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Mobile phones go for PC power

New chip design lets mobile devices run applications at lightning speed

Ireland's Parthus Technologies is promising to squeeze desktop PC speeds into mobile phones, looking ahead to an era when tiny handsets with long battery life will play video, run handy applications and browse the Internet.

On Tuesday, the company launched MachStream, a platform for accelerating mobile applications while saving power. Parthus says MachStream can accelerate applications up to 35 times, while allowing batteries to last up to ten times longer.

Parthus acquired MachStream through Thursday's acquisition of Chicory Systems, based in Austin, Texas.

If the claims prove accurate, MachStream -- which is licensed to chip manufacturers as a silicon-based add-on -- could pave the way for far more efficient mobile phones and smartphones. At the moment, running applications like email and Web browsing on a mobile phone means much shorter battery life than consumers are used to. "The fundamental challenge is delivering applications at a speed consumers won't be turned off by, without burning the battery out in a minute and a half, as you would if you put a Pentium processor in a mobile phone," said Parthus vice president of marketing Barry Nolan.

Network operators and handset makers are currently struggling to define the potential of high-speed wireless networks, to which European network operators have committed more than £100bn over the next few years.

While the initial introduction of wireless data, via WAP, (wireless application protocol) was widely regarded as a failure, operators hope data services will catch on as 2.5G networks roll out this year. More powerful, power-efficient processors are needed for this to happen.

John Derrick, vice president and general manager of Parthus' acceleration business unit, compares current smartphones to the early days of the PC, but remains optimistic that they will catch on. "When the functionality gets to a certain level it will happen. This is one of the key technologies in bringing these devices to a mass market situation."

Parthus said MachStream has initially been optimised for ARM processors, but is processor-independent. It works by shifting software-intensive operations, such as executing Java or other applications, into hardware. It is available immediately.

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