TI’s New Chip Ready for Smartphones, Tablets, Even Windows Laptops

Texas Instruments (s txn) today announced a new chip for mobile devices that boasts an 80 percent boost in web browsing performance along with 2.5 times better graphics. The OMAP4470 processor improves upon the current TI chips in use for smartphones and tablets, but is also poised to power laptops that run on either the open source Linux platform or Microsoft’s Windows(s msft) operating system; a version of which has already been demonstrated on mobile processors. With the new OMAP4470 TI hopes to better compete Qualcomm’s(s qcom) Snapdragon and Nvidia’s Tegra 2(s nvda), each of which power a far greater number of smartphones and tablets.

To get a feel for the chip’s capabilities, as well as where it fits within TI’s product roadmap, I spoke by phone with Mark Granger, who is in charge of the OMAP product platform marketing.  Granger first covered the basics: two ARM(s armh) Cortex-A9 cores running at up to 1.8 GHz per core, a hardware composition engine with dedicated 2-D graphics core and Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR SGX544 GPU.

I was curious about the timing and strategy of the product, mainly because Texas Intstruments has already announced a successor to the OMAP 4 chip line. In February, TI introduced its OMAP 5, then saying that it too would be sampling in the second half of 2011. There’s no expected overlap, Granger said during our phone call. “Both the OMAP4470 and OMAP 5 chips will sample in the second half of 2011, but products using the 4470 are expected in the first half of 2012, while products using OMAP 5 are slated for the second half of next year,” he told me.

That timeline makes sense for a few reasons. First, the OMAP4470 has the same pin configuration as existing OMAP 4 chips, such as those used in the BlackBerry PlayBook (s RIMM). That means device manufacturers currently using an OMAP 4 can quickly upgrade their hardware with little development cost. Second, while Microsoft hasn’t yet announced when it would have a version of Windows available for ARM processors, it’s widely expected to be some time next year. Whether that happens in the first or second half of 2012, TI is covered by both the new OMAP4470 or the future OMAP 5 chips to power such computers.

Unlike Nvidia’s upcoming Kal-El chip, which uses a dozen GPU cores, the new OMAP4470 has a single GPU core. On paper that may be a huge difference, but the TI chip sounds capable from a graphics perspective. The display subsystem can drive as many as three high-definition displays and up to 2048×1536 resolution, plus it supports stereoscopic 3-D visuals.

In addition, the SGX544 graphics component supports display technologies used by both mobile and desktop environments, such as DirectX, OpenGL ES 2.0, Open VG 1.1, and Open CL 1.1. Granger told me the CPU can handle much of the base user interface visuals, which frees up the GPU for more intensive visual tasks, “balancing out the horsepower” of the chip, according to Granger.