* Intel agrees to provide interoperability information
* Intel pledges not to block rivals on chips, computers
* Intel expects to close acquisition before end of March (Adds detail and quote from Intel, analyst's quote, stock price)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Jan 26 Intel's (INTC.O) acquisition of data security firm McAfee Inc MFE.N cleared its last major hurdle after EU regulators approved the $7.68 billion deal on condition Intel grant rival firms access to its technology.
World No. 1 chipmaker Intel said it now expects to close the acquisition, which it aims to use bolster the security of Internet-connected devices, before the end of the first quarter.
Intel secured clearance from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 21 to acquire McAfee, the world's No. 2 maker of security software after Symantec Corp (SYMC.O). The deal will be Intel's largest acquisition to date.
The decision on Wednesday by the European Commission, the EU competition watchdog, confirmed a Reuters report on Jan. 20. [ID:nLDE70J232]
"The commitments submitted by Intel strike the right balance, as they allow preserving both competition and the beneficial effects of the merger," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement on Wednesday.
Intel agreed to ensure that rival security firms have access to all necessary information that would allow their products to use Intel's chips and central processing units, the Commission said.
The company also pledged not to actively block competitors' security solutions from running on its products. It will avoid hampering the operation of McAfee's products when these are used in personal computers containing products sold by Intel's rivals.
"We believe the agreement addresses the concerns of the Commision, meanwhile allowing Intel and McAfee to continue to innovate in the critical area of security," Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy told Reuters.
Intel's processors are the brains in 80 percent of the world's personal computers and the company wants to expand its chips into mobile gadgets as well as everything from street signs and home appliances, which could all eventually be interconnected.
"Every single device is becoming Internet-enabled. This probably sounds like a crazy idea but at some time it could be possible to hack into your refrigerator," said Arnab Chanda, an analyst at Roth Capital Partners. He said the European regulator's conditions would not interfere with Intel's goal of making its chips more secure.
Shares of Intel were up 1.4 percent at $21.85 in afternoon trading. McAfee shares were up 0.5 percent to $47.96, close to the $48 a share in cash that Intel will pay. (Additional reporting by Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Editing by Tim Dobbyn) (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Louise Heavens and Tim Dobbyn)