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Analog wants new chips to be video stars

Analog Devices hopes Blackfin, a new family of digital signal processors, will help bring video capabilities to cell phones, PDAs and Web-surfing terminals.

Analog Devices on Monday introduced Blackfin, a new family of digital signal processors that could become video stars.

The first Blackfin DSP, the ADSP-21535, offers four times the performance of Analog Devices' current DSPs but consumes about one-third less power, the company said. DSPs refine signals, such as a voice, sent and received by electronic devices.

The chip will operate at up to 300MHz but use as little as 42 milliwatts of power because it can scale through a range of clock speeds and voltages.

The extra horsepower will be needed for what Analog Devices executives say is the next big challenge for DSPs: video.

Norwood, Mass.-based Analog Devices is aiming the Blackfin family at devices that can play video, ranging from cell phones and video telephones to personal digital assistants (PDAs) and Web-surfing terminals.

"Now it's possible...to send compressed video to a portable application. So a thing like a video-enabled Web tablet or a PDA...will need advanced video compression and decompression capabilities," said Ken Warren, Analog Devices' 16-bit product manager.

Several of the chip's features will help translate smooth-looking video. In addition to the raw clock speed, these features include arithmetic logic units that offer up to four operations per second and a new multimedia instruction set, similar in function to the MMX or SSE resident in Intel's desktop PC processors.

Analog Devices should expect stiff competition from rivals such as the No 1 DSP maker Texas Instruments.

TI has several DSPs that match the new Blackfin's intended uses. One upcoming chip, TI's TMS320DSC24, differs slightly in approach but is aimed at the same market. While Blackfin is a straight DSP, the TI chip combines TI's C5000 DSP core with an ARM7 processor core. TI is aiming the chip at Web-surfing appliances and digital video cameras, among other devices--the heart of the intended market for the first Blackfin.

Blackfin is based on the Micro Signal Architecture, a new DSP core that Analog Devices developed jointly with Intel. The companies, however, will offer the chips in different markets. Analog Devices plans to sell individual DSPs such as the Blackfin, while Intel will integrate the DSP core into a wide range of silicon, such as chipsets and its "Internet on a chip" processor.

Over time, Analog Devices plans to extend the Blackfin family to create chips that reach speeds as high as 1GHz. A 1GHz Blackfin would offer about three times the performance of the 300MHz Blackfin DSP, Analog Devices executives said.

The first Blackfin DSP actually will come in two speeds, 200MHz and 300MHz. The company plans begin sending samples of the first Blackfin to device makers in September. The chips are expected to begin shipping in the first quarter of 2002.

Analog Devices large-volume prices will begin at US$27 per chip for the 200MHz model and US$34 for the 300MHz.

TI's upcoming chip, announced in April, is expected to begin shipping in the third quarter for about US$25 each in volume, according to the company. TI hasn't disclosed the speed of the new chip yet, but the company's current C5000 DSPs can run at up to 200MHz.