|By John Stansell
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