Texas Instruments is expected to this week release details of its next-generation application processor, the OMAP 4 family of chips, which has made my love for Nvidia’s APX25000 processor grow cold. I’m faithless when a chipmaker shows me the prospect of 1080p video playback, 10 times the web surfing speed, a 20 megapixel camera and 130 hours of audio playback on a mobile device. And did I mention that this is a true dual-core chipset? Chips like this mean mobile computing is really living up its computing label.
Before I get overexcited about the prospect of two cores running at 1 Ghz on a chipset that consumes less than 1 watt, the bad news is it won’t be available in devices until 2010, with the actual chipset sampling in 2009. But I can wait. After all, Nvidia’s Tegra chipset built around the APX25000 was launched a year ago and it’s still not in any devices. TI’s announcing the OMAP 4 family as part of the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona this week. Since the current generation of TI applications processors were created for smartphones about four years ago, the line really needed a refresh for this era of ubiquitous wireless.
This is a nice refresh. Other than a wicked-cool feature set, the most notable aspect of this announcement is TI’s use of the ARM Cortex- A9 — a dual-core design that uses two processors running symmetrically. Eight companies have licensed the Cortex A9, but so far it hasn’t appeared in products. TI is one of the first ARM licensees to talk about plans for the IP core in mobile phones. However, more may come emerge the show.
The dual-core nature of the processor means it can double the performance when needed without doubling the power consumption all the time, which is handy when trying to make a battery last all day. With this generation of processor, Texas Instruments is answering Nvidia’s entrance into the market last year with the graphics-capable Tegra chipset and Qualcomm’s multicore Snapdragon processor. My assumption is that TI is also trying to refute the idea that x86 based chips, such as Intel’s Atom, have a performance advantage over ARM-based chipsets.
These are only technical specs for a chipset that could be designed into devices ranging from a netbook to a superphone. It will be at last a year, if not longer before, anyone gets to see how device makers respond to the promise of such power. To take true advantage of the multicore nature of the chipset, operating systems will have to be programmed to use them. It’s a long road from a sexy chip design like this to a sexy product, but keep your eyes open for the device built on this platform.