Why Google went with Texas Instruments silicon for the Galaxy Nexus Android ICS poster child

Why Google went with Texas Instruments silicon for the Galaxy Nexus Android ICS poster child
UPDATE: Added Texas Instruments' own official comments about yesterday's Galaxy Nexus/Android Ice Cream Sandwich unveiling.

Back when Google announced its acquisition of Motorola, it explained that the Nexus line of phones is competitive in terms of who gets chosen to produce the device itself, which starts being drafted 9-12 months before release. If we assume that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus went through the same procedure, Google apparently calls dibs on things like the silicon that will go inside as well.

While we were expecting a Samsung-made device to appear with its own Exynos chip, Google placed its Ice Cream Sandwich bets on Texas Instruments' OMAP family, 4460 to be precise. Choosing NVIDIA's Tegra 2 as the Android Honeycomb poster child for tablets made wonders for the chip maker's share price, and, considering that Android ICS is meant to be the one mobile OS from Google that will appear in both tablets and smartphones alike, the anointment might come even handier for TI.

Is OMAP 4460 as good as the first generation Exynos, which has proved itself in the excellent Samsung Galaxy S II already, though? The answer should be a resounding "yes", as Texas Instruments' SoCs are some of the most balanced and well thought out mobile chips out there. The OMAP 4460 is basically a souped-up version of the 4430 that we find in handsets like the Motorola DROID 3. The clock count is higher - OMAP 4460 goes up to 1.5GHz, and the oldie-but-goodie PowerVR SGX540 GPU has been boosted to 384MHz from the 304MHz in 4430 as well. 

TI OMAP4 already showed benchmarks that are on par and sometimes better than those of the best out there - Exynos and Apple's A5 - at least in terms of browser performance, as you can see in the two tables on the right. Results will be worse for the graphics part, which the higher clock count of the GPU in OMAP 4460 should take partial care of. 

Moreover, the OMAP4 family includes a multimedia acceleration module called IVA3, which will come in handy when playing high-def content on the HD Super AMOLED display. Texas Instruments dubs it "the industry's highest quality video playback at low bit rates". It is probably not accidental that OMAP4 was the first mobile chip to receive certification for Netflix HD streaming.

The other strength of the OMAP family is its sophisticated Image Signal Processor, supporting cameras up to 20MP in the case of the 4460 found in the Galaxy Nexus. It is able to provide Full HD 1080p video capture in both 2D and 3D mode. Snapdragon S3, for instance, supports cameras up to 16MP.

Last but not least, Texas Instrument manages to craft some of the most energy-efficient SoCs on the market. Motorola's phones with OMAP are consistently beating the smartphone crowd in rated battery times, and the DROID RAZR, for instance, is quoted for 12 hours of talk time. This power-sipping is partly due to two ARM Cortex-M3 cores that complement the high-powered 1.5GHz Cortex-A9 ones for mundane tasks that don't require much energy like standby, plus other low-power processors - the audio one, for example. NVIDIA went with similar solution by adding a fifth core to Tegra 3 that is clocked lower, for everyday tasks. TI, which usually doesn't brag about with its chips, had some shots to fire after the announcement via the president of the OMAP platform department Remi El-Ouazzane:

We can only guess what were all of Google's considerations to go with TI's OMAP family of chips for Android Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus. Some argue it is because the chips have been proven to work well in tandem with LTE baseband radios, like in the DROID BIONIC. That might very well be the case, since the Motorola DROID RAZR also has a TI OMAP4 inside like the Galaxy Nexus, and it is the thinnest LTE smartphone in the world - further proof that OMAP and LTE have tied the knot well already. 

Moreover, the Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S3, not Exynos, which might be indicative that TI and Qualcomm are the way to go when LTE is concerned, rather than Exynos or Tegra. The second generation Exynos 4212 won't be ready until next year, plus Samsung might not be able to produce so many Exynos chips for other manufacturers than itself.
Whatever the actual reasons for Google going the cowboy way and making Texas Instruments the official chip-maker for its major Android Ice Cream Sandwich release, it is certainly a tribute to what we've noticed all along - TI makes some of the best mobile SoCs out there, and all it needed is a high-profile device to enter mainstream - you know, like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The Texans seem pretty proud of their achievement, too, sending out this press release:

Related phones

  • Display 4.7 inches
    1280 x 720 pixels
  • Camera 5 MP (Single camera)
    1.3 MP front
  • Hardware TI OMAP4460, 1GB RAM
  • Storage 32GB,
  • Battery 1750 mAh
  • OS Android 4.3



58. dmn666

Posts: 244; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

Interesting. So how'd Samsung cpus kill Qualcomm and Nvidia? If you're obsessed with crappy quadrant scores, then you probably need to spend more time on understanding various aspects of a cellphone SoC and loopholes of benchmark apps.

62. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

ohhh i tire of this explanation. i should save it and copy/paste it for you people. besides remixfa could probably explain it better than i can. okay. i'll summarize it. Qualcomm uses out of date ARM architecture and Nvidia's Geforce GPU is consistently beat out by that used in the Exynos 4210 and even the PowerVR SGX540 in the OMAP4. not only am i obsessed with Benchmarks i'm obsessed with what they're Benchmarking and i do make it my business to know why Benchmarks come out the way they do. don't take reputation so seriously. Samsung may be relatively new at this but they seem to have it figured out.

63. dmn666

Posts: 244; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

Keep ignoring 'reputation' - after all that's what Samsung lacks. Reputation follows innovation. Anyways, get some T-mobile galaxy s 2 and figure out how its 'outdated' cores compare to those on Exynos. You seem pretty good to be at your business just like Samsung itself - figuring out what has been figured out long time back. All the best.

65. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

i work for tmobile. the SGS2 at tmobile uses 1.5ghz snapdragon cores to try to achieve what exynos does at 1.2ghz. The result is a compitent and well made phone (it is an SGS2 after all), but when compared to its brother, the exynos based SGS2 its left in the dust. Samsung has found a way to alter the chip so it scores higher in synthetic benchmarks than any other snapdragon carrying phone, including the HTC Amaze which runs the EXACT SAME set up of 1.5ghz snapdragon and 1gig ram. The Hercules gets upwards of 1000 more points on quadrant than the Amaze even though they are the same internally. Heck, the Amaze even has the higher screen resolution. When doing averages you throw out the highest score and the lowest score. Every other Snapdragon S3 phone scores between 2100-2400. That is its real benchmark. The exynos scores 3100-3400. That is its real benchmark. However, put side to side,the real SGS2 is super smooth like an iphone where the hercules SGS2 still has some of its stuttering that is on every snapdragon S3 device. EVERY side by side comparison of the SGS2s have made that same remark. I have made it lag with little effort. The Tmobile Hercules SGS2 is the strongest phone Tmobile carries right now, but it is not as strong as a real SGS2. And it is definitely not as strong as an OMAP carrying, dual core optimized Nexus Prime. The synthetic benchmarks may have been bumped, but the real world performance was not.

66. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

Sounds to me like it's not the CPU, it's the software. TouchWiz 4.0 may just be that much more efficient than Sense 3.x and may incorporate the hardware acceleration to push benchmarks way way up.

67. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

if every S3 device was based on Sense 3.0, i could go with that. But it doesnt change for ANY phone except the SGS2 variant. Unless samsung shows otherwise, I stand by my statement that they found a way to fudge the common synthetic benchmarks like Quadrant (which is easy to do BTW) so the Hercules looked on par to its Exynos brethren. It would lose a lot of sales if this "sgs2" was showing its lack of power comparitivly to the real sgs2s.. . especially concidering how hot the SGS2 is across the world. Its one of those phones that people jump carriers to get.

68. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

But if they're able to fudge Quadrant benchmarks with the S3, who's to say they're not also fudging them with the Exynos? I understand that the Exynos-based SGS2 is visibly smoother, but maybe it's only 20% faster than comparably powered phones, not the 50% benchmarks show.

70. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

yeah, i kind of agree with roldefol here. like you said realistic scores for the Exynos are probably between 3100-3400. Quadrant does give it higher scores most of the time.

71. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

because quadrant is just 1 test. Exynos leads the pack across the board in every test and pretty much every benchmark suite. Quadrant is easy to tweak. The easiest way to tell if its tweaked or not is to actually BUY quadrant so it breaks down categories for the over all score. If you see an huge increase in just one category (normally its the I/O score) and not in others, its been tweaked. There are articles on XDA about how to fudge quadrant and I/O scores in general, which is why i generally erase them from my mind while looking at all the synthetic bench programs and try to compare everything else. Exynos is king.. undisputed and unchallenged in the android realms.

72. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

oh i don't question Exynos being king, i'm just questioning how MUCH better it is than say...an OMAP4430. (:

73. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

btw i want a job at T-Mobile. any help or tips you can offer your SoC geek equal? (:

74. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

lol. dont check "full time" on the app. they only hire part time from outside... unless u wanna be auto rejected :). Apply at them all. VZW is the hardest to get into unless u know someone, but they pay the most. Tmobile is very relaxed though which is the opposite of VZW which is very rigid. its a good company and like anything its all about the people u work with. I have a lot of fun, and I get lots of perks like free phones n tablets since im the biggest "geek" in the city from what i'm told.. lol. Just be perky in your interview, up beat, and show them that you know the product already. It is definitely the type of job where a happy geek is a respected and prideful thing to be :) Selling phones are so easy.. especially if you know the phones. People hear the excitement in my voice and just buy whatever I'm talkin about..lol

75. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

oh my god i need that job! xD thanks for the tips! those are so helpful.

51. dmn666

Posts: 244; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

OMAPs are great. TI makes best DSP & power management chips. There's even no competition. When I see some fanboy comments about Exynos I laugh my a** off. Chip design is an Art - TI, Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom excel at it. Samsung will always be good at making dumb RAMs (cause it doesn't take any brain). This is a good Article, PA.

53. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

Samsung kills Nvidia and Qualcomm at making micro processors. they've made a reputation for themselves in this space. the only SoC that has a chance against Exynos is in indeed the OMAP4. i think i heard Intel is hoping in soon so we'll see about them.

56. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

i dont think intel's first offerings will be that ground breaking, but intel not fighting its way to the championship match against samsung for superiority by the 2nd generation of its chips would be very surprising. They know how to bring it.. just not always on the first try.

43. knights4life03

Posts: 131; Member since: Jun 09, 2011

so how bout that droid razr!!! lol if we are talking about cameras, samsung might be on par with the 5 megapixel camera,even tho its not 8 megapixels. it might beat the droid razr (camera) because motorola hasnt been great with 8 megapixel shooters in image quality and on how it performs. their new devices like droid 3 droid x2 photon and droid bionic are the examples. O and one other thing, the first motorola atrix had a 5 mp shooter and it was superior over their new devices

39. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

Nice article. Excited to see real (not user submitted) benchmarks and see what this thing is really capable of!

33. ph00ny

Posts: 2082; Member since: May 26, 2011

LOL at browser benchmarks again. Same reasoning applies to this as well but these results are heavily depended on the browsers

27. CX3NT3_713

Posts: 2365; Member since: Apr 18, 2011

Sooo?? We should see netflix HD, on LG thrill ?soon?

17. Daniel.P

Posts: 127; Member since: Jul 14, 2011

Very good point about the cost structure, I was wondering about the wholesale price of the chipsets too, maybe in a teardown or two we can compare. Actually the difference between the 5MP and 8MP modules could be only a few bucks, guess Samsung didn't want to undercut its own Galaxy S II versions and maybe the Note. In any case, it should have been cheaper to produce with Exynos instead of adjusting to OMAP...

19. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

cost structure, wouldnt the Exynos be more expencive to buy at retail concidering there are less of them made and its the "premium" chip at the moment? economies of scale and demand say that it should be the highest priced dual core chip right now. of course, none of us will ever know the true pricing between suppliers more than likely. the difference between the 5mpx n 8mpx camera is negligible for pricing.. your also assuming that all 8mpx cameras are better than all 5mpx cameras which isnt true. If the 5mpx camera is made of better equipment and is able to do more things, then its going to be more expensive than the 8mpx camera. Maybe google is making a statement about quality over a number.

22. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

I think the vertical integration of Samsung using its own Exynos would negate the "premium chip" cost. I completely agree on the camera though. Maybe if they'd used an 8 MP unit, the Nexus wouldn't be able to do its lagless and panoramic camera tricks as easily. I prefer to think it was a performance choice, not cost cutting or contrast with the Galaxy S2.

32. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

rodle.. maybe.. maybe not. samsung operates as many huge arms of the same company. who knows how it sells products to itself to retain profit margins. hell, it could sell itself its own products across arms at a higher cost to show increased margins on the arms it shows off (like mobile) vs the arms it doesnt (like its TV arm thats losing money).. thats all pure speculation and conjecture but the point remains the same. Just because its all the same parent company doesnt mean each arm isnt working and operating independently and maintaining its own P&L reports.

24. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

well it's still a MP count. it still matters but only if they both have similar capabilities like you pointed out there.

34. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

remixfa, this is the same logic as your RD expense belongs in gross profit margins post. There's more to cost structure than economies of scale; economies of scale would be an argument for lower chip cost, not higher chip cost, etc, etc. As for the 8 MP shooter, my point is since this is the flagship device, it should have the best available features and if 8MP is the current standard, the Google should launch the phone with the best possible 8 MP shooter. Obviously this simple point eludes remixfa, TBVIPA. No one is talking about MP for the sake of MP (except remixfa since he has nothing else to grasp on). Here's the point: Apple has made the 8MP a feature to compete on and it is foolish of Google to walk away from this challenge over a few dollars. Here's an analogy, when Lexus came to market going against established brands like Mercedes or BMW, you don't see Lexus skimping or cost cutting it's way to win customers. The LS 400 was a Tour de Force such that it established the Lexus franchise. Google needs to wake up and get someone who undertands the cell phone is being commoditized and unless Google stands heads and shoulder above the field, it too will be commoditized. How you know if a company is producing commodities as opposed to high value products: you look at its gross margins. Companies with single to low two digit gross margins are at risk for being marginalized.

37. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

you're just not going to listen are you? xD

38. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

One thing is for sure... you certainly live up to your name.

47. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

Who says the Nexus needs to compete spec for spec with the iPhone? I for one stopped considering the iPhone when they stuck with the older design and screen size. The impression I got from the iPhone 4S camera presentation is that they needed to revamp the camera completely just to get as good or better picture quality from an 8 MP sensor. Which they can afford to do, since they didn't spend anything on a new design or screen tech. The camera isn't meant to be the Nexus' star feature. That would be the screen and the OS.

59. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

ever notice how you are the only one that ever agrees with you??

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