TI and AllGo offer reference design for a $70 Android 4.0 tablet

The design will let developers build a tablet or embedded device in as little as three months, the companies said

Texas Instruments has partnered with AllGo Embedded Systems to announce a reference design that will allow Android 4.0 tablets to be built for under US$70, the companies announced Wednesday.

The Etab reference design is for a basic tablet and employs an aging processor. It calls for a 7-inch capacitive touch screen and is based on TI's Sitara AM335x chip with an 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor. TI announced its first Cortex-A8 chip in 2006.

The $70 cost includes the chip, plastic casing, battery, screen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and applies when the parts are bought in 100,000-unit quantities.

The reference design is aimed at hardware developers that want to build a custom tablet, or those building embedded hardware for enterprises, such as a bar-code scanners, biometrics devices and control panels.

The tablet design could also be used in the education sector, said Libo He, business development manager at TI.

The design will allow companies to build a tablet in as little as three months, TI and AllGo said.

TI and AllGo are selling the reference design along with a prototype tablet for $999. That includes the hardware layout, schematics, drivers and design, TI's He said.

Hardware makers could potentially turn to Chinese manufacturers and buy Cortex-A8 tablets for less than $70 per unit in volume. But He said paying $999 for the reference design is a good deal because customers also get support and the ability to customize their tablet for specific needs.

Customers also get advice where to buy parts to achieve the low-price point, He said.

Tablets can be harder to build than PCs, with their tightly integrated parts. The costs to build an Etab tablet compare favorably will some Cortex-A8 alternatives, including the Galaxy Tab, which was released in late 2010 and cost $205 to build, according to IHS iSuppli.

Some inexpensive ARM-based boards are also available, including the $35 Raspberry Pi PC, which does not include the outer case. Raspberry Pi Foundation has open-sourced the PC design, publishing the layout, design and schematics for use by enthusiasts.

Like many of those ARM-based boards, the Cortex-A8 processor in the Etab is getting long in the tooth. Many of today's name-brand tablets run the faster Cortex-A9 processor. The Google Nexus 10 tablet introduced this week has the latest Cortex-A15 processor.

TI's chips are used in products including the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire HD. However, TI said recently it would switch its attention with application processors to embedded products.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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