Inside Google's Ice Cream Sandwich phones, tablets

Google's new mobile operating system will run on snappy new silicon, and the first chip out of the gate is a Texas Instruments' dual-core 4460 processor.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
2 min read

While user-facing software is what usually makes or breaks a platform--and Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is no exception--underlying hardware can make the critical difference between a snappy and slow device. So what's going to power upcoming Android 4.0 phones and tablets?

Texas Instruments will be leading the way on Android 4.0. Its dual-core OMAP4460 chip is inside the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which, in turn, is the launch vehicle for Android 4.0.

Samsung's Galaxy Nexus is the launch vehicle for Google's 'Ice Cream Sandwich' Android 4.0. Inside is a Texas Instruments' dual-core chip.
Samsung's Galaxy Nexus is the launch vehicle for Google's 'Ice Cream Sandwich' Android 4.0. Inside is a Texas Instruments' dual-core chip. CNET Asia

This didn't happen overnight. TI and Google have been preparing for this week's Ice Cream Sandwich launch for a while. Google's policy is to work closely with one chipmaker to make sure its software is fully optimized on the chip's feature set.

TI's 4460 in the Galaxy Nexus runs at 1.2GHz and packs Imagination's PowerVR SGX 540 graphics silicon. If its close cousin, the 4430, is any indication, the 4460 is no slouch.

And plenty of horsepower will be needed to push around the pixels in the 1280x720 resolution 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD displays on phones like the Galaxy Nexus.

Of course, it would be negligent not to mention that Apple's spanking new iPhone 4S uses a dual-core Apple A5 processor running at 800MHz which, like TI's chip, is a design rooted in the ARM architecture.

Don't let the A5's lower gigahertz rating fool you, though, as it benchmarks well on key performance metrics, as will phones based on TI's chip and Ice Cream Sandwich, according to review site Anandtech.

And TI is ready to amp up performance in 2012 when it brings out chips like the 4470.

The 4470 will hit speeds of up to 1.8GHz, a pretty big step up from the 1.2GHz 4460, according to a research note from Linley Gwennap, who heads The Linley Group, a chip consulting firm.

TI has also modified the memory controller to support faster memory, and the 4470 includes a PowerVR SGX544 graphics processing unit (GPU), which TI is also using in OMAP5, the next iteration of its OMAP processor series. "This GPU delivers twice the raw performance of the SGX540 in the earlier OMAP4 chips," according to Gwennap. The 4470 is expected to sample this year and appear in devices in 2012.

But Android 4.0 is not just about smartphones. Probably the single most significant aspect of Ice Cream Sandwich is the convergence (finally) of Android releases on both smartphones and tablets. So, that means TI will likely also be powering upcoming tablets powered by the latest version of Android.

Don't be surprised if Motorola's upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich-based tablets also boast TI chips.

And other chipmakers will of course emerge, including Nvidia and Qualcomm. Asus is already touting the quad-core Tegra 3 inside an upcoming Android-based Eee Pad Transformer tablet.

And Qualcomm is expected to be one of the first with a leading-edge chip built on an advanced 28-nanometer manufacturing process. (Most chips out there are currently built on older, "fatter" 40- and 45-nanometer tech.) The Qualcomm MSM8960 "Krait' chip will run at 1.5GHz and integrate fast Adreno 225 graphics. It is due in the first half of 2012.