Today's Superphone, Tomorrow's Toy

The next generation of smartphone chips is coming down the pipeline, and it's mighty good stuff.

The current generation of smartphone top dogs run on chips like the Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) SnapDragon, Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) OMAP 3, and Samsung Hummingbird with a single processor core ticking away at 1 gigahertz or thereabouts. These phones make absolute mincemeat of the finest gadgets you could get last year, but it's still a long way to maxing out what these puppies can do.

The latest and so far greatest addition to the family of low-power-but-high-performance chips based on technology from ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) comes from Marvell Technology Group (Nasdaq: MRVL  ) , which promises 1.5GHz performance on more than twice the processor cores (more on that in a second) -- all paired with a superior subsystem for graphics.

When I say "more than twice" the cores, I mean that the Marvell Armada 628 runs two full-speed processors on the same physical chip while throwing in a third processor optimized for very low power draws. The company says to expect 10 hours of high-def video playing or 140 hours of music on a single charge thanks to this novel setup.

Of course, none of this will help end users until somebody designs a phone around this chip. While Marvell has wins in Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) phones, it's high-end Armada series hasn't been able to gain traction in the smartphone market, just as NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) Tegra processors are hard to come by in the wild. Superior performance claims does not automatically translate into design wins.

But if the published specifications are anywhere close to the chip's real-world performance, I'm salivating over the mere thought of playing with one of these puppies. If the raw processor speed wasn't enough, Marvell also claims more than twice the 3-D graphics performance of the current far-and-away leader of processors widely used in Android models, which is the latest version of Samsung's Hummingbird.

Is this the wonder chip that finally makes Marvell a real player in the smartphone space, beyond just shipping Wi-Fi and storage controllers? It just might be, but share your thoughts on the matter in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. NVIDIA is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Marvell Technology Group, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2010, at 7:20 PM, isellwireless wrote:

    Dear InfoThatHelp,

    RIMM is mentioned in this article. We are excited to hear your positive thoughts on the article.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2010, at 10:55 PM, enkidusfriend wrote:

    Performance is not the most relevant metric here. Power is. Tegra failed on account of poor power specs and the Marvell chip will fail if it can't keep draw down.

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