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The Real Small Stuff

Pushing the barrier with your palmtop? You need a new breed of processor.

While AMD and Intel are busy trying to strangle each other's business in the desktop processor market, another story is developing in the area of portable processors. Analysts have been declaring this the post-PC era for months. PC appliances, from handhelds and palmtops to Internet-only devices, are fast becoming the tools of choice for consumers and businesses alike-and it takes a tiny processor to power a tiny device.

Not many people really know (or care) how fast the processor is in their Palm III or Casio Cassiopeia. But with handhelds now being asked to surf the Net, run databases and send e-mail in color, the power behind palmtops is becoming an issue. For the record, the Palm IIIc runs on a 20MHz Motorola processor and the Cassiopeia E105 hums along on a 131MHz processor. In the mobile processor world, speed doesn't matter as much as power consumption. Nobody likes changing the batteries in their CE handheld every day.

Besides well-established Motorola (www.motorola.com) and Texas Instruments (www.ti.com), Intel (www.intel.com) and Transmeta (www.transmeta.com) are becoming active players in the mobile market. Intel's StrongARM technology and Transmeta's Crusoe processors pack in high speeds and low power consumption. Expect to see both new processor types show up in PC appliances by the end of the year.

The biggest buzz surrounds Crusoe and the new "mobile Internet computers" it's designed for. If Crusoe lives up to the hype, start thinking Palm VIIs...only faster, more powerful and more of them. The lowest-priced Crusoe TM3120 starts at 333MHz for $65 (street). Transmeta expects Crusoe-powered Linux Web pads and appliances to start at about $500.

Keep tabs on mobile devices and processors at allNetDevices (www.allnetdevices.com) and MOBILEINFO.COM (www.mobileinfo.com). Check out MobileStart (www.mobilestart.com) for mobile news covering everything from cell phones to wireless e-commerce.

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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Real Small Stuff.

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