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Motorola's DragonBall pumps up on ARM

Motorola incorporates ARM technology into its popular line of DragonBall processors, which currently dominate the PDA market

Motorola is attempting to remain a vital part of Palm handhelds, despite a lack of commitment from Palm.

Motorola's DragonBall processor is currently the brains of Palm-based PDAs made by Handspring, Sony, and by Palm itself. But Palm announced recently intentions to shift to chips made by ARM Holdings.

At the PalmSource developer conference Monday, Motorola laid out development plans that it hopes will keep DragonBall in hot demand.

According to Motorola officials, the DragonBall product line will be expanded in the first quarter of next year with two different cores. The core is the heart of the processor and responsible for its main function, processing data.

The ARM-core-based product will allow developers to take advantage of future wireless applications. The 68K-core product will enable Palm legacy applications to be used and improved. "Announcing the addition of the ARM core technology to DragonBall processors is significant because it gives developers and manufacturers choice and scalability," said Ed Valdez, director of marketing for Motorola's Wireless Communications division.

According to Valdez, PDA users want richer features including Bluetooth communications capability, wireless access, and voice recognition. "As devices get smarter, DragonBall can scale to integrate and embrace more and richer applications," said Buddy Broeker, Motorola's manager of emerging markets operations for wireless.

Product sampling to manufacturers is expected in the middle of next year.

Most significantly, the addition of the ARM core gives the DragonBall processor line the ability to incorporate wireless connectivity. This process has already begun in devices including the Palm VII and add-on wireless modems. Future products may include voice recognition and synthesis, displays with richer images, always-on high-speed connectivity, and interactive multimedia capabilities.

"Wireless data communications is the key feature driving this explosive market," said analyst Robyn Bergeron of market researcher Cahners In-Stat, in a report last week. The move comes following an announcement that Palm plans to move to ARM-based chips in its popular line of PDAs.

Palm officials said that the company has not committed to "any particular flavour" of ARM technology.

The 33MHz DragonBall 68VZ328 processor, designed for high performance and supporting colour LCD screens, is at the heart of Handspring's Visor Prism and Platinum PDAs. The DragonBall 68EZ328, on the other hand, is at the heart of the Palm V series, VII series, III series, Handspring Visor Deluxe, and Sony Clie. The 68EZ328 comes in two speeds 16MHz and 20MHz.

For developers, the DragonBall family will be supported by CodeWarrior from Metrowerks, a Motorola company.

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