New Apple TV sports custom, single-core A5 processor

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014


The third generation Apple TV uses a unique single-core A5 chip that has not been in any other production Apple device to date, and is likely a key component in how iPad maker is able to keep costs low and performance high for the 1080p-capable box.



Although Wednesday's Apple TV refresh played second fiddle to "the new iPad" announcement, the diminutive set-top media streamer packs an easily overlooked spec that gives some perspective as to how Apple plans to win the war for the living room.



On the revamped Apple TV webpage a tech spec shows that a never-before-seen custom A5 processor is the silicon powering the device, though not much is known about the chip as it isn't mentioned anywhere else.



What is interesting about this particular A5 is that, unlike versions found in the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, it is a single core unit which may mean that the company has redesigned the chip specifically for the Apple TV.



It is unclear whether Apple will choose to use the chip in future products rather than using either the current dual-core A5 or new A5X.





The single-core A5 listed among the new Apple TV's tech specs. | Source: Apple







The original dual-core 1GHz A5 was introduced in March 2011 with the second generation iPad, and eventually found itself in the iPhone 4S -- albeit at a lower clock rate due to power constraints.



Designed by the Cupertino, Calif., company and manufactured by Samsung, the processor is a package-on-package (PoP) system-on-chip (SoC) which stacks a dual-core ARM Cortex-9 CPU, dual-core PowerVR GPU and memory along with other computing assets into a small package. In addition to the base operating features, the A5 in the iPhone 4S includes noise canceling technology that is used by Apple's Siri assistant.





Internals of Apple's dual-core A5 SoC. | Source: Chipworks







One of the main draws of building custom SoCs is that they can be architected for particular functions like media streaming, thus reducing the cost of paying for extraneous components or package assets.



The ability to tool and manufacture custom silicon gives Apple a leg up on competing companies that use off-the-shelf components, and allows the iPad maker to be agile in a constantly changing market. Not beholden to the technology of OEMs like Intel, Apple can build products around its unique SoCs and bring devices to market that are application specific.



Apple continues its use of the A-series with the newly introduced A5X, which will make its way into the third generation iPad and adds a quad-core GPU to the existing dual-core CPU.



[ View article on AppleInsider ]

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Comments

  • al_bundyal_bundy Posts: 1,525member
    I bet the real story is that they have enough bAd a5's beIng made that they can disable a core and still sell them
  • dagamer34dagamer34 Posts: 494member
    It's probably just a collection of chips with one core disabled. FAR cheaper than custom designing a new one.
  • tipootipoo Posts: 577member
    Probably harvested chips with defects in one core, like AMDs tri-core CPUs a while ago. Either way, who cares, as long as it can push 1080p.
  • sevenfeetsevenfeet Posts: 334member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dagamer34 View Post


    It's probably just a collection of chips with one core disabled. FAR cheaper than custom designing a new one.



    Maybe. I'm sure we'll see soon enough when iFixit puts it under a scanning electron microscope. I would doubt that the defect rate of this chip is high enough that they are just using ones with defects for this product (there are 4+ million Rev 2 Apple TVs in the field). Most likely apple sells enough of these things now to justify doing a special run just for this product. The A4/A5 already had all the features the Apple TV needed. This A5 just needs to turn a few things off it didn't need.
  • tipootipoo Posts: 577member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sevenfeet View Post


    Maybe. I'm sure we'll see soon enough when iFixit puts it under a scanning electron microscope. I would doubt that the defect rate of this chip is high enough that they are just using ones with defects for this product (there are 4+ million Rev 2 Apple TVs in the field). Most likely apple sells enough of these things now to justify doing a special run just for this product. The A4/A5 already had all the features the Apple TV needed. This A5 just needs to turn a few things off it didn't need.



    How many millions of iOS devices did they say they sold in the keynote? Between the 4S and the iPad 2, I think they'd have quite a few die-harvested chips to work with.
  • orlandoorlando Posts: 601member
    I wonder when Apple releases a new iPod touch whether it will use this chip?
  • clexmanclexman Posts: 99member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tipoo View Post


    How many millions of iOS devices did they say they sold in the keynote? Between the 4S and the iPad 2, I think they'd have quite a few die-harvested chips to work with.



    I agree. Intel did this with some or there budget CPUs as well. No reason to design a new chip, just use the defective ones.
  • pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    Whats with the trolls and spam on this site lately?



    "Probably discarded A5's with a core disabled"



    Yea...right.



    Where do these people come from.
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pmz View Post


    Whats with the trolls and spam on this site lately?



    "Probably discarded A5's with a core disabled"



    Yea...right.



    Where do these people come from.



    Are you serious? That's a common practice and the most likely and logical answer.



    Not every chip on the wafer performs the same. Some have actual bad cores but most just don't operate within the power tolerances needs for a handheld device. This can not only affect power usage but heat dissipation. Instead of chucking every single chip you simply have one core disabled and proceed as normal. This makes the chip cheaper, since it's otherwise junk, but it also limits its application.



    There may be a good portion of these A5s with two cores functioning because they don't have enough throwbacks or it's not within spec but doesn't warrant the disabling of a core but Apple is only promising that it will be a single-core A5. It's nice that Apple is being upfront about this. I assume we'll get a detailed article about this on AnandTech.
  • tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member
    If one of the cores was bad then so be it. But if the two cores them self are good then how do they disable it? And if they didn't disable it via manually etching the cpu die then maybe there is some way to enable it via hack?
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Orlando View Post


    I wonder when Apple releases a new iPod touch whether it will use this chip?



    It might, but I think it depends on the number of issues that come off the line.



    I was expecting a new iPod Touch today. I was completely wrong about that.
  • einsteinbqateinsteinbqat Posts: 169member
    I wonder if the downloaded films that will be in 1080p be able to play on an older Apple TV (meaning the most current Apple TV before this new one came out).



    iTunes now allows you to choose whether you want 720p or 1080p download. Since I'm keeping my current Apple TV and buying the new one (just ordered it). I wonder if the old Apple TV can just downscale the 1080p to 720p.
  • tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 40,290member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by einsteinbqat View Post


    I wonder if the downloaded films that will be in 1080p be able to play on an older Apple TV (meaning the most current Apple TV before this new one came out).



    They will. If they don't, it will be Apple actively preventing it, not as a limitation of the Take 2 hardware.



    In 720p, of course, to clarify. They won't play in 1080p at all, even though the hardware is perfectly capable of it. They WILL be readable by the device, is what I'm saying.
  • williamhwilliamh Posts: 280member
    As we know from all the lawsuits being tossed about, it can cost money for all the little technologies that go into these chips. The article points out that the A5 in the iPhone contains circuitry specifically to facilitate Siri speech recognition, something these AppleTVs will never do. I don't know how ARM licensing works, but I assume they pay by the processor core, so why pay for more? There are probably dozens of things Apple can cut or add to its custom silicon to meet the needs of a particular device and only pay for what's necessary. A few dollars saved per chip, millions and millions of chips - seems sensible to me.
  • einsteinbqateinsteinbqat Posts: 169member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    They will. If they don't, it will be Apple actively preventing it, not as a limitation of the Take 2 hardware.



    In 720p, of course, to clarify. They won't play in 1080p at all, even though the hardware is perfectly capable of it. They WILL be readable by the device, is what I'm saying.



    So if I understand your statements, even if my current Apple TV can play the 1080p, it won't show anything on the TV if I download 1080p films from iTunes.
  • tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 40,290member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by einsteinbqat View Post


    So if I understand your statements, even if my current Apple TV can play the 1080p, it won't show anything on the TV if I download 1080p films from iTunes.



    No, they'll play in 720p unless Apple has explicitly blocked it from playing iTunes-purchased 1080 content at all. The Apple TV will downconvert them on the fly.
  • einsteinbqateinsteinbqat Posts: 169member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    No, they'll play in 720p unless Apple has explicitly blocked it from playing iTunes-purchased 1080 content at all. The Apple TV will downconvert them on the fly.



    Ah ok. Got you now. Thx.
  • einsteinbqateinsteinbqat Posts: 169member
    BTW, I update my Apple TV software, and the new Apple TV interface is an ABOMINATION! Steve Jobs would never have OK'ed this.
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by einsteinbqat View Post


    BTW, I update my Apple TV software, and the new Apple TV interface is an ABOMINATION! Steve Jobs would never have OK'ed this.



    Jobs signed off on Take 2. There is no way it's worse than that.
  • eckingecking Posts: 1,588member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


    Jobs signed off on Take 2. There is no way it's worse than that



    Yikes, I totally forgot how bad that looked!
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