Palm gets ready for switch to ARM

The handheld company will soon announce a deal with chipmakers to begin the transition of the Palm OS to processors with ARM technology.
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor
Palm will announce on Tuesday its initial steps to adapt its operating system to run on ARM-based processors, ZDNet News has learned.

Sources familiar with the plan say the handheld maker will make public a collaborative agreement with chip companies Intel, Motorola, Texas Instruments and ARM Holdings to transition the Palm OS to chips with ARM technology.

A switch to ARM-based chips means that Palm OS-based handhelds will run at significantly higher clock speeds than their current 33MHz. This means the devices will be able to handle more complex applications, such as video streaming and digital-audio playback, and to match the processing power of handhelds based on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.

Devices using the Palm OS currently run Motorola Dragonball processors, but Palm announced in December that future handhelds would use processors with ARM technology.

Santa Clara, California-based Palm maintains a huge lead in market share over its rivals, such as Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Handspring and Sony. However, competitors have been stealing some of the spotlight lately by adding more and more features.

"The next generation of (handheld) products will use higher performing capabilities, such as wireless, MP3 playback and streaming video, but the platform is maxed out," said Matt Sargent, an ARS analyst. "That's why they are revising their platform--to grow room for the future."

Motorola, TI and Intel will use Palm's software developer kit to build processors using ARM technology, sources say. The announcement is expected to come at the sixth annual ARM Partner meeting in Cambridge, England, for licensees of the ARM technology.

Intel, Motorola, TI and a slew of other chipmakers license technology from Cambridge-based ARM Holdings. Handhelds using Microsoft's Pocket PC OS, such as Compaq's iPaq, use Intel's StrongARM SA-1110, which has ARM technology at its core.

Intel and Motorola are two of the biggest chipmakers for handheld devices. Intel already has processors that use ARM technology, and Motorola announced in June it would incorporate ARM technology into processors due out in the first quarter of 2002. New processor speeds are expected to reach up to 200MHz.

Intel also plans to release its next-generation processors, called XScale, later this year. Intel's XScale processors will run faster than its current StrongARM processors, which run in the 200MHz range. Although speeds have not been announced, the company has demonstrated the upcoming chips at 1GHz.

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