is taken by pansoic?
    • Thanks to everyone who pointed out that "Secure Digital" is a company. I feel dumb.
  • I looked at the register's page and something caught my attention...: Secure Digital (SD) ... Sure sounds like half of the name for Secure Digital Media (Music) Initative. So what do I do, I check out AMD's spec page. All it says is it's some sort of controller for small storage devicies... Ok, but wait. Small, like the Rio or iTunes? Hmmmm

    Needless to say, I don't like this till I know exactly what these controllers do. Till then, I'll stay away from this product.
    • secure digital [] is a lot like compact flash. it is also used in the zaurus [], though the zaurus also has a compact flash slot.
    • I don't know if it's still true, but in addition to SD, the 1100 also has the I2S I/O interface, which also has closed-ness problems. It'd be interesting to see what kind of driver support comes with the chip for Linux - will you be able to get open-source information on things you want to plug in to those busses.

      For my applications, I like the 1500 better - it's got two Ethernet controllers built-in, so you should be able to make a variety of little router boxes. (With the 1100, there's only one built-in Ether, but there's a PCMCIA controller and a PCI controller, so you can add things easily enough, and building a wireless gateway should be easy with any of the parts.) And there's a 1500 development board which provides all sorts of physical interfaces and the different glue controllers, like PCMCIA, so a non-hardware-person like me can put together a system to try it out. Wonder when the 1100 will get one?

  • by grnbrg ( 140964 ) <slashdot AT grnbrg DOT org> on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @03:43PM (#3311673)
    Since there is an annoying signup screen.... a_book/Au1100_databook.pdf []


  • Targetting? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Matt2000 ( 29624 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @03:43PM (#3311680) Homepage

    I'm always seeing companies targetting the embedded systems and webpad markets with new products, but where are the webpads?

    I would have thought in '98 with the amount of press and press releasing surrounding the webpad idea we'd be swimming in low cost options by now and I'd happily be reading slashdot on the couch, but I've been sorely disappointed.

    Does anybody have any idea when a mid cost wireless webpad will show up that actually makes this market worth targetting?
    • You mean "wireless monitor"?
    • Here's a link to my webpad [].
    • Does anybody have any idea when a mid cost wireless webpad will show up that actually makes this market worth targetting?

      Depending on your definition, it may have already arrived. Does a Palm count? [] How about this, my favorite method? []

      That last one is a bit more flexible. Of course, I don't picture AMD competing in either market, but that could just be me. Personally, the web pads are here and make sitting on the couch much more interesting.

    • Business.

      Eg: Trucking Companies / Cargo Companies.

      Any high volume -> high management business can usually be streamlined. I know a number of companies (trucking+cargo) which employ 'pads'.
    • Yep, agreed. Moreover, I don't see any missing technology. There only need to be somebody to stick the pieces together.

      I webpad would be a laptop that has the screen where the keyboard usualy is (and instead of it). Instead of the screen, there would be a protective plastic plate which would flip all the way over and clip behind.

      It should problably ship with a wireless keyboard & mouse combo and a detachable stand. This way, would could quickly tranform your webpad into a confortable workstation.

      The greatest thing is, as a workstation, the pad's touchscreen would be wonderful for cooperative work and pair programming session - one coder one the keyboard, and one coder with the stylus.

  • by Schwamm ( 513960 )
    can be found here [].
  • Nice Idea (Score:2, Funny)

    by quantaman ( 517394 )
    The problem is that the portable heater market is already fairly saturated.
    • Will my AMD CPU-based PDA come with oven mitts?
  • Integrated Digial rights management hardware?

    Just what i always wanted, since im not capabile
    of proper judgment in useage. I feel so much safer now.

    ( no i didnt read the story.. cant seem to get to it from here.
  • I won't have to worry about carry matches or a campstove with me in the woods!
    • AMD didn't have much to do with this ... just a little while back they simply bought a company that makes PDA chips .. thats all the PDA cpu's have nothing to do with the specialities of the Athlon .. both in performance and heat
  • you can pull out the internal cooling fan and toss the handheld like a grenade... you never know when you might need a grenade.
  • by ultramk ( 470198 ) <[ten.llebcap] [ta] [kmartlu]> on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @03:58PM (#3311785)
    an ultra-low-power processor designed for sub-PC applications

    What, is it waterproof to 20k leagues? Does it have PING built into the instruction set?
    Just wondering...

  • amd au1100 - 400 MHz, 250 mWatts, mips core + mac, etc..
    intel pxa250 - 400 MHz, 300 mWatts, StrongArm + mac, etc..

    power consumption/features roughly comparable, so which gives more work/cycle?
  • Now I can have AMD make my wireless Monitor...
    wireless Monitor []
  • Imagine a beowulf cluster of those.
  • Webpads as a market seem to suffer from always-rising-expectations.

    A few years ago 800x600, 256 color, a few hours battery life and a 56KB/sec wireless connection, cost $1,000 would have stolen the show. Now it's gotta be 1024x768, full color, last 8 or more hours, be capable of playing back mp3s and video, tie into some sort of low-cost wireless system, preferably 802.11?, and cost $500.

    They're competing with low end laptops for market and components and always suffering in comparison to desktops. Add in the ruggedness that's required (how many times will it slide off the couch or get dropped as someone tries to pick it up one-handed from the coffee table?) and range of uses they'll be put to and it's a tough product to build at an attractive price point.

    Then there's the OS & UI. Folks want the same as they've got on their home PC which mostly means Wintel or MacOS (Linux isn't going to be a popular choice for the consumer market, /.-readers excepted.) Both of these OS's really rely heavily on keyboards and while there have been any number of work-arounds (how many iterations of PenWindows?) they remain clunky without. On-screen "Soft-keyboards" are one option but not one that's ever generated much enthusiasm.

    One clever solution has been to use the Webpad as a remote terminal. This solves much of the software and storage issues as long as one has decent wireless bandwidth. However it does require the "base" PC be on & dedicating resources to the client.

    Windows is not particularly good serving two masters though MS does have some new technology that they've been showing around. However after so many failed attempts in this area vendors are justifiably nervous about committing real resources to it until someone else proves it out.

    Apple has only recently re-introduced partial remote terminal capability into their MacOS line (it was present in Next Step but lost in the transition to Quartz/Display-PDF). There is speculation (isn't there always with Apple?) they're going to offer some combination of local/remote interfaces as part of their "Digital Hub" strategy with a webpad running an embedded-PPC-based MacOS X-lite.

    Linux - well as noted most of the market is biased towards Wintel then Mac. While something with inherently limited functionality like a webpad (not that Linux is inherently limited, just that this wouldn't require a full-blown Linux-for-the-desktop universal solution) and the low cost of Linux would make it attractive the lack of full & easy support for all file formats & plug-is a problem. There are work-arounds but frankly they're not attractive ones from a sales & support perspective.

    Finally, remember that lots of the companies most likely to try out a webpad product are the exact same ones that got burnt on network appliances. In today's deadly market nobody is particularly enthused to chance losing money on another dead end like those, especially for a market & product so similar. Webpads *might* take off but not many want to risk their not, particularly for the low per unit profit most see in them.

    My guess? Aside from a few rebranded models we won't see any from the big names except possibly IBM & Apple. IBM has a good history of migrating technology like this to/from their vertical markets so they've little wasted R&D or manufacturing costs. Apple likes to be a trailblazer plus their customers are open to an all-Apple terminal/server solution. Thus Apple can keep the margin low on the webpad & recoup it on the server. Others? Perhaps some Tiawanese & other manufacturers attempting to build their own brands.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What the industry and consumers wants is a 'home server' system with a 'pad' attached to it.

    You don't need much in the pad. Remember this:

    lcd screen.
    Li-ION battery
    802.11b wireless
    Touch screen

    And enough ram/rom/flash to boot an XTERM - or in windows terms, "terminal server" application.

    The truth of it all is this, I don't want the 'power' in my hand. I don't need it for 95% of what I do. A big fat server box - with all the mips it needs, and an Xterm session back to the server.

    Think about it - how did the Audry, NetApplience and all those other funky devices come about. People do *NOT* want a pay-service but they do want the device.

    So strip the device - and make/sell a cheap Xterm.

    Imagine - kids in class roooms. Every kid gets a tablet - they are all wireless and they all tie into the school computer system.

    Same app - when kid needs to sit infront of a real computer, they can boot linux - which runs as nothing more then an xterm to a big server box.

    When kid goes home - kid can run any 'xterm' package and connect via ssh into the school system. Read their books, and do what they want.

    It's a hell of a deal, and it is cheap.

    Big capital expendiature - but it is doable.
    • Being an AMD, its probably going to be cheaper. Plus, the MIPS architecture rocks, and is relatively easy to program in.

      So, yes, its doable, and a portable terminal would be really clever.

  • From the Cnet article:

    For starters, much "EverQuest" activity centers on online chat, something that won't be possible on the PS2 without an add-on keyboard or voice capability.

    So is "Sow Plz kthx" going to be a menu option?

  • Chat components will be offered through a variety of peripherals, plus preset menus of common phrases

    Say Menu -> Beg Dr00d -> "Sow plz kthx"
  • Not sure if it's related, but Transmeta stock dove about 14% today. I'm guessing there must have been some rumors about an AMD buyout.
  • Yes, the MIPS has a nice architecture, while the Pentium is just an arcane mess. But that battle was fought years ago. It seems to me that a Pentium (even a basic Pentium, perhaps even missing some instructions) would give them more of an edge. I, at least, would be much happier if I could use the same compilers for my handheld as I can on for desktop. With ARM and MIPS, I'm restricted to gcc and a few others for which someone happens to have gone through the enormous trouble of writing a new backend. Is it really so hard to make a small, power-saving Pentium-compatible chip?
    • Re:Why MIPS? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JesseL ( 107722 )
      Is it really so hard to make a small, power-saving Pentium-compatible chip?

      Yes. This is the problem Transmeta tried to address. There are a few embedded x86 processors out there but most of them aren't all that low power. The first "Pentium Compatible" one that springs to mind is the National Semiconductor "Geode". There are also 486 compatible embedded microcontrollers like the AMD SC410/520, and the ZFMicro MachZ.The real problem is that CISC doesn't really lend its self to low power consumtion - too many transistors.

      • "The real problem is that CISC doesn't really lend its self to low power consumtion - too many transistors."

        This is utter BS, go look up how many transitors the original 8086 had, then compare it with the smallest ARM you can find. The problem with low power x86 has to do with trying to achieve both low power and high performace.

        • Well, I'm sorry. I should have said CISC doesn't really lend its self to low power consumtion - too many transistors relative to processing performance.

    • Re:Why MIPS? (Score:5, Informative)

      by johnjones ( 14274 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @06:12PM (#3312613) Homepage Journal
      well yes it is because the Pentium ISA is supposed to be obsolete.

      no one in their right mind would have predicted Intel or AMD would keep it going this long.
      (they want to kill it witness IA64)

      MIPS was actually designed for high performace useing a combination of compiler design and Hardware design it was a academic project and they got it right.

      ARM was designed to be simple take up as little space as possible for manufacturing and implementation (only 2 engineers did the work to start with) as a by product it means that now with moores law you have a product that burns very little power

      there are snags MIPS is more complicated than ARM but once you are over 100 MHz it pays dividends the amount of effort that Digital had to go through to do the StrongARM showed this and again with the StrongARM2 (Intel calls it the Xscale or PX250)

      the StrongARM design team did not really like the idea of working for Intel so they went off and created Alchemy and got a 500Mhz part with not much trouble they also stuck on 2 10/100Net ports USB client and Host I2C and serial a pretty nice chip but funding took a hit and they went looking for investors AMD saw the money that Intel was making of StrongARM and thought that little Alchemy was a winner.

      once AMD was on board they put a LCD contoller dumped 1 of the 2 network interfaces and bingo you have a better StrongARM than Xscale.

      in terms of tools

      what do you have on x86 ?
      gcc intel and lcc (plus globs of half baked assemblers)

      or ARM has: gcc, ARMCC, Greenhills and acorn

      compared to MIPS : gcc algor sgi (plus lots of academic compilers)

      oh and MS has .NET JIT's for ARM x86 IA64 and MIPS 32 Plus MIPS64

      java has about the same but with sparc and some hardware implementations


      john jones

      p.s. did I mention that MIPS is really the ONLY Volume 64bit RISC left after Intel butchery

  • I just got a laptop using the Athlon 4 processor. It's been on most of the day, and the keyboard and glidepoint are actually warm.

    This is an interesting way for AMD to help keep people working reasonable hours.. Here's hoping Compaq knows best. If this thing melts I'll be fairly dissapointed.
  • oooo, hey, a hand-held Nintendo 64!
  • by Hoser McMoose ( 202552 ) on Tuesday April 09, 2002 @07:21PM (#3312994)
    Just FWIW, here's a couple processor heat numbers:

    Desktop AMD AthlonXP 2000+ : 70.0W Max/62.0W typ
    Desktop Intel P4 2.0GHz : 75.3W TDP
    Desktop Intel P4 2.0A : 52.4W TDP
    Mobile AMD Athlon4 1500+ : 25.0W TDP
    Mobile Intel P4-M 1.6GHz : 30.0W TDP
    Mobile Intel PIII-M 1.2GHz : 22.0W TDP

    AMD Alchemy Au1100 400MHz : 0.25W Max
    Intel XScale PX250 400MHz : 0.30W Max

    Max = Maximum possible real-world power consumed by the chip
    Typ = Typical power use under heavy processing
    TDP = Thermal Design Power, usually just slightly higher then typical power, though it's defined by the manufacturer

    So, just to keep things in perspective, we're talking about these embedded chips using two orders of magnitude less power then even laptop x86 chips. Now, obviously the performance isn't going to be at all the same, but in terms of power, it doesn't make any sense at all to compare the power consumption of either.

    Ohh, and just for fun, here's one more chip:

    Intel Intanium 800MHz : 130W Max


In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle