NEC develops multi-core cell phone processor

Engineers at NEC Corp. have developed a processor for cellular telephones that includes three ARM processor cores in a single chip, a moved aimed at improving the multimedia capabilities of cell phones.

The MP211 chip was designed to improve the ability of cell phones to handle multimedia functions simultaneously, said Masato Edahiro, a research fellow at NEC's silicon systems research laboratories. In a demonstration in Tokyo on Wednesday, he showed the chip running a Java applet, a browser and displaying some video at the same time.

Most cell phones today have a single processor for handling the jobs required to keep the handset running and connected to the network. Some newer models use two processors, one for the wireless and radio functions and the other for applications and multimedia functions.

The MP211 chip goes a step further by providing what is essentially three chips-in-one, so that, for example, future handsets that process and display television images don't suffer image breakup when the phone is also receiving an e-mail.

The chip includes three ARM926 cores from U.K. chip design company Arm Ltd., each operating at 200MHz. One of the cores makes up part of a dedicated media processing engine that can handle images and H.264 standard digital video. The other two cores are used for applications such as running Java applets, the phone's browser, telephone book and e-mail client.

The processor will be sold by NEC Electronics Corp., the company's semiconductor arm, and samples of the chip are due in January 2005. The company expects sales to begin sometime in the first half of next year. This means the first phones with the chip could be available as early as the end of 2005.

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