It’s not a new snack food and it’s not a plan to help save the Earth. The low power chips are a series of application processors and digitial signal processors announced in July by Texas Instruments that consume significantly less power than predecessors and prolong battery life of the devices built around them. The best part? Nowhere in TI’s release documents was the word “green.”

Not surprisingly, device designers using TI processors have been asking the chip-maker for products that consumer less power, more or less supplanting prior requests for more and more power. “[The] developers first question is now, ‘This is my power budget; how can TI help me do more with it?’ ” That’s according to Gene Fritz, a principal fellow at TI. The answer, he said, is simple: “Decades of experience allow TI to cut power consumption, improve ease-of-use and drive performance within its architectures through better process technology, peripheral integration, parallel processing, analog, connectivity and power management software and tools.”

The results is a series of about 15 new devices in four product lines to be released over the coming year that it claims will increase battery life to days and weeks without sacrificing application performance.

Aimed at audio, medical and industrial applications needing a high-accuracy floating point unit is the 674x DSP, with TI says consumes one-third the power of its rivals. In sleep mode, it sips as little as 6 mW of power, according to claims, and 420 mW in active mode. Using about half the power (415 mW) of existing chips in the line is the 640x DSP, which TI says is intended for software-defined radio and other industrial instrumentation. It’s planned for early 2009.

Planned in the same time frame is the latest in TI’s ARM-based application processor/DSP series, the OMAP L1x. It will run Linux or TI’s DSP/BIOS real-time kernel and is pin-for-pin compatible with devices in the 674x and 640x chips. Power consumption in active mode is rated at 435 mW.

For maximum battery life, developers should look to the 550x, which uses just 6.8 uW in deep-sleep and 46 mW in active mode. That’s half the power of TI’s C5000-series chips, and is suited for portable music recording, noise-reduction headphones and multi-parameter medical devices. The 550x includes large on-chip memory and an optimized FFT coprocessor. Availability is scheduled for early 2009.

Prices have been disclosed only for the 674x, which will be sampling before the end of this year. In quantities of 100, pricing will start at less than US$9.

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