IBM claimed a first on Wednesday with the launch of the Network Station Series 2200 thin client, using a highly integrated network-on-a-chip processor supplied by National Semiconductor.
The Geode processor is the really clever bit, integrating on-chip graphics, audio, memory control and PCI interfaces into a very low-power, compact form factor, although National also contributes companion I/O, an audio codec, voltage controller and other peripheral and analogue chips.
The Geode GXLV processor has been specially designed to operate at low power, making it suitable for thin clients, as well as set-top boxes and PDAs. Average power consumption ranges from 1 to 2.5 watts.
National Conductor says the killer feature of the chip is Internet access. The GXLV features an x86 system core, which is always good for compatibility issues with third-party developers. Audio, video and a memory controller are embedded directly into the silicon. The company claims that this level of integration improves reliability in the device itself, while reducing system costs and enabling the design of machines with smaller footprints.
The 64-bit processor supports the MMX instruction set extension for IBM 2200 users running multimedia applications; 16kB unified L1 cache; six-stage pipelined integer unit, integral floating point, and an MMU (memory management unit) which helps prioritise memory feeds while bypassing redundant feeds.
The chip uses industry standard power management, supporting a range of hardware and software control features, which allow sleep, standby and suspension of power. The PCI bus controller supports up to three PCI bus masters synchronous to the CPU core.
Graphics are key to network computers, which must have refresh rates and graphical output of comparable levels to fully loaded PCs. The Geode chip includes an embedded 2D graphics accelerator, full VGA and VESA support, direct interface to companion chips for CRT and TFT flat-panel support, and support for up to 1280x1024x8 and 1024x768x16.
More detailed core logic information is available at National Semiconductor's Web site.
Unfortunately, all National Semiconductor and IBM execs were unavailable for comment Thursday. The two companies were busy launching the Network Station Series 2200 at Disney World. We wouldn't want to take the Mickey...