TI Joins the Portable Internet Device Race

No one knows exactly how big the market for mobile Internet devices will be, but the major chip makers are betting it will be huge (it’s one of the reasons they’re making chips for mobile devices at 45 nanometers.) We’ve covered efforts by Intel, Qualcomm, and Via Technologies to get their chips into devices sized somewhere between a smartphone and a PC, but Texas Instruments wants to play, too.

TI formalized its MID effort, based on its own OMAP architecture, last month. It’s entering this market with its third generation of OMAP multimedia processors, which were designed four years ago specifically to fit into smartphones. The second-generation chips are currently in the Nokia 800 and 770; the third-generation chips that underlie the formal MID group will be in an undisclosed number of products by the end of the year.

TI’s chips will compete directly with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset and Intel’s Atom chips. Comparatively speaking, TI’s chips show a greater flexibility for the end products. The power-sipping (at 500 mW-750 mW) 800 GHz MHz processor is slower than both Qualcomm’s and Intel’s efforts and requires less power than Intel’s Atom processors, which can require up to 2.4 watts. Ramesh Iyer, a MID product strategy manager with TI, says the lower clock speed is a conscious decision to reduce the power consumption; combining several types of cores with TI software allows for a higher utilization of existing megahertz, he notes.

As products containing chips from competing vendors hit the market, my hunch is that TI’s might be the best when it comes to general purpose use and battery power, followed by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, which will also be battery-friendly and perhaps perform better than TI’s in general purpose use. Device specs for MIDs based on Intel’s Atom processor are larger, but the x86 architecture might win converts because it’s familiar and plenty of applications are designed for it. And that raises the very legit question of what role the operating system will play in how MIDs are used. I’ll get back to that in a few posts.