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Palm Pre teardown intros new multitouch controller

Posted: 10 Jun 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Palm Pre teardown? display controller? processor? baseband?

Click on image to view Palm Pre teardown.

A teardown of the Palm Inc.'s Palm Pre revealed few surprises, but left two intriguing questions unanswered.

It's not clear from a first inspection of the Pre's internals why the handset is delivering subpar battery performance in early reviews. Analysts are also scratching their heads over why Cypress Semiconductor is not providing technical information on what appears to be a new multitouch display controller used in the cellphone.

The Palm Pre went on sale June 6 after debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The handset has been of the most anticipated new cellphone designs since the iPhone, in part because Jon Rubinstein, the company's recently installed executive chairman, was the former VP of engineering at Apple's iPod division.

Early reviews praised the phone but noted its battery failed to last a full day. The phone uses a replaceable 1150mA/hr Li-ion battery, according to a teardown by Portelligent.

Other high profile smart phones use similar sized batteries including the iPhone and the HTC Dream, the first phone to use the Google Android OS. However they use Li-ion polymer versions that have a slightly higher energy density and price tag.

The Pre batteries could be dying sooner than competitors because Palm's multitasking WebOS does more background processing than other environments. Another possibility lies in some hardware duplication in the device.

Palm announced at CES the Pre uses the TI OMAP 3430 as an applications processor. The teardown shows it also uses a Qualcomm MSM6801, an integrated baseband chip that also includes an applications processor.

Another unresolved question around the Pre is its use of a Cypress CP6944 multitouch display processor. The chip is a new competitor for parts from Broadcom and Synaptics used in the iPhone and HTC Dream, respectively.

Interestingly, Cypress does not provide a datasheet for the part on its Website, although it does provide marketing materials for what appears to be a similar-sized part under a different name.

"This is the first time we have seen this part, and Cypress doesn't have a lot of details on it," said Jeff Brown, principal analyst at Portelligent.

The Pre design takes a novel approach by putting its CDMA cellular radio components on a separate daughter card. That should help the company quickly spin a new version for the HSDPA networks of other carriers such as Verizon.

"With this modular approach they can swap out the baseband quickly for something supporting a GSM network," said Brown. "It was clear Apple didn't have any intention of doing a CDMA design at all, so they didn't need to have a modular hardware design," he added.

"The downside is there are as many as six flex connectors" on the Pre, Brown said. "There's a cost impact on the use of such connectors and the associated assembly work," he said.

Click on image to enlarge.

The Pre shaves costs over its competitors in at least two areas. Its main board is single-sided compared to double-sided boards on most handsets. In addition, the Pre uses a 3.1-inch display believed to be from Sony, compared to a 3.5-inch display on the iPhone and a 3.2-incher on the HTC Dream.

Portelligent and other analysts are still preparing their costs analysis of the Pre based on teardowns. Market watcher iSuppli Corp. estimated in late April a BOM of $170 for the handset including software costs.

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