Last night LG announced that it would be using NVIDIA's Tegra 2 in its Optimus Series smartphones starting in Q4 2010. The most exciting part of Tegra 2 is its use of two ARM Cortex A9 cores. The Cortex A9 is ARM's first out-of-order architecture and should deliver a performance boost similar, at worst, to what we saw in the ARM11 to Cortex A8 transition. But NVIDIA isn't the only company working on a Cortex A9 SoC.

Samsung was unwilling to talk about its Cortex A9 plans at CES, but today it announced the successor to Hummingbird: Orion. Samsung's 45nm Orion SoC implements two Cortex A9 cores running at 1GHz, each with a 64KB L1 cache (32KB+32KB) and a large 1MB shared L2 cache. At 45nm peak power consumption should be greater than the Cortex A8 based Hummingbird, but average power consumption may be lower thanks to the improvement in IPC that accompanies the Cortex A9. 

The GPU specs are unusual. Samsung lists Orion as having up to 5x the GPU performance of its previous generation SoC (presumably Hummingbird). We just finished talking about how great Hummingbird's PowerVR SGX 540 is, but to outperform it by 5x would require a serious GPU. I'm not sure I believe Samsung's claim. It is interesting that 5x is the same number NVIDIA used in its announcement yesterday.

TI is also working on a Cortex A9 based SoC - the OMAP 4. Due to ship in Q4 2010 with devices available in 2011 the OMAP 4 series sounds a lot like Orion. However OMAP 4 will use the SGX 540, not whatever higher performing option Samsung turned to for Orion.

If you like you keep your smartphones for a while, it seems like now would be the worst time to buy. Within 6 months you should have much faster options at your disposal (Update: it's unclear when Orion will ship, but at least NVIDIA will have dual core A9 based products in the market by then).

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  • anactoraaron - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    I've been waiting for dual core smartphones to come out before upgrading from my painfully slow, yet functional Nokia E63. The wait is finally coming to an end...
  • Mike1111 - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Well, the 5x is not necessarily the same. LG talks of "up to 5x faster gaming performance over single core processors running at 1 GHz" and Samsung talks of "5 times the 3D graphics performance over the previous processor generation from Samsung". Gaming performance is not necessarily the same as 3D graphics performance. Also LG's point of reference is pretty undefined, but we have plenty of information and benchmarks of Samsung's previous processor generation and the SGX540 (Hummingbird).

    I also wonder if Samsung is using a VXE video encoder for 1080p encoding. Unless they switched from IMG to ARM IP (e.g. Mali-400 multicore GPU and whatever video decoder/encoder ARM offers).
  • PhilipHaa - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Samsung was announced some time ago as the 1st licensee of ARMs Mali graphics...may be this is its first use? I have no idea on the specs for Mali graphics?
  • MySchizoBuddy - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    I think Apple will continue to go for the less power route and higher battery life than higher performance route. Future A4 chips might even have 10hrs+ of battery life.
  • mianmian - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Apple has to upgrade it's A4 anyway. The most logic way is to put Cortex A9 into A5 or something.
  • bupkus - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    This looks like it's time for a bifurcation of the product line. One path for super long battery life, probably extending the current products at a diminishing price and a performance line to compete with the new performance players.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link


    As interesting as a Cortex A9-MPCore phone would be, better would be if we could get Cortex A8 @ 1GHz in almost everything, for a lower cost, on an ever shrinking process, to save power and size. Because to be honest, it's more than enough for most people.
  • Adsski - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    They said it themselves

    It states Initial samples in Q3

    I guess the advantage over using the SGX540 is only having to pay a license fee to ARM
  • SunLord - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Whats stopping Samsung from ordering a custom built bobcat gpu derivative from amd like Microsoft did for the 360? I know it's about as likely as pigs flying or Iran and Israel becoming close allies tommorow still an amusing thought
  • metafor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    These are sub-1W chips. Bobcat's GPU isn't really in this power envelope. We're talking sub-200mW for full-load operation here.

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