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2/25/2011
11:01 AM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Motorola Xoom Teardown: What's Under The Covers

The Xoom is the first shipping tablet with dual-core processors, and the first to run Android 3.0. UBM TechInsights took the device apart and found similarities to Motorola's Atrix 4G smartphone.

Motorola Xoom Teardown: Inside The New Android Tablet
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Motorola Xoom Teardown: Inside The New Android Tablet

The Xoom tablet started shipping today, welcomed by a symphony of reviews orchestrated by Motorola (each was published around 9 p.m. EST on Feb. 23). Let me summarize all of them: The device is beautiful and extremely fast; the new operating system has a few quirks but is a great improvement; it doesn't have as many apps as the iPad has; and Verizon's pricing for it is ominous, though comparable, to its pricing for the iPad. Got it?

Our sister company, UBM TechInsights, went out and bought one, took it apart, and analyzed what's under the hood. After all, this is the first tablet to ship with a dual-core processor (the NVidia Tegra 2) and run Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), and there are many more tablets waiting in the wings. Xoom gets to be first, so we wanted to see what makes it tick.

First, from a design engineering standpoint, Motorola uses the same component and design re-use methods other manufacturers are employing, said Allan Yogasingam, technical marketing manager, UBM TechInsights. "Much like the Apple iPhone 4 features key component similarities to the Apple iPad (UBM TechInsights also performed an iPad teardown last year), and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (UBM TechInsights also performed a Samsung Galaxy Tab Teardown) features key component similarities to the Galaxy S phone, Motorola has applied the same methodology in the Xoom," he said.

That is, Xoom shares some very important components with Motorola's newest attention-grabbing smartphone, the Atrix 4G. This isn't a big surprise, Yogasingam noted, because the use of integrated circuits across a family of products makes both design and supply chain management more scalable and cost effective.

The main component here is NVidia's Tegra 2 processor, a dual-core processor (both cores running at 1 GHz) that promises not only to speed up key device functions, but also help conserve battery life, both of which become more important as applications get more complex, Yogasingam said. Features includes 3D video capture, better image processing, location-based services, true multitasking, even gaming.

Board Shot Front

Apple's iPad uses Apple's A4 single-core processor, and Samsung's Galaxy S Tab uses the Samsung Hummingbird processor (also single core). Apple is expected to beef up its iPad line with dual-core processors, and Samsung has already announced a forthcoming dual-core processor tablet (Galaxy Tab 10.1) using Samsung's chip architecture. Indeed, the chip wars are escalating.

The Xoom is another key design win for NVidia's Tegra 2, Yogasingam told us, but "from a technical perspective, it's not exactly clear why" the chip company is doing so well in the tablet sector:

"Tegra 2's dual ARM-core architecture, high-speed memory interface, and impressive graphics are all important as a hardware platform for Android's increasingly heavy operating system, but both Samsung's Hummingbird and Qualcomm's MSM7230 have Low Power DDR2 support. They also interact quite well with high-speed memory, even though they're only single-core architectures. Interestingly, Texas Instruments' OMAP 4430 is quite comparable on paper: dual ARM cores, LPDDR2 interface, and available to developers for quite some time. Yet we won't see design wins until the RIM Blackberry Playbook is introduced. Our speculation is that NVidia comes out ahead because of the 'softer' factors: price, availability, and support."

Yogasingam noted that the Xoom represents a design win for Qualcomm as well. The San Diego-based chip giant, which introduced the quad-core Snapdragon (Krait) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this month, sees its PM8028 PMU (power management) and MDM6600 (multi-mode communications) "provide the connectivity for another major product." Yogasingam added: "It's been a good month for Qualcomm. These two products have found themselves in high-production items like the Verizon iPhone 4, the Motorola Atrix 4G, and now the Motorola Xoom.

What's inside a tablet or a smartphone may seem to be the turf of engineers and gadget wonks, but almost overnight, these miniature devices have taken on the power and sophistication of the modern laptop and desktop computers. Motorola's Atrix 4G fits into what amounts to a keyboard and monitor shell. In other words, it is the processor for a much different computer -- one that's more portable, one that can run enterprise apps via Citrix Receiver Client, one that can access the growing number of Web applications, and one that also happens to be your phone. Hewlett-Packard's demonstrations of phones, tablets, and PCs running WebOS reveal a world where these devices start to blend and can truly become purpose-fitting enterprise tools. And now, they've got the power inside to make that happen.

Here's a full parts listing:

  • Toshiba THGBM2G8D8FBAIB -- 32 GB of NAND Flash memory
  • CPCAP 2.2TC22 -- ST-Ericsson IC
  • Qualcomm PM8028 -- Power Management IC
  • AGD8 -- ST Microelectronics L3G4200D - 3-AXIS MEMS Gyroscope
  • Kionix KXTF9 - MEMS Motion Sensing Accelerometer
  • NVidia Tegra 2 -- Dual-core processor
  • Elpida B4016B1MA -- DDR DRAM memory -- 1 GB total
  • Broadcom BCM4239 -- Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/802.11n chipset
  • Aki Semiconductor AKM8975 -- Electronic Compass
  • Toshiba Y9A0A111308LA -- Memory
  • Qualcomm MDM6600 - Multi-mode supporting GSM/GPRS/EDGE, CDMA, HSDPA and HSPA+, as well as EV-DO

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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