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Apple's iPad A4 processor X-rayed to reveal three-layer design

post #1 of 96
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iFixit and Chipworks this week X-rayed and dismantled the Apple A4 processor that powers the new iPad, discovering a three-layer design with two layers of Samsung RAM and one with the actual microprocessor.

The extensive analysis provides a detailed look inside the technology, an in-depth analysis even for a company like iFixit that specializes in dismantling Apple's priciest hardware. The solutions provider had its first look inside the iPad on launch day, discovering a huge dual battery that gives the device its advertised 10 hours of battery life, and 256MB of system RAM.

That RAM actually exists in two layers within the A4 package, with initial system memory supplied by Samsung. The construction gives Apple the flexibility to change the RAM to any other manufacturer they might choose in the future without remaining locked in to Samsung.

Also of note is that the A4 processor does not have a Samsung part number on the die, which is different from previous ARM chips found in every iPhone model thus far. iFixit declared that it is "perhaps the clearest sign to date that Apple is now in firm control of their semiconductor design."

The process employed a band saw to remove the processor from the motherboard it was soldered on to. Next it was cut in half by grinding slowly through the processor, a process necessary because the A4 package is so tiny.



Below is the photo of a cross section of the ARM processor and RAM package inside the A4. The processor is the center rectangle, while the silver circles underneath are solder balls. The two rectangles above the processor are the RAM dies, offset from each other to make room for the wirebonds. iFixit noted that having the RAM close to the processor allows for faster speeds and lower power consumption.



In addition to the three-layer design, the X-ray images show hundreds of thread-like interconnects, dubbed wirebonds, that carry the electronic signals between dies.

"We don't expect to find any markings from PA Semi, Apple's recent acquisition, but it's safe to assume they played a major role in designing this package," they said.





For more from iFixit and Chipworks, including photos of the rest of the analysed iPad hardware components, visit their Web site.
post #2 of 96
"teh" - really? in 2010?
post #3 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post

"teh" - really? in 2010?

Likely a typo, as that's how "teh" came about in the first place.
post #4 of 96
It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.
post #5 of 96
Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?
post #6 of 96
I'm glad to see that the RAM supplier is not set. Samsung likely has more control over Apple than any other company due to the number of components they use.


Quote:
Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post

"teh" - really? in 2010?

I can't imagine that typo ever going away. It's more like that will become an alternate spelling for it. \
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post #7 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by iStud View Post

Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?

Back engineering? What is that?

If you meant "reverse engineering", the answer is; not unless you're building something on a patented physical technology in the same way.

But this isn't reverse anything. What were you meaning?
post #8 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by iStud View Post

Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?

No, in fact it is done all the time to check for IP patent infringement.

Actually it depends on your intent. To reverse (or as you called it back) engineer is not illegal but to then use that design (especially if not developed in a 'clean' environment) is considered a BadThing™.

Edit: Melgross answered first/same time - sorry for the dupe.
post #9 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I can't imagine that typo ever going away. It's more like that will become an alternate spelling for it. \

Most common typos are disappearing because word processors auto correct them and operating systems like OS X have system wide flagging of such mistakes. It's reaching the point where writers have to intentionally ignore spelling mistakes for them to slip through. Using the incorrect word, on the other hand, is getting to be an epidemic thanks to those very same spell checkers.
post #10 of 96
That poor iPad, RIP.
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post #11 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.

It was also disappointing when I learned there was no Santa Claus. If fact much more so, because I had very real expectations built on his work. Guesses from 3rd parties using bandsaws and dental X-rays to peak inside a chip... not so much.

I suggest throttling back your emotional investment in Santa, and especially these types of goofball sources. What would you do with the extra RAM anyway? You'd be just as unrealistically disappointed if these guys guessed 256MB and it later turned out to be 128.
post #12 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bregalad View Post

Most common typos are disappearing because word processors auto correct them and operating systems like OS X have system wide flagging of such mistakes. It's reaching the point where writers have to intentionally ignore spelling mistakes for them to slip through. Using the incorrect word, on the other hand, is getting to be an epidemic thanks to those very same spell checkers.

We'll need the advent of contextual checking to get to the next level. I did see a demo of that in a google video recently that worked amazingly well. Obviously it is using remote checking so you'd need to be online.
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post #13 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Damn_Its_Hot View Post


Actually it depends on your intent. To reverse (or as you called it back) engineer ....

Or as M$ call it ... 'R&D'
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post #14 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by iStud View Post

Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?

I still recall, with some amusement, when I handed Sculley's team an accelerator board for them to play with for a few days.

I finally got it back, several weeks later. They had literally peeled back the various layers of the board in order to trace the circuits, then glued the thing back together.

So much for bilateral NDA's!
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post #15 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.

I think everyone is. If the iPad has 256MB and more applicable for multitasking I think it's a fair bet that the next iPhone may have 256MB, again. Though, if it works well with that they I don't care, I just don't want the issues with 128MB iPhones trying to listen to the iPod, while switching between Mail, Safari and some other app.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bregalad View Post

Most common typos are disappearing because word processors auto correct them and operating systems like OS X have system wide flagging of such mistakes. It's reaching the point where writers have to intentionally ignore spelling mistakes for them to slip through. Using the incorrect word, on the other hand, is getting to be an epidemic thanks to those very same spell checkers.

Yeah, was gonna mention that. I have lost the ability to spell well. I rely heavily on spell checker and autocorrection. I also can't remember new phone numbers, but ones pre-cellphone era I still can recall instantly, no matter how many years (or decades) they've been out of service. The brain is an odd system, to say the least.

Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

That poor iPad, RIP.

I think I've seen more iPads dissected than the number of JooJoos sold.
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post #16 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by oxygenhose View Post

It was also disappointing when I learned there was no Santa Claus. If fact much more so, because I had very real expectations built on his work. Guesses from 3rd parties using bandsaws and dental X-rays to peak inside a chip... not so much.

I suggest throttling back your emotional investment in Santa, and especially these types of goofball sources. What would you do with the extra RAM anyway? You'd be just as unrealistically disappointed if these guys guessed 256MB and it later turned out to be 128.

I suggest you not get overwrought over a post that in itself, wasn't.

Apparently, you know little of the issues concerning app loading, or third party multitasking. Learn something about it, then come back.
post #17 of 96
The cross section image of a chip that you lifted from the iFixit site is *not* the iPad's A4. The source article states that it is a cross section of the iPhone's system on a chip:

"This is a cross-section of the iPhone's ARM processor + RAM package. "

Additionally, the first image you lifted was also showing the various parts of the iPhone motherboard and chips after being run through the bandsaw. These are not iPad components (Notice no big A4 on the main chip!).

The x-ray images from the iPad chips are later on in the article if you had bothered to actually read it before copying it.

Sloppy work AppleInsider...
post #18 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I think everyone is. If the iPad has 256MB and more applicable for multitasking I think it's a fair bet that the next iPhone may have 256MB, again. Though, if it works well with that they I don't care, I just don't want the issues with 128MB iPhones trying to listen to the iPod, while switching between Mail, Safari and some other app.

Yeah, the hopes were for 512. IF the 4.0 ver. has third party multitasking, I would suppose Apple thinks 256 can squeeze it in.

Quote:
Yeah, was gonna mention that. I have lost the ability to spell well. I rely heavily on spell checker and autocorrection. I also can't remember new phone numbers, but ones pre-cellphone era I still can recall instantly, no matter how many years (or decades) they've been out of service. The brain is an odd system, to say the least.

I could never spell well. We had an expression in my high school; "The more words you know, the less you can spell."
post #19 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

Back engineering? What is that?

If you meant "reverse engineering", the answer is; not unless you're building something on a patented physical technology in the same way.

But this isn't reverse anything. What were you meaning?

Just to add to this comment. After being purchased, it's techincally the owner's property. They did, after all, trade $X amount of dollars for it. If they want to rip it apart and see what's inside, there's no law stopping them from doing that. Apple already got its money from the purchase.
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post #20 of 96
The second layer is the most delicious layer.
post #21 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Damn_Its_Hot View Post

No, in fact it is done all the time to check for IP patent infringement.

Actually it depends on your intent. To reverse (or as you called it back) engineer is not illegal but to then use that design (especially if not developed in a 'clean' environment) is considered a BadThing.

Edit: Melgross answered first/same time - sorry for the dupe.

Thanks! revers - back whaterver
post #22 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Josh.B. View Post

I've had the opposite experience.

Before spellcheckers, I was lousy at spelling. Now I look at the misspelled word, and look at the properly spelled word, and learn the correct spelling. Before spellcheckers, I didn't even realize that I had made a mistake, much less was I able to instantly learn from the mistake.

Same here, my spelling has improved dramatically because of seeing the correct spelling. This of course reflects on how much attention I paid in school I still seem to reverse a lot of letters due to either bad typing or some brain disfunction though.
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post #23 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

Yeah, the hopes were for 512. IF the 4.0 ver. has third party multitasking, I would suppose Apple thinks 256 can squeeze it in.

Refined OS and new processor. What validated evidence do you have that more is needed? And why just another 256?
post #24 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

due to either bad typing or some brain disfunction though.

No brain disfunction. One hand -typically the right one- is faster than the other one. this is particularly obvious when you are tiered.
post #25 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.

I think it's cool. It shows that Apple can deliver great performance with conservative hardware specs.

Think of it this way, if the ipad is as smooth as it is with 256mb now, think how nice a later generation with more ram will be.
post #26 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by chronster View Post

I think it's cool. It shows that Apple can deliver great performance with conservative hardware specs.

Think of it this way, if the ipad is as smooth as it is with 256mb now, think how nice a later generation with more ram will be.

The beauty of designing your own chip set as well as the OS that runs on it.
post #27 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Same here, my spelling has improved dramatically because of seeing the correct spelling. This of course reflects on how much attention I paid in school I still seem to reverse a lot of letters due to either bad typing or some brain disfunction though.

I find it depends on the person and their ability or intent to learn anything new. Most people I know just accept whatever the system says and move on, never learning the correct spelling at all. If you take the time (as I do and apparently you do as well), to look at the proffered suggestion and learn it, you can improve your spelling dramatically. Sadly, not many bother to do this in my experience.
post #28 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Abster2core View Post

Refined OS and new processor. What validated evidence do you have that more is needed? And why just another 256?

That just seems to be the trend in these kinds of gadgets. Video cards, for example, seemed to double their vram with every new generation for a while there. Now it's sort of teetering off until software can catch up.
post #29 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by oxygenhose View Post

I suggest throttling back your emotional investment in Santa, and especially these types of goofball sources. What would you do with the extra RAM anyway? You'd be just as unrealistically disappointed if these guys guessed 256MB and it later turned out to be 128.

Come on now! I'm a big fan of reductio ad absurdum on forums as they can often be humorous but you have to have a valid point first. Do you have or ever had an iPhone? A lot of posters here can attest to the limitations of only having 128MB in the original iPhone and the benefits of 256MB. The 3GS is the curst iPhone that could feasibly handle multitasking.
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post #30 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

The 3GS is the curst iPhone that could feasibly handle multitasking.

Interesting typo.
post #31 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Come on now! I'm a big fan of reductio ad absurdum on forums as they can often be humorous but you have to have a valid point first. Do you have or ever had an iPhone? A lot of posters here can attest to the limitations of only having 128MB in the original iPhone and the benefits of 256MB. The 3GS is the curst iPhone that could feasibly handle multitasking.

I recall that at the WWDC it was explained that RAM/multitasking was not the issue. Multitasking/battery life was.
post #32 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Abster2core View Post

Refined OS and new processor. What validated evidence do you have that more is needed? And why just another 256?

I don't think melgross or any other reasonable poster thinks here it's needed. He stated that he was hoping it would be 512MB. Myself and many others thought so, too. Note that he ended the comment you quoted with a statement that wasn't complain or crying out how Apple has ripped us off, but that they likely know what their multitasking can and can't handle. Pretty damn reasonable, if you ask me.

As for the 256MB addition, that's typically how they scale. It's possible to add 128MB more but I think that when they do add more it will be for a total of 512MB. The why is pretty universal. The 3GS from June 2009 has 256MB, the iPad is more capable likely having apps that utilizing more RAM, and because multitasking is a foregone conclusion at this point.

There is about 1/4 of the RAM free when I check my stats, which should be enough for an app or two running in the background.
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post #33 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by oxygenhose View Post

It was also disappointing when I learned there was no Santa Claus. If fact much more so, because I had very real expectations built on his work. Guesses from 3rd parties using bandsaws and dental X-rays to peak inside a chip... not so much.

Like wise people here had real expectations based on current technology. That doesn't mean that everybodies expectations will be realized. But the want for a rational amount of RAM is not unrealistic.
Quote:

I suggest throttling back your emotional investment in Santa, and especially these types of goofball sources. What would you do with the extra RAM anyway?

In this day and age only two types of people would ask that question. One would be a troll. The other would be somebody that is stupid. So which are you?

By the way if you are stupid that can be forgiven as one can't be blamed for genetic issues not of his making.
Quote:
You'd be just as unrealistically disappointed if these guys guessed 256MB and it later turned out to be 128.

Unfortunately the issue with RAM is very real and of concern to both the developer and the user. More importantly given todays technology the desire for 512 MB of RAM is not unrealistic. Given the design of iPhone OS it is almost a requirement to realize some apps that would have been nice on the platform.
post #34 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post

"teh" - really? in 2010?

It's still around, along with no caps.
post #35 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post

Interesting typo.

The iPad certainly feels different. I.m seeing that the autocorection seems overall moor intelligent. I can even type fucking with out correcting to ducking.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Abster2core View Post

I recall that at the WWDC it was explained that RAM/multitasking was not the issue. Multitasking/battery life was.

Battery life is an issue but RAM is a major factor. I don't know what they said at WWDC but saying it's a battery drain is a scapegoat answer because we know Apple can't just add denser batteries, but added more RAM is well within their power. Jobs did the same thing with Blu-Ray; it's true licensing was a bitch but the most relevant reasons would make them look bad. It's management speak.

The 128MB can technically do it the same way net boom with 1GB RAM can technically run a bunchnof apps, but it's not pretty. Even running the background able apps on the first two phones could be problematic.
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post #36 of 96
I've been reading all the comments about how 256 MB of RAM is not enough. The world that we live in today always goes the easiest way not the best way. Now we slowly learn that we shouldn't only try to make the hardware more powerful but also make the software more efficient. When it gets cold in my house I can turn up the central heating. However, I can also choose to improve the isolation of my house. What Apple did with Snow Leopard is a good example of this whole process. While other developers make software which require more and more hardware resources. Other developers are making their software more and more efficient. More hardware is a pragmatic solution. More efficient software is the ideal solution. Since Apple is a company with great ambitions and a idealistic perspective on both hard- and software they understand this very well. While Jobs is at the wheel they will never forget this truth, and while many others require heavier hardware to do the same tasks as Mac users do, but with less recourses. Thus leaving more recourses free for other processes. I believe that the exact same approach is taken with the iPad. A new operating systems means more efficient software. Back in the days a 1Ghz machine also had 256 MB of RAM. Companies in stark contrast to this vision are:
  • Adobe;
  • Microsoft;
  • Intel.
Let's wait till iPhone OS 4.0 is shown to us in a couple of days and then judge again.
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post #37 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post

"teh" - really? in 2010?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

I find it depends on the person and their ability or intent to learn anything new. Most people I know just accept whatever the system says and move on, never learning the correct spelling at all. If you take the time (as I do and apparently you do as well), to look at the proffered suggestion and learn it, you can improve your spelling dramatically. Sadly, not many bother to do this in my experience.

I find that a lot of people don't read any more. They also don't know very much about word origins, which is a shame. I guess it's a sign of the times.
post #38 of 96
Apparently 256mb is enough because the iPad seems to run everything very quickly with 256mb.

On what basis are people saying 256mb isn't enough? We're talking about apps *designed* for the iPad. There is no sense in measuring 256mb on the iPad against anything else, save for another iPad, or the *next* iPad.
post #39 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Same here, my spelling has improved dramatically because of seeing the correct spelling. This of course reflects on how much attention I paid in school I still seem to reverse a lot of letters due to either bad typing or some brain disfunction though.

I will join in here too as I have not heard anyone else say this before. There are several words that I now know that I have a tendancy to mispell and just knowing can help me correct them on my own.
However, it a problem for typing on the iPhone, as it has no system wide spell check (outside of the typo correction feature).* Now, when I need to spell a word that I know I frequently mangle, I intentionally miss the last letter to the left or right to see if the iPhone will correct that last letter. If not, then I know I need to try again. This can be effective, but it is a real pain...

I hope 4.0 has a spell heck in it, so I don't have to go through this...*


*if someone tells me that the iPhone already has a system wide spell check, I will pull my hair out (and then be glad).
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post #40 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post

Apparently 256mb is enough because the iPad seems to run everything very quickly with 256mb.

On what basis are people saying 256mb isn't enough? We're talking about apps *designed* for the iPad. There is no sense in measuring 256mb on the iPad against anything else, save for another iPad, or the *next* iPad.

I just did some quick and dirty tests. Safari on the iPad and 3GS the the same settings, iPod playing same playlist and Safari opened to same 4 pages the iPhone has about 60MB opened between inactive and free, while the iPad only had 20MB. Unless Apple has found a way to reduce the overhead I'm sure common multitasking is feasible on the iPad.

I still haven't restarted each to see starting levels but it appears that the iPad uses a lot more RAM. Remember, the 3GS is also running the cellular services.
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