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Marvell's Triple-Core Mobile Chip Could Make 2011 Smartphones Smokin'


The smartphone and tablet revolution is propelled along not only by clever designs, but also by clever hardware. And Marvell's just revealed a 1.5GHz, triple-core mobile CPU that delivers the kind of processing power your current-gen phone merely dreams of.

If you remember 1993 at all, and are even slightly tech-minded, then you'll have clear memories of the revolution kicked off by the arrival of Intel's Pentium chip for desktop PCs. It was a leviathan, a monster of computing power that ticked along at 66MHz, and enabled all sorts of powerful applications to run on your Windows 3.1 PC. Compared to the chip Marvell has just unveiled, the original P5 was a crock. Because the Armada 628 hums along at 1.5GHz (over 22 times faster). And it's designed not for a desktop PC full of power supplies, whirling hard drives and fans, but for devices that'll fit in your pocket.

The 628 is, according to Marvell, the "world's first triple-core application processor" and it deserves a sliver of your attention because it gives us a clear insight into what next year's crop of smartphones and tablet PCs will deliver—if they use Marvell's hardware, or a rival system with similar specs. And the results are going to be impressive. Check this out:

  • Dual-stream 1080p video quality, in 3-D if needed, with HDMI support
  • 200 million triangles per second graphics processing, enabling desktop-like 3-D graphics for games
  • Low power consumption for 140 hours of music playback, or 10 hours of full HD video watching
  • First mobile CPU to support USB 3.0 for super-speed syncing to desktop machines

Impressive, no? Marvell's design is based on ARM architectures, and the three cores aren't all the same. The third core is a lower power, low consumption processor designed to run more routine tasks on mobile devices—like managing the UI and sharing heavy processor tasks cleverly across the main two cores. It's something of a high-performance muscle car when compared to the slimmed-down fast-revving European sports car-style chips (like the Snapdragon or Apple A4) that power the current crop of smartphones and tablets, which will manage pretty impressive 3-D graphics and 1080p video-out but only at a push.

Marvell is also sampling the chip to manufacturers already, so it could even make it into early-arriving tablet PCs in 2011. The iPad 2.0, whatever silicon it ends up being powered by, will face some stiff competition in terms of raw computing performance.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.