We’re going to clear up Rugged PDA CPU’s today. In the past we didn’t really see all that much in the way of different CPU’s in Rugged PDA’s with most of them using Marvells XScale architecture but these days with competition hotting up every day in the mobile world this has changed significantly.

What’s confusing is that a lot of people talk about wanting an ARM based processor.  ARM stands for Advanced RISC machine and it is a very basic design from Acorn computers (remember them!!) that has found itself very suitable for small mobile devices.  In the old days of HP Jornada’s and Compaq iPaqs the type of chip really mattered as you had to target your software development at a specific one, ARM being one of these architectures.  However today there are no real differences unless you really get down and dirty between any of the chip manufacturers.

So whats different about these chips and the trusty Intel or AMD ones you find in your PC or laptop?  Well mobile chips are often referred to as System On Chip and you can almost think of them as having the whole motherboard in a small microchip.  They are small, basic, sip power but they are also getting bigger, better and more powerful every day!

The main CPU’s used today…

Marvell XScale range

These are still the most popular chips and until the past few years they were also in pretty much every rugged PDA.  Marvell actually bought the XScale design from Intel in 2006 and the PXA520 and 310 series were found in everything from Motorola’s to Intermecs to cheap one of Eastern devices.  Today the PXA320 chip is the range topper in the rugged world but if you turn to the smartphone world there are better chips in the new Armada range.  We still think that XScale’s chips offer the best value for money and certainly offer the best tweaking and development ability for PDA manufacturers.  Marvels chips all use their own design of architecture.


Qualcomm has its hand in a lot of pies from 3G provision to Email software (Eudora) but after selling this business to Sony and buying up a few mobile technology focussed companies they focussed in the mobile CPU world.  Qualcomm chips have risen on the back of the smartphone world, commonly seen in HTC PDA’s but we hear rumours of Apple buying them and also Nokia using them too and with major rugged PDA brands  like Motorola also now adopting them its clear they’re on the march!  Qualcomm also own the Assisted GPS technology that helps speed up GPS acquisition and whilst they technically bought this technology by acquisition, they still had a heavy involvement in the GPS satellite network development.  Their main offerings to us are the first 1GHz chip called the Snapdragon but more commonly you see the MSM7627 or 7225 in the rugged market.  beware of the 7225, its getting a bit long in the tooth now and usually found in Rugged PDA’s for cost reasons.

Texas Instruments

If you see something about OMAP then this is a TI CPU.  They also get described a lot as ARM cortex A8 chips too but this is simply the architecture TI base their chips on (See below).  TI are again seen in Rugged PDA’s, I think Intermec are using them now too with a dual processor architecture.  OMAP comes in 5 versions, we see a mix of OMAP 3 and 4 in the mobile market today but its clear that TI have been busy.  THe OMAP 3 is often referred to as Cortex A8 or V7, OMAP 4 as Cortex A9 and OMAP 5 as Cortex A15 although these are typically aimed at tablets and very new!  Arm Cortex and OMAP chips are very bespoke so they can give very different performance depending on who provides them.


More on this soon but as a rule our own benchmarks here have found that the Qualcomm MSM7627 seems to just pip the PXA320.  Anything we see using a Cortex A8 platform comes in slower than these chips other than where it has been really customised like Apple’s A4 chips.  We haven’t really seen anything with an A9 yet but it should be slightly better on paper.

Other designs

You might have heard of Cortex A8 or ARM v7.  Well these aren’t actually chips, they’re architectures and they are commonly implemented by various CPU manufacturers.  You’ll see flavours of this design in Apple A4 processors, TI OMAP CPUS, some Qualcomm and Samsung ones too but we’re also seeing new companies all the time that are basing their CPU’s on this architecture.

Hopefully that gives you a bit of laymens term help through those confusing spec sheets.  If you want to know more, then as always you know where to find us!

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

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