Marvell goes after low-cost smartphones, tablets with new chip

Marvell tries to cash in on the fast-growing, low-cost smartphone and tablet market with the ARM-based PXA1088 chip

Best known as the chip provider for the One Laptop Per Child computing products, Marvell is now seeking to expand its footprint in the mobile device market with a new low-power chip designed for low-cost smartphones and tablets.

The quad-core PXA1088 processor is based on ARM's Cortex-A7 processor design, which was introduced in late 2011, and is targeted at low-cost smartphones priced under US$100. Marvell is also extending the chip for use in tablets.

The chip is designed to be an affordable, yet high-performance, component for smartphones and tablets, a company spokeswoman said.

ARM processors are used in most of the world's smartphones, including Apple's iPhone. ARM licenses its Cortex processors to companies such as Samsung, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Marvell, who make chips from the designs.

But the Cortex-A7 isn't the fastest ARM processor, and is slower than the latest Cortex-A15 that will be used in Nvidia's upcoming Tegra 4, and Samsung's Exynos 5 Dual and Exynos 5 Octa chips.

The Cortex-A7 is, however, designed to be a highly power-efficient processor to extend the battery life of low-end smartphones and tablets. It is also intended to be a companion processor to the more powerful Cortex-A15 in mobile devices, and take on tasks such as phone calls to preserve battery life. A device's battery life depends on many aspects of its design, such as display size, processor, battery capacity and components.

The PXA1088 chip will be able to encode and decode high-definition 1080p video, Marvell said. The company will package the chip with a range of 3G connectivity features to enable world phones for multiple countries including China.

Products based on the PXA1088 chip will be available in the first half this year. Marvell will show some products with the chip at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona from Feb. 25 to 28.

PXA1088 is targeted at the 3G market, and the company in the future will release an LTE based single-chip product that includes an LTE radio and an applications processor, a company spokeswoman said.

The low-cost smartphone market is booming. Intel recently launched a new single-core Atom chip code-named Lexington for low-cost smartphones, and phone provider Safaricom in Kenya launched the Yolo smartphone with the Intel chip for about $125.

Marvell also offers ARM-based Armada processors for servers, tablets and smartphones. The PXA processors are largely used in low-power and embedded devices.

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