The trend toward miniaturization is everywhere. Palm-sized PDAs and pocket-sized phones are the norm. Ultralight notebook PCs rule. Yet, for every advance in scaling down a device, designers face additional obstacles related to incorporating new features and functions. The problem hasn't been lost on National Semiconductor. Instead of battling the problem on a device-by-device basis, National created an end-around solution: develop a chip that could combine 43 separate functions, thereby eliminating the need for an assortment of chips inside a device. The system on a chip, known as Geode SC1400, thus can shrink the size and cost of personal computers, PDAs, and other devices, including digital set-top boxes and Internet-ready telephones. Simply put, the chip serves as the brain for various devices but requires only minimal space by eliminating the need for fans and assorted internal circuitry. It also boasts extremely low power consumption, a huge asset for road warriors and others using portable electronics. Not surprisingly, the chip was easier to conceive than create. "The challenge wasn't only to integrate various components, it was to ensure that all the functions were state-of-the-art," states Michael Polacek, vice president of National Semiconductor's Information Appliance Div. The project took nearly two years, with dozens of researchers and engineers working fulltime. National Semiconductor now is ramping up production of the Geode SC1400 and hopes to see it in widespread use in 2000. "It has the potential to change the face of consumer electronics," boasts Polacek. John Teresko, John Sheridan, Tim Stevens, Doug Bartholomew, Patricia Panchak, Tonya Vinas, Samuel Greengard, Kristin Ohlson, and Barbara Schmitz contributed to this article.