Let’s call a spade a spade, Research-in-Motion’s latest consumer electronic release, the Blackberry Playbook LTE, is highly unlikely to reverse the current tide of negativity that comes with any news from the Waterloo, Canada-based manufacturer. The original Playbook, released on April 19th of 2011, was met with much fanfare and just as much negative press – as its launch was met with all sorts of performance issues and much-maligned disappointment that basic applications, like E-mail, were not standard. From a hardware perspective, the Blackberry Playbook was technologically comparable to their competition at the time, like the Motorola XOOM, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Apple iPad 2.
Despite the technical similarities to their competition, the early issues with the OS and the lack of applications eventually doomed the Playbook. During its first two quarters after release, only 700,000 units were shipped. In comparison, the Apple iPad 2 almost shipped 19 times as many units as RIM. Following several months of lackluster sales, RIM drastically reduced the price of the original Playbook from $499 to $199 for the 16GB version which spurred sales significantly but at a loss for RIM.
Based on these circumstances, many believed that RIM would exit the tablet business and turn their focus on their struggling handset division. Imagine the surprise when RIM announced on their corporate blog that the much-rumored LTE edition of the Playbook would be released on August 9th, 2012. The original Playbook required a newer Blackberry for baseband data access. The new Playbook LTE not only removes the need for “Blackberry Bridge”, it includes the latest baseband technology to make it a standalone product. Opening up the Playbook LTE will reveal what other technology changes RIM has made.
Once the Playbook LTE was torn down, it became apparent that RIM chose to stick with many of the semiconductor partners they chose to design with in the first Playbook. Maintaining some key socket wins in the new Playbook was Texas Instruments. The Playbook LTE features TI’s OMAP 4460, a slight upgrade on the OMAP 4430 found within the original Playbook. The key differences between the two processors are that the OMAP 4460 has an increased clock speed of 1.5 GHz versus 1.0 GHz for the 4430 and better 3D video performance. Like its predecessor, the OMAP 4460 is a dual-core processor built on ARM Cortex-A9 cores manufactured at the 45nm node. This selection was somewhat disappointing as there was some hope that RIM would chose a processor from the quad-core OMAP 5 platform, making it more in line with recent tablet offerings like the ASUS Transformer Prime, the Apple iPad 3 (at the graphics level) and the recent Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
Other key design wins for Texas Instruments include the reappearance of the WL1283C, the WiLink 7.0 single-chip WLAN, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and FM solution that we first found in the original Playbook, the TWL6030 power management IC (also in the original Playbook), the TPS63021 buck-boost converter and various other power management related ICs.
As RIM made the move to a data-ready tablet, some had wondered if Texas Instruments would achieve a socket win for one of their baseband components and the related ICs to go with it. Surprisingly, it was Qualcomm who provided the LTE chipsets for the new Playbook, providing the same combination of ICs we’ve seen in other LTE-based handsets. The MDM9200 from Qualcomm is the GSM/W-CDMA/LTE baseband processor. This processor works in conjunction with the RTR6800 transceiver and the PM8028 power management IC (both these ICs were recently seen in the iPhone 4S and the iPad 3).
Other ICs making another appearance in the new Playbook that were also found in the original Playbook include ST Micro’s STV0987 5 MP image processor, Intersil’s ISL951 battery charger and Wolfson Micro’s WM8994E audio codec.
Memory for the new Playbook LTE (we took apart the 16GB model) featured a variety of manufacturers on our board. Samsung provided both the system memory, in the form of 1 gigabyte of Low Power DDR2 SDRAM manufactured at the 46nm node, and the usable memory with a multichip memory package. Hynix provided SLC NAND Flash which was used by the communications module of the Playbook LTE. This SLC flash was manufactured at the 40nm-class node.
One of the more interesting components that we discovered was Inside Secure’s SecuRead IC5C633I4 NFC solution module. This verifies that the new Playbook is NFC application-ready.
All in all, the Playbook LTE does not stray too far from the original Playbook in terms of the decisions the designers made on what semiconductors, ICs and other modules to use. What remains to be seen is if the addition of a separate radio and LTE capability will be enough to make an impact in an over-crowded, established, tablet market, or if the Playbook LTE will follow in the footsteps of it’s father and find itself discounted heavily to move existing inventory and get the product into people’s hands. One can assume the people at RIM are hoping on the former and not the latter, as they could really use some good news this year.
Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 – Dual-Core ARM Cortex-A9 Applications ProcessorSamsung K3PE8E800M – 46nm 8Gbit LPDDR2 DRAM (1 GB DRAM)Wolfson Microelectronics WM8994E – Audio CODEC + Power Amplifiers Texas Instruments TWL6030 – Power Management w/ Switch Mode Charger Samsung KLMBG8FEJA-A001 – Multichip Memory Package - 4 GB MLC NAND FlashTexas Instruments TPS63021 – Buck-Boost Converter Texas Instruments CSD2S401 – MOSFETIntersil ISL951 – Battery Charger Fairchild Semiconductor FDMC7200 – Voltage RegulatorFairchild Semiconductor FDMC510P – P-Channel Power MOSFET Texas Instruments TPS63020 – Buck-Boost ConverterST-Ericsson STV0987 – 5 MP Mobile Image Processor Maxim MAX98302 – Stereo 2.4 W Class D Amplifier Texas Instruments SN74AVCH4T245 – 4-Bit Dual-Supply Bus Transceiver Invensense MPU-3050 – 3-Axis MEMS Gyroscope Freescale Semiconductor MMA8450Q – 3-Axis Accelerometer Qualcomm PM8028 – Power ManagementQualcomm RTR8600 – GSM/CDMA/W-CDMA/LTE Transceiver + GPS Avago ACPM-5004 – LT/W-CDMA Band IV Power Amplifier Module Hynix H27S1G8F2BFB – 40nm SLC NAND FlashQualcomm MDM9200 – GSM/W-CDMA/LTE Baseband Processor w/ Memory RF Micro Devices RF8889A – SP10T Antenna Switch Module Texas Instruments WL1283C – WiLink 7.0 single-chip WLAN, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and FM solutionTriquint TQP6M9002 – WLAN Power Amplifier + Switch