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July 31, 2007

Marvell, not Intel

I spend a lot of time updating the vast database of rugged devices listed and reviewed here at Specs change all the time but the rugged and mobile computing industry is usually very modest when it comes to press releases and announcements. It's not like certain other fields where every new cellphone ringtone or executive promotion warrants a major PR campaign. So the way we go about it is making the rounds of all the companies, via their web sites, and check for updated specs.

One thing I noticed is that even in updates, almost everyone continues to refer to the "Intel XScale" processor, the family of chips that power almost all Windows Mobile and Windows CE devices. Well, Intel doesn't make them anymore. They sold that business to a company named Marvell. Here's what happened:

Marvell Technology Group -- a silicon solutions high tech firm based in Santa Clara, California -- decided to become a supplier in the cellphone and consumer electronics markets, and officially took over Intel's communications and applications processors in November of 2006. The original deal between Intel and Marvell was made in June of 2006 when Marvell agreed to buy the business from Intel for US$600 million. Under Intel's watch, the XScale PXA series were used in a wide variety of devices, with the PXA2xx used in Windows Mobile devices and the PXA9xx in such handhelds as the Blackberry 8700. Early on, Intel benefitted greatly from Microsoft's decision to switch Windows CE from a more or less open processor platform to mandating XScale. The deal between Intel and Marvell took several months to complete as Marvell had to find a manufacturer for the chips. Under the deal, Marvell took over the 3rd generation XScale processors, codenamed Monahan, and the 1.25GHz successor to the PXA27x Bulverde processors.

Losing no time, in December 2006 Marvell launched the PXA 3xx series, consisting of the high-end PXA320 running at 806MHz, the cost-optimized low-end PXA 300, and the PXA310. The PXA300 and 310 run at clockspeeds up to 624MHz, with the 610 adding VGA playback. The PXA320 is able to scale from 806MHz to 624MHz to conserve power when full performance isn't needed. The chip is also more energy-eficient than the predecessor Bulverde processor, especially under heavy video and audio load. The PXA320 can run VGA resolution video at 30 frames per second, support a 5megapixel digital camera, video telephony, all at lower power consumption than the older XScale chips. The first products with the 806MHz PXA320 are now appearing, such as the recently released Trimble Nomad.

From what we can tell, Marvell will continue to offer both the XScale PXA27x family as well as the older PXA255. But they are now Marvell chips, and no longer Intel chips. So let's do a global search and replace: It's Marvell XScale PXA and no longer Intel XScale PXA.

The emergence of the PXA 3xx processors is exciting. More performance and more capabilities at lower power consumption. That's great. We can't wait to do hands-on reviews of the first Marvell XScale powered devices!

Posted by conradb212 at July 31, 2007 11:11 PM