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Texas brandishes ARM processing muscle in OMAP 5 SoC architecture

Every two years or so Texas Instruments shows what a forward looking company it is and describes a new application processing architecture for the cel

By PETER WHITE

Published: 10 February, 2011

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Every two years or so Texas Instruments shows what a forward looking company it is and describes a new application processing architecture for the cellular industry and it usually pre-announces it at one Mobile World Congress and delivered it at the next. This time it is pre-announcing it a full week prior to the show and is paralleling it to the Model T Ford, aimed, as it says it is at transforming people’s lives.

That’s a bit dramatic. Or is it? We would prefer to place the credit where it is due, for the most part at ARM’s door, but also collectively this is capitalism working at its best. We have gone from a 20 year Intel hegemony in portable processing power, with the help of some 300 or so companies getting behind ARM, taking some 500 or so licenses and offering multiple thousands of discrete designs. Not only has the cellular industry held Intel’s dominance at bay but it has created almost an open source model for chips, with all of them effectively co-operating to stay out of the clutches of monopoly chip making.

TI has built on that by taking all the elements offered in this way, both by ARM and by Imagination Technologies with its PowerVR graphics cores, and put them together on a next generation design, using a next generation chip geometry (28 nm).

This has produced the OMAP 5 applications processor and there are two hard designs, the OMAP 5430 for smart phones and the OMAP 5432 for portable computing devices, so read Tablets, offering 3 times the processing power and five times the 3D graphics power, with a 60% reduction in battery power of TI’s previous OMAP generation. TI says that OMAP 5 software will offer maximum reuse of the OMAP 4 platform, so porting should be fairly easy.

But while we don’t want to give all the credit to Texas Instruments, not only because some of it belongs to ARM and some to its multiple licensees, we pretty much agree that using multiple cores in multiple iterations, will lead to transformative advances.

The OMAP5 range has 2 ARM Cortex A15s, which each run at 2 GHz, providing something close to 4 GHz of processing cycles, as well as 2 Cortex M4 processors, these are extra ARM cores which allow jobs to be offloaded to them when someone wants to use the device for something else. This is to cut out any waiting for the phone to finish what it is doing, and bring its A15 attention back to the UI, so that more commands can be input, even when it’s already busy.

And while this monster does outstrip any ARM based chip out there, it is usually the case that the first chip company to define its architecture, ends up producing a chip that can be bested by its rivals subsequently, so while the OMAP 4 super phones were not so super as those based on 1GHz, it’s likely that OMAP 5 has a lead for perhaps a year, maybe longer, and so this chip will end up on many devices designs, even if it ends up with Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung and others racing past it in the not too distant future.

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