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

Posted: , by Daniel P.

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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. 

Benchmarks courtesy of Anandtech
Benchmarks courtesy of Anandtech

Benchmarks courtesy of Anandtech

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:

Today is a great day for our collaboration with Google…The long-awaited Android 4.0 release is finally being revealed with the OMAP4460 processor powering the absolutely gorgeous Samsung Galaxy Nexus device. I am so excited about this launch. What I may be the most excited by is not only the ability to converge to one Android release for both smartphones and tablets, but to be able to pack that level of performance across graphics or video on an HD screen and within the power envelope of a smartphone device…This is where our OMAP smart multicore architecture makes a huge difference. At the end of the day, brute force (number of cores, for instance) does not rival sophistication.


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

Today, TI proudly revealed a major OMAP platform milestone: yes, the highly-anticipated Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” release runs on the OMAP4460 processor. This advancement is an exceptional demonstration of what OMAP processors uniquely do, and what separates them from competitors in the mobile processing world: the ability to provide hardware-integrated security, distinctive and advanced imaging features, enhanced memory and more, all on a smart multicore architecture.

76 Comments
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posted on 19 Oct 2011, 14:52 1

1. Kamil92 (Posts: 1; Member since: 19 Oct 2011)


How do you know that Motorola RAZR have OMAP 4460?

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:07 1

5. crankyd00d (Posts: 191; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Yes I would like to know the same, from what I read somewhere the CPU in the RAZR is the older 4430, though I would be glad to be wrong.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:09

10. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


it's more likely that it's an underclocked 4460 not an overclocked 4430. Motorola and Texas Instruments don't usually overclock anything.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:12 7

12. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


because moto said so :) moto uses a lot of OMAP chips.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 20:24 3

50. cheetah2k (Posts: 1746; Member since: 16 Jan 2011)


Quote: "....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..."

So the OMAP 4460 is essentially Quad Core??

2 x A9 CPU's + 2 x M3 CPU's

How awesome is that!!!

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 20:55

57. willardcw4 (Posts: 169; Member since: 01 Oct 2011)


too bad the GPU on the 4460 isn't that great :(

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 23:13 1

60. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


only in comparison to the Exynos's and A5's GPUs and it's really not that far from being as good as Exynos's.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:21

76. moosa.mahsoom (Posts: 22; Member since: 19 Nov 2011)


its the 3rd best at moment. on paper, it seems games run equally well as S2.

if the nexus had the upcoming TI OMAP 4470. it could have beaten iPhone 4S in everything. GPU is PowerVR SGX544

posted on 20 Oct 2011, 04:02

64. rd_nest (Posts: 1656; Member since: 06 Jun 2010)


That's not entirely true. The 4470 only has this extra M3 cores for mundane tasks. 4430 and 4460 does not have these core.

Note that the 4460 was previously called 4440.

http://newscenter.ti.com/Blogs/newsroom/archive/2011/06/02/ti-s-omap4470-apps-processor-it-s-all-about-the-user-experience-716621.aspx

posted on 20 Oct 2011, 11:03

69. Snapdude (Posts: 128; Member since: 27 Aug 2009)


razr is 4460

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 14:55

2. som (Posts: 768; Member since: 10 Nov 2009)


Cortex is Samsung brand too. Only Qualcomm is a different company.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:07 1

6. Nick040489 (Posts: 29; Member since: 01 Apr 2010)


Actually Cortex is made by ARM Holdings. Samsung makes the Hummingbird processor based on the architecture.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:08

7. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


Qualcomm uses an ARM based architecture in their S3s as well but it's only Cortex A7. the differences lies in the companies' SoCs.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:10 1

11. crankyd00d (Posts: 191; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Actually I believe Cortex is ARM's, Samsung just licenses the chip designs just like Apple, nVidia, Qualcomm, etc.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 19:06

45. NeXoS (Posts: 292; Member since: 03 May 2011)


Hey PA, how about an article and cool infographic about all the chips and their makers?

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 19:52

48. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


they actually did not so long ago. o:

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:05 4

3. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


good article. you guys have just rested a few of my cases for me. (:

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:09 2

8. roldefol (Posts: 4365; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)


If it's true that the gen 1 Exynos can't play well with LTE, that should settle it. I don't expect this to quiet the Exynos-or-bust crowd though.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:12 2

13. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


well i had speculated that the 4460 should rival the Exynos 4210 just fine and it's proven now that it does so you're really not missing out on anything with a 4460. i still think Samsung's Exynos powered handsets throws off Quadrant somehow.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:17

15. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


who you talking about?? lol :)

the Razrs performance is good for java performance.. very good. unfortunately thats just 1 small slice of the pie.
It does bring me a little bit of hope about the chip though..

looks like imma just have to get passed my exynos/exynos 4212 obsession for now.. BOOO

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:31 2

20. roldefol (Posts: 4365; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)


Or you could just wait around for the Galaxy S 3, which should be coming to the States by... oh, 2013.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 16:11 1

30. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


nope nope... cant do that either. ( ok.. i dont WANT to :) ) guess im at a loss.. nexus prime is back to my #1 choice again.. lol

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:06 1

4. Synack (Posts: 682; Member since: 05 Jul 2011)


I like this battery sipping feature.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:09 1

9. ardent1 (Posts: 2000; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


Question for Daniel P: if the TI chip is so great, why the lousy 5 MP shooter.

I don't know the answer but I bet cost was a factor. It doesn't make sense for Google to cut corners on their phone unless it faced budget constraints. The 5 MP shooter is the strongest evidence the phone faced these budget constraints. We'll never know the answer since these supply contracts are confidential, but don't be suprised if TI was more aggressive than Samsung on the price front.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:15 1

14. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


does it really matter? it's not like it's a matter of whether the OMAP can handle it. besides pictures and videos look just fine on the G.N. the Droid RAZR uses the same processor and it has an 8MP camera. is that better?

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:48

26. ardent1 (Posts: 2000; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


Yes it does matter. It's one thing if Samsung ran out of 8 MP shooters so the Nexus is stuck with a 5 MP shooter. If you are coming with a high end, why skim on the details?

My question to Daniel is I believe cost was an issue and that is why the TI chip was chosen.

I am not debating picture quailty, I am debating these phones are expensive to make, and compromises have to be made. Choosing a 5 MP shooter in an era of 8 MP (for christ sakes, even the iPhone 4S has an 8 MP) means someone who makes a lot of money at Google had to make the decision to go with a 5 MP shooter.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:57 1

29. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


well we're saying this 5MP camera is probably just as good or better than any of the older 8MP ones so why would it cost less than those?

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 17:29

41. ardent1 (Posts: 2000; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


And where is your proof?

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 17:54 2

42. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


it's speculation same as what you're spouting out with. forget this phone was just announced yesterday? like jeeze. wait for some hands-on treatment guy. it'll make sense.

posted on 19 Oct 2011, 15:21 2

18. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


ardent, do you ever have a clue... ever?

MPX means.. NOTHING.. its a number. it has nothing to do with image quality, clarity, color reproduction, artifacts and loss.. or anything.. other than the actual dimensions of the picture.

for someone that likes to call people names all the time, you never really have a clue. lol


on a side note, this is the only reason i care about camera mpx on a phone, because some loudmouth is gonna walk in and talk about how crappy the camera is sight-unseen because of the arbitrary number infront of the mpx stat. point proven by ardent.

how about we wait until we get a retail version of the device and do some camera comparisons vs other phones like the i4s, s2, mytouch 4g slide... if it sucks then, then it sucks.. but something tells me it wont.

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