IN February last year, 12 electronics engineers working in the third-floor premises of the Hong Kong Productivity Council's Tat Chee Avenue facility in Kowloon, bent over their desks and drawing boards to begin work on the largest joint project they had ever undertaken. Nine months later, they launched the TC783, a single-chip solution designed to form the heart of a small computer that can rest in the palm of your hand. The HKPC was initially commissioned by eight clients, though two others joined later, to design a palmtop, or PDA, application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) computer. So that's how the council's Electronic Services Division came to invent probably the cheapest computer of its type in the world to date, one that operates on the best power economy with absolutely no sacrifice in performance. For the first time, accordingto the HKPC, local manufacturers did not have to look for foreign suppliers to produce an essential component. Sharing in the development cost of the TC783, the consortium had some control over the component features as well as cost. Serving as a meeting point for their vision and experience, the HKPC made another significant contribution to product development in Hong Kong. Many innovative products can take advantage of the TC783. Some are even reaching the production stage and will be available in the consumer market before long. ''The greatest reward, however, is that the TC783 experience has made us ready for even more complex ASICs,'' said Mr K.Y. Leung, senior HKPC consultant. The HKPC Electronics Services Division is currently working on a number of complex ASIC assignments for various semiconductor suppliers. It is also looking for co-development partners to find personal digital assistant (PDA) applications for parts in the power management schemes developed by its colleagues and for which patents are being sought. All along, other teams in other parts of the world were working towards the same goal. Initially, they kept their work to themselves. In the end, thoroughness and discipline spurred the TC783 team to the finish line almost at the same time as the others, all of whom had begun their projects at least six months ahead of the HKPC group. Success came with the fabrication of their first complete design for the TC783. It worked straight away, just as they had planned. ''Statistically, most projects of this size and complexity would require more than one trial,'' said Mr. Leung. Using hardware description language (VHDL) or very large scale integration (VLSI), it is possible to include the TC783 chip design in a virtual PC/XT system. ''So we can employ proven test programs to verify the system by simulation,'' he said. ''Extra on-chip resources were also incorporated to allow for last-minute changes.'' In the TC783, external component counts are minimised to save material and manufacturing costs. Its pinouts fit into a 160 pin quad flat pack (QFP) with an 0.65mm pin pitch, so that the related surface mount technology (SMT) production requirements match those in Hong Kong. Compared with other single-chip solutions for PDAs, the TC783 is very price-competitive and can swiftly be put to good use. ''A client produced a palmtop so small that it can fit inside a shirt pocket,'' said Mr. Leung. ''It can accommodate up to 2.5 megabytes of RAM and can run DOS as well as PC application programs, which makes it as good as any computer.'' What makes the TC783 surpass computers of comparable capability is its unique architecture supporting multiple display buffers. The extra features have brought about enhanced performance, such as fast screen changes during task switching.