The SoC: TI's OMAP 4460

The launch platform for Ice Cream Sandwich was TI's OMAP 4460. Unlike previous Android releases however, it seems that other SoCs will see their ICS ports done in a much quicker manner. It took a very long time for Honeycomb to be ported to other SoCs, whereas a number of companies have already demonstrated ICS running on their hardware (e.g. Intel, NVIDIA). If this is the case going forward, the launch vehicle for a new Android version may not mean what it used to.

The OMAP 4460 is a fairly standard, yet full featured dual-core ARM Cortex A9 SoC. You get two A9 cores complete with MPE (NEON support), behind a shared 1MB L2 cache. The SoC features two 32-bit LPDDR2 memory channels as well. The GPU is provided by Imagination Technologies in the form of a PowerVR SGX 540.

Max clocks for the OMAP 4460 are 1.5GHz for the CPUs and 384MHz for the GPU. As with all SoCs, all final clocks are OEM customizable to hit their desired point on the performance/battery life curve. Google and Samsung settled on 1.2GHz for the cores and 307MHz for the GPU, both exactly 80% of the OMAP 4460's max frequencies. Sprint recently announced its Galaxy Nexus would run at 1.5GHz. It's quite possible that we'll see a jump in GPU clocks there as well since the two may run in lockstep.

From a CPU standpoint the 4460 is competitive with pretty much everything else on the market (A5, Exynos, Tegra 2, Snapdragon S3). The 4460 does have more memory bandwidth than Tegra 2, Tegra 3 and Snapdragon, but it's comparable to Apple's A5 and Samsung's Exynos 4210. It's the GPU that's a bit dated at this point; the PowerVR SGX 540 typically delivers Tegra 2-class performance. A quick look at GLBenchmark and Basemark results echoes our findings:

GLBenchmark 2.1 - Egypt - Offscreen (720p)
 
GLBenchmark 2.1 - Pro - Offscreen (720p)
 
RightWare Basemark ES 2.0 V1 - Taiji
 
RightWare Basemark ES 2.0 V1 - Hoverjet

At 720p, which happens to be the GN's native resolution, the OMAP 4460 is much faster than Tegra 2. It's also important to note just how much faster Tegra 3's GPU is by comparison.

I understand why Google didn't wait for a Krait based SoC, however I don't believe the OMAP 4460 was the best bet given the launch timeframe of the Galaxy Nexus. Based on performance alone, Google should have picked Tegra 3 as the launch platform for ICS. GPU performance is much better than the SGX 540 and there's comparable CPU performance. It's possible that Google needed the memory bandwidth offered by OMAP 4, but we'll find out for sure soon enough as the first Tegra 3 device (ASUS' TF Prime) is slated to get ICS this week.

I'm also less concerned about power consumption being an issue since NVIDIA added full power gating to all of the cores in Tegra 3. With a conservative enough power profile Google could have guaranteed battery life similar to OMAP 4460 out of Tegra 3.

I get the feeling that Google wasn't very pleased with NVIDIA after Honeycomb and chose to work with TI this time around for reasons other than absolute performance. If it weren't for the fact that Tegra 3 and other SoCs appear to be getting ICS in fairly short form I'd be more upset over this decision. To be honest, the choice of SoC simply hurts the Galaxy Nexus as a phone. If I were you, I'd wait for a Krait based device.

The Galaxy Nexus - Hardware and Aesthetics Camera - Stills and Video
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  • HooDooMagic - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    I think it's already been mentioned that 4.03 fixed the task switcher lag. I have alpha ICS 4.03 roms running on a Nexus One, Nook Color and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and everything runs very smoothly on all 3 devices. Even the very underpowered Nook has surprisingly little lag and stutter when using the task switcher and transitioning between screens/app drawer etc. Reply
  • Chloiber - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The Galaxy Nexus is a very nice phone indeed, but there are just some things that I don't like about it. As mentioned in the review, the GPU is not the best, which is actually the main reason I won't buy the phone. I buy smartphones which should last about 2 years. Buying one with a GPU from the beginning of last year is just not good enough. As Anand mentions: better wait for Q2, maybe Q3. At the moment, the GN is certainly the best phone (in my opinion) money can buy, but it's not the right moment to buy an android phone.
    The review is very late indeed...but very thorough - thank you!

    One question remains: are microSD slots a thing of the past? Google mentioned that there is a good reason why they didn't include one (slow speeds for apps). But I still think that's a very bad reason not to include a slot. While it is true, that the mSD cards are pretty slow compared to internal storage, there is just no way in hell I'm gonna pay 100$+ for 16GB of additional internal NAND. Additionally, you don't need high speeds for music, pictures and movies (the main reason to get an SD card).

    I hope for a phone in Q2/Q3 with a) better SoC, b) an SD card slot and c) a 720p IPS or SAMOLED+ screen.
    Reply
  • humancyborg - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I agree. The GPU is a terrible oversight on this phone, particularly considering the inclusion (finally) of OpenGL rendering throughout Android.

    With the 4S GPU being 3-4x faster it's tough to see how this phone is going to stand the test of time. Presumably the iPad3 and next iPhone will be packing an even more powerful SoC and GPU.

    This is one of the main reasons that I think Apple is in a great position going forward with regards to hardware. With the exception of Samsung, everyone else is relying on TI, Qualcomm, Intel, etc to make the right decisions with regards to CPU/GPU etc combination and clearly those chip makers do not always have the best insight with regards to product pipeline or requirements.

    A retina display-ish version of the iPad is going to take a GPU far beyond anything the current SoC guys are manufacturing.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The next generation of PowerVR SGX graphics chips are supposedly 20x as powerful as the current ones. I'm guessing Apple will still be using the dual core variant of the 6** series. That's good, if the 4x screen resolution rumours are true.

    Yeesh, Android devices still haven't caught up to the old GPU now a new one is around the corner. Nvidia is stuck with their own GPU's of course, but TI or Samsung should switch to PowerVR if this performance domination continues.
    Reply
  • trob6969 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    What performance domination?! Android phones are easily the most powerful on the market! Reply
  • Greg512 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Not when it comes to GPU power. The iPhone 4S has a GPU 3-4 times as powerful as the one in the Nexus. Android phones do tend to have higher clocked processors, however, so they do have a healthy advantage on that front. Android phones also have more RAM, though many would debate that iOS is memory efficient, negating the hardware advantage. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    You're kidding, right? The Tegra 3 is slower than the eight month old A5. Everything in Android world is playing catch-up with old parts, which is odd given that they have a more frequent upgrade cycle. Problem is that they've been behind since the beginning. Reply
  • doobydoo - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    trob6969 - the leading Android phones have CPU's which are largely comparable to the CPU in the iPhone 4S - in some cases they even boast up to ~10% extra performance (as a result of, in some cases, 50% higher clock speed), but only in CPU limited tasks, and that <10% is barely noticeable.

    Graphically, the GPU in the Nexus Prime is far slower than even the Samsung Galaxy S2 - using an older GPU which is up to 3x slower than the GPU in the iPhone 4S. The GPU in the SG2 (the fastest Android GPU) is also far slower than the iPhone 4S (as the benchmarks in this review show)

    Because iOS is hardware accelerated (and tightly intertwined with the iPhone), the performance of the iPhone 4S and iOS is far superior to any Android phone out at this moment in time.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    uh?
    50% faster clock speed gives you 50% more performance in CPU limited tasks. Don't forget that it's the same architecture (Cortex A9).

    I hope you are not making that 10% claim based on javascript bencmarks. They are browser benchmarks more than CPU benchmarks.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Not really, the A9 ISA have many different architecture implantations. TI does their own, Apple probably did their own, and I believe nVidia has their own too. Reply

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