AMD seeks Wi-Fi Alchemy with new chips

The chip maker is launching its long-anticipated foray into wireless networking with a new chipset and reference design kit from the nascent Connectivity Solutions division

AMD will launch its expansion into wireless networking chips this month when it begins shipping a Wi-Fi chipset and a Wi-Fi card reference design to manufacturers.

Initially, the chip maker will begin sampling the products this month, with volume shipments to begin in the first quarter of next year, AMD said. The AMD Alchemy Solutions Am1772 Wireless LAN chipset and mini-PCI card reference design kit will be the first products to carry the AMD Alchemy brand name, announced last month.

AMD has been expanding its push into embedded processors and chipsets as a way of bolstering its flash memory unit, which along with its PC processor business dominates the company. AMD bought Alchemy in February and then in April licensed a 64-bit embedded processor architecture from MIPS. Having a significant embedded chip offering allows AMD to bundle the products with its flash memory, a tactic also employed by rival Intel.

The embedded efforts may have a significant impact on AMD's bottom line, with the company's PC chip business hit by technology delays and falling market share.

The chipset is aimed at system builders who want to embed Wi-Fi into laptops, handheld computers or other mobile devices that require low power consumption. The reference design kit makes it easier for manufacturers to come up with a mini-PCI add-in card using the chipset. Wi-Fi has become a popular way of creating a wireless Internet connection, with many public areas such as coffee shops and airports offering service.

"This will be AMD's bold first step into the wireless market, and the first of several wireless products we plan to introduce over the next 12 months," said Dr. William Edwards, AMD's vice president and general manager for the Personal Connectivity Solutions (PCS) Group, in a statement. He said that the technology would eventually be integrated into AMD's MIPS-based system-on-a-chip (SOC) processors.

Wireless LAN card vendors such as Z-Com, Ambit and Askey expressed interest in the chipset, although AMD did not announce any specific deals.

The Am1772 is a two-chip product incorporating a baseband and a medium access controller (MAC). It uses the Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) manufacturing process, which is a common technique for manufacturing semiconductors at low cost and with low power consumption: AMD said the chipset consumes 134 milliamps (mA) while receiving and 232mA while transmitting.

The design is highly integrated, aiming to allow manufacturers to reduce costs by using as few components as possible; for example it does not require an on-chip microcontroller.

AMD's PCS unit was created with the acquisition of Alchemy, which specialises in energy-efficient chips built around designs from MIPS, the chip spinoff of SGI. The PCS group initially concentrated on expanding Alchemy's Au line of processors, but is now moving into the market for Wi-Fi chips and other components necessary for building consumer electronics.

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