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Last updated
4 Mar 1998

Sinclair launches superchip

THE SUNDAY TIMES, 24 April 1994


By John Stansell

SIR CLIVE SINCLAIR, one of Britain's most colourful entrepreneurs, has joined the growing band of inventors who are challenging Intel's domination of the microprocessor market. He claims to have developed a microchip that runs twice as fast as Intel's latest Pentium processor but costs just $25 (17), 3% of the Pentium's price.

Sinclair Research, the company owned by Sinclair, has licensed the design to a Seattle company called MTI, which is raising $6m to perfect production of the processor.

Sinclair will use the income from the licence to fund further developments of the chip and to develop a new range of portable computers.

He believes that the chip will initially find applications in the "burgeoning multimedia and high-speed graphics sectors as well as in communications and database servers", such as video games and multimedia applications. In the longer term, he believes that his chip will be used in "the massive future market for parallel computing which will see today's supercomputer become tomorrow's desktop PC". Sinclair's new chip, called the 7600, is a 32-bit Risc design that will run existing operating systems and applications (such as Windows NT) faster than current chips, but, according to Sinclair, "at a fraction of the cost".

It is quite different from existing circuits, he says. The 7600 is tiny each chip is just three square millimetres in area, whereas Apple's PowerPC 601 is 119 square millimetres. It will run at speeds of more than 200 Mips (million instructions per second), compared with the fastest PowerPC's 80 Mips. Also, the 7600 is designed to communicate with other processors or peripheral chips such as memory circuits with much higher efficiency than existing products, making it ideal for use in parallel processors.

The low cost is achieved by cutting the number of transistors on the chip to 100,000, compared with 3m on a Pentium and the 1m or more found in advanced Risc circuits such as the PowerPC.

Chris Shelton, Sinclair's partner in the design of the 7600, says that because the cost of silicon is the same for everybody, use of smaller areas cuts the basic cost significantly. In addition, the fewer transistors on a chip, the greater is the number of working circuits that emerge from a conventional production line. Sinclair's astonishing claims for the chip will arouse scepticism among some designers and users of conventional Risc processors because he seems to have turned conventional wisdom on its head. Unabashed as usual, he says that the "radical" design has produced what he calls an "ultra-Risc" architecture, that delivers instructions from memory to processor very efficiently and therefore uses up less processing power in merely organising the task to be done.

Sinclair's next project is to use the 7600 chip as the engine of a range of portable computers that he says will outperform desktop machines, will have a new kind of full-colour screen, and will dispense with rotating storage systems such as discs and CD-Roms in favour of solid-state devices.