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Texas Instruments OMAP 5 may offer the best quad-core chip [Processor fights]

February 16, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka

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All cores are not created equal. That was the key message that I took away from a recent meeting with the folks from Texas Instruments. While the trend among mobile phones and tablets is to trumpet how many cores one chipset has, and how many gigahertz can be crammed into a tiny piece of hardware, that doesn’t tell the whole story of how a device will perform.

Texas Instruments recently announced that its TI OMAP 5 would be a quad-core processor that greatly advances the computing power of smartphones, tablets, and other devices. OMAP 5 features twin ARM Cortex-A15 cores that can each reach 2 GHz of power, and two ARM Cortex-M4 cores that are used to deliver optimal battery with less power requirements. So while NVIDIA trumpets its four Cortex A9 cores, TI plans to counter with what it claims will be a stronger and smarter quartet.

Consumers shouldn’t get wrapped-up in the GHz and number of core talks because that’s not always what matters most. TI says that what makes its product special is that not only does it have the processing power to handle tasks quickly, it does it in a way so efficient that users will see an incredible difference in battery life. You’re essentially accomplishing the same feat in a faster amount of time without putting in as much effort as is traditionally required.

IN OTHER WORDS…

Think of it this way: a pile of bricks is being moved by four men, two of whom are 300-pound body-builders and the remaining two are 180-pound average-size males. While the bodybuilders will obviously do most of the work because they are stronger, they could tire out prematurely if forced to bear too much of the workload. So the group must be efficient and have everyone involved, carefully balancing the amount of lifting handled by each person (or core).

TI designed the OMAP 5 to act in a similar capacity. The Cortex-A15 cores will deliver 3x higher performance than current processors, but it will also have Cortex-M4′s to conserve energy. So instead of having one or two cores clocked at maximum speed and being overworked, OMAP 5 is engineered to split duties between cores so efficiently that it can complete tasks faster with much-less energy requirements.

So consider this when comparing phone specs: two phones may both be “dual-core devices,” but that doesn’t mean they are of equal value. Twin Cortex A9′s cannot match the performance and efficiency of twin A15′s, so consumers should pay less attention to how many GHz’s Phone A has and more attention to how optimal is the engineering behind Phone B.

THE FUTURE

The LG Optimus 3D currently runs TI OMAP 4, but the OMAP 5 should start appearing in phones released during the Christmas 2012 holiday season. TI told me that it is focusing on three key areas for development in OMAP 5: interaction, photo capability, and mobile computing. This will introduce processors that have more power for creating content on mobile devices rather than just consuming it, support faster 3D experiences, nearly-instant facial recognition in photos, and various other technological advancements ranging from hardware virtualization to SDXC flash memory.

Moving fast will always be critical, but moving in the right direction is of the upmost importance. Texas Instrument believe’s its heading towards a processor that is just as efficient as it is fast. Meanwhile, rival NVIDIA aims to be fast and available at an earlier date. Consumers will know which strategy is best in the long-run next year.