Texas Instruments (TI) gave a significant boost to its OMAP applications processor line-up yesterday by announcing the ARM Cortex A-15-based OMAP 5 applications processors, OMAP5430 and OMAP5432. The OMAP5432 is likely to target Microsoft's next generation Windows PC platform-based devices while the OMAP5430 is targeted at smartphones and tablets. The OMAP 5 applications processors, designed in 28 nm, feature two ARM Cortex-A15 cores (each running at 2GHz) and also integrate Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX 544 graphics cores. ARM's Cortex-A15 can support up to eight cores and TI's OMAP 5 has only two cores suggesting that the software ecosystem is not yet ready for that many cores.
Most importantly, the new OMAP 5 applications processors bring two new features including graphics computing and hardware virtualization that are currently not available in the current generation processors. Graphics computing APIs such as OpenCL facilitate GPU computing by enabling GPU access to non-graphics applications. ARM's next generation graphics core Mali T-604 also offers support for graphics computing APIs such as OpenCL.
The mobile industry is in the midst of figuring out killer apps for graphics computing. Apple is a big proponent of OpenCL and is expected to bring it to its future iOS devices which could act as a positive catalyst for OpenCL's take-off on mobile devices. Features such as hardware virtualization can help enhance security and also preserve the legacy application ecosystem. This could be an important feature for Microsoft as they transition to a new application framework in their next generation Windows platform for SoCs.
As we mentioned on this blog previously, TI is currently facing headwinds in the smartphone market from the baseband-integrated vendors such as Qualcomm. We see the integration trend to continue in smartphones as OEMs demand more and more integration to reduce their BoM costs which could put TI's OMAP processors at a disadvantage, particularly in the low-to-mid range smartphone category. However, Microsoft's upcoming next generation Windows platform for SoCs could create another opportunity for TI to revitalize its OMAP business.
Most recently, TI announced a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet design-win at RIM but hasn't yet announced a smartphone design-win for its OMAP 4 applications processor which is bit of a concern as Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson's baseband-integrated dual-core processors come into the market. Qualcomm's MSM8x60 and ST-Ericsson's U8500 / U5500 products integrate an HSPA+ baseband modem and dual ARM Cortex-A9 cores (or equivalent) which puts them on a par with NVIDIA's Tegra2 and TI's OMAP 4 applications processors. The OMAP 5-based are expected to appear in products in late 2012 but until then TI has to defend itself from the baseband-integrated vendors.
Other publicly announced ARM Cortex-A15 licensees include NVIDIA, Samsung and ST-Ericsson and TI will probably face competing products from these companies in future. We note that Qualcomm's next generation Snapdragon processors MSM8960 and MSM8270 are also designed in 28 nm and integrate dual Cortex-A15 equivalent processing cores. The MSM8960 also integrates multi-mode LTE baseband modem, Adreno GPU and a variety of connectivity functionality (GPS, WLAN, Bluetooth and FM). TI has to fight highly integrated products like these in future and we are cautiously optimistic about OMAP 5 given the trend towards integration. However, the market is expanding rapidly and an assortment of mobile devices are coming to the market with a variety of operating systems which could be a positive thing for TI.