MULTIMEDIA PERSONAL computers are a pain in the neck. You spend hundreds of dollars on add-in cards, and then you almost need an engineering degree to install them. Startup Chromatic Research Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., hopes to change that. On Oct. 9, it was to introduce a single chip that carries out all major multimedia functions--such as graphics acceleration, video playback, audio playback, fax, and modem.

The Mpact chip runs with the help of software modules, so it can be reprogrammed easily. Indeed, since Toshiba Corp. and South Korea's LG Semicon Co. will manufacture the chip, Chromatic expects to make money mainly on the software. Running functions in software instead of silicon means the 1.5 million-transistor chip can be smaller and cheaper. Chromatic estimates the chip, software, and required memory chips will add about $150 to the cost of a PC.

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