Sharp announces chip for new PDA applications

Sharp Corp. on Tuesday introduced a highly integrated semiconductor chip designed for running multimedia applications on portable devices including handhelds, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and Internet appliances.

The device is known as a system-on-chip (SOC), a term for a custom chip that integrates a main processing core with other functions traditionally handled by separate components, such as peripherals, memory, controllers and software features.

Dubbed the LH7A400, the 200MHz chip is based on a RISC (reduced instruction set computer) core provided by ARM Ltd., a U.K.-based company that licenses its chip designs to be manufactured by third parties. ARM's 32-bit core, called the ARM9TDMI, can execute 220 million instructions per second.

The Sharp chip adds to that core 16K bytes of cache memory, 80K bytes of on-chip memory, and a color LCD (liquid crystal display) controller that supports 64,000 colors at a resolution of up to 800 x 600 pixels, Sharp said. The new SOC is being displayed this week at the Embedded Systems Conference underway in San Francisco, which runs through April 13.

The external memory interface expands the capability of Sharp's chip to support SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory), ROM (read-only memory), Flash ROM and SRAM memory types. Users will be able to add extra memory to devices that use the chip by plugging memory modules into a CompactFlash slot, said Raed Sabha, Sharp's product marketing manager for mobile Internet and wireless communications.

By plugging a modem or Ethernet card into the Compact Flash slot, the communications capabilities of the chip can also be expanded, said Sabha. "Users can add wireless capabilities (to the chip) by plugging a Bluetooth interface card in the CompactFlash slot," he said.

The integrated chip can be used in devices that use both serial and parallel ports, as well as universal serial bus (USB) and infrared. Features designed to reduce power consumption include three operating modes: active, standby and stop.

Integrating Bluetooth and 802.11b wireless capabilities to the chip are on Sharp's future roadmap, said Sabha. Citing a lack of confidence in both technologies, which he said are unproven, Sabha said, "first we need to get a feel (of the technologies)."

The LH7A400 chip will compete directly with Intel Corp.'s StrongARM processors, said Sabha. "At the same price, we provide more integration (of peripherals) than, say, a StrongARM 1110 (chip)," he claimed.

For board designers and application developers, software and hardware development kits will be available from Sharp, ARM Ltd. and third party vendors, he said.

The LH7A400 chip will ship in the third quarter, priced at US$21 in quantities of 10,000.

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