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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  • zorxd - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    They can have some differences (cache size, memory bandwidth, neon instructions) but the A9 is not an ISA. ARMv7 is.

    Given that it has the same configuration, an Apple A5 behave the same as a TI OMAP4 or a Samsung Exynos of the same clock speed. I beleive nVidia tegra2 lacks the neon instructions so can be slower in some cases. There is an article on Anandtech about this.

    Given that the iPhone 4S is only 800 MHz it is the slowest A9 CPU by far.
    Reply
  • pSupaNova - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    The GPU's on the IPhone uses Tiling so in most GPU rendering tasks it will be a lot faster, However spit lots of Triangles at it and then see how fast it really it is. Reply
  • StormyParis - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    It's not all about performance, at least if you don't do FPS games. The screen on the Nexus is much bigger than on the 4S for example. For me, it's not about performance at all. I went for the GN for its even bigger screen, and that criteria alone was 95% of my decision, the remain 5% being "... and the rest don't suck", and "has xda-dev support'. Reply
  • humancyborg - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Once you start accelerating the entire interface, performance becomes much more significant than just FPS games. There's a reason Apple uses such a gigantic and powerful GPU in their devices, and it's definitely not only for FPS gamers.

    Agree with you on the rest, there are other good reasons to buy this phone, just a shame that they skimped here. I have the 4S, GN and Lumia 800 currently and constantly switch around between them.
    Reply
  • metafor - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    It doesn't really take a whole lot of resources to render a 2D interface. Just about any ol' GPU with OpenGL ES 2.0 support will do it.

    About the only thing where the GPU is the limiting factor is rendering 3D games. And even then, most if not the vast majority of games on the market will continue to be written for this level of hardware for at least the coming year.

    Honestly, people take benchmarks way too seriously.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Actually, you're absolutely wrong.

    In fact, the GPU slowness is cited in this very article for causing slowdowns in situations where no 3D gaming is being done.

    Remember, the operating system as a whole is hardware accelerated, so every thing you do - animations, transitions, task switching, etc are carried out by the GPU. With the higher screen, the speed of the GPU becomes even more relevant.

    The combination of a high resolution screen and a low powered GPU is a bad combination and materially affects the performance of everything you do on the phone.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Do you remember the iPhone 4? Who complained that the GPU was slow? It was much slower than the SGX540 in the Galaxy S. Reply
  • metafor - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Speculation in an article isn't exactly proof of concept.

    Alpha blending, panning, compositing are very light tasks for a GPU pipeline; it's only a problem when a GPU is TMU-limited. And if it's TMU-limited, it would be obvious all the time.

    I don't think you quite grasp exactly what parts of UI rendering are handled -- or could be -- by the GPU and just how trivial it is compared to rendering a 3D game.
    Reply
  • trob6969 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    What i don't understand is why would samsung give the gn 1gig of ddr2 ram then give it an inferior GPU? But to be fair, Apple is no better. Why give iphone 4s a powerful GPU then give it only 512 mb of ram?! My old-ass og moto droid from over 2yrs. ago had that much! Reply
  • doobydoo - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    As alluded to by numerous posters, including one in this comments section, iOS handles memory usage more efficiently than Android so it doesn't suffer any performance penalty as a result of having less RAM. Reply

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