Electronics Production | June 10, 2009

Who are the major component suppliers for Palm’s new Pre?

Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Sony and Samsung Electronics are the major component suppliers for Palm’s new Pre, according to dissection conducted by iSuppli Corp.’s Teardown Analysis Service.
“With the Pre, Palm has made some surprising choices not only in the phone’s features, but also in its design and component selection,” said Andrew Rassweiler, director and principal analyst, teardown services, for iSuppli.

Sony gets display win
As iSuppli expected, the Pre makes use of an advanced Low-Temperature Polysilicon (LTPS) LCD display. The display, supplied by Sony, is a 16-million color LCD with a pixel format of 320 by 480. LTPS displays provide higher resolutions and faster response times than the conventional LCDs used in most mobile phones, but are also more expensive. iSuppli estimates the LTPS display carries a price of $21. While Sony was the supplier in the specific Pre torn down by iSuppli, it’s likely that Palm is using other sources, given the availability of such displays from other companies.

The LTPS display, fused together with the Pre’s touch screen module, represents the largest cost driver in the Pre, at a combined price of $39.50.

With the Pre using the same multi-touch capacitive technology used in the iPhone, Apple likely is employing the same set of suppliers for the touch screen module, i.e., TPK/Balda, Touch International and others. Touch screen controller chip is the Cypress Semiconductor CP6944BA integrated circuit.

Divide and conquer
The Palm Pre’s design is split into two core spheres, just like the iPhone: the applications processor portion, which centers on TI’s OMAP3430 applications processor; and the wireless interface portion, which revolves around the Qualcomm MSM6801A baseband processor.

“Employing a discrete and completely separate applications processor inherently should have the advantage of improved performance over designs that choose to leverage a single piece of core silicon,” Rassweiler said. “Most of the so-called “iPhone killers” iSuppli has torn down keep costs down by having one—and only one—core silicon asset. However, this approach burdens a single processor with multiple functions, degrading performance. This Pre’s two-pronged solution may be more costly, but should yield a superior-performing smart phone.”

TI’s OMAP finds way into the Pre
TI supplies the core of the Pre—the OMAP3430 applications and media processor. The Pre also employs a companion chip to the OMAP3430 OMAP, TI’s TWL5030B dedicated power management/audio codec device. TI’s total semiconductor content identified in the Pre thus far is worth $19.37, with the applications processor slot sole-sourced by definition.

Amped DRAM
In one surprise, the Pre includes a relatively large quantity of SDRAM: 2Gbits in two 1Gbit dies. Most smart phones and PDAs torn down by iSuppli, including the iPhone 3G, incorporate only 1Gbit or less of SDRAM. This DRAM is mounted directly on top of the applications processor using a package-on-package enclosure. Elpida was identified as the supplier of this SDRAM in the specific Pre torn down by iSuppli. Interestingly, although Elpida is the world’s No.-2 supplier of mobile DRAM, iSuppli in its teardowns rarely sees the company’s parts outside of integrated Multi-Chip Package (MCP) memory solutions. The larger quantity of memory likely is needed as a buffer to support the Pre’s capability to multi-task various applications, a key allure of the Pre’s webOS operating system relative to that of the iPhone and competing smart phones.

Qualcomm at the core
The Qualcomm MSM6801A baseband processor is the key wireless semiconductor portion of the Pre, providing the essential communications functions for the smart phone, supporting the CDMA2000 1X and CDMA2000 1X Rev A EV-DO air standards. Together with Qualcomm’s two Radio Frequency (RF) support chips, the RFR6500 receiver and RFT6150 transmitter, the company provides $18.45 worth of semiconductor content to Pre.

Surprisingly, Palm did not employ Qualcomm’s PM6650 chip, which performs the power management function in almost all Qualcomm-based designs. Instead, that function is supported by Maxim’s MAX8695 power management integrated circuit, a design choice also seen in the LG Voyager VX10000.
Other notable aspects of the Pre’s design include:

• A basic digital camera, based on a 3-megapixel CMOS sensor and using a fixed lens, rather than employing auto-focus optics.

• A Murata WLAN/Bluetooth module, which is ostensibly the same as the one found in the iPhone 3G. This Murata module features a Marvell W8686B12 and a CSR BlueCore 6 solution.

• A novel approach to detecting when the device slides out, by using an Osram optical sensor. Typically, sliding devices use a conventional magnet with a hall-effect sensor combination to achieve this function. This may be due to the optional inductive charging stand, which also uses a magnet to hold the Pre to its base—a move that might confuse the conventional hall-effect sensing arrangement.

• The use of proximity sensing to detect closeness to the user’s face to actively dim the screen and to conserve energy.

Samsung eMMC
In another interesting design choice, the Pre makes use of 8GBytes of Samsung’s eMMC MoviNAND flash memory, rather than regular Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND commonly found in mobile phones. eMMC is a premium variety of NAND flash memory that combines high-density MLC NAND flash with a memory management controller to deliver higher performance and easier integration into electronic designs. This win gives Samsung $17 worth of content in the individual Pre torn down by iSuppli. Palm potentially will use other suppliers as well for this memory requirement, including the competitive eMMC NAND flash solutions offered by Micron, Hynix and SanDisk.


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