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X-ray of Apple's A5 CPU in iPad 2 confirms manufacturing by Samsung

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Though Apple is said to have just inked a deal with a rival chipmaker, the iPad 2 currently includes a custom-built A5 processor built by Samsung.

Chipworks this week disassembled the new iPad 2, and also took a closer x-ray look at the A5 processor that powers the second-generation device. The experts concluded, by comparing the shape of the transistor gates and dielectric layers in the A5 to last year's A4 CPU, that the A5 is currently being manufactured by Samsung. That's the same conclusion reached by an analysis at UBM TechInsights, revealed by AppleInsider on Sunday.

While Samsung has long built chips for Apple's mobile devices, news came last week that Apple has allegedly signed an agreement with an alternative chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., for production of the A5 processor. That led to speculation that Apple may already be working with TSMC for the CPU inside the new iPad 2.

But the conclusion from Chipworks would suggest that Apple may gradually phase out its chipmaking partnership with Samsung and transition to TSMC. Apple is said to be interested in switching from Samsung because the company competes with both the iPhone and the iPad with its own devices -- the Galaxy S smartphone and the Galaxy Tab tablet, respectively.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs even called out Samsung in his unveiling of the iPad 2 earlier this month. He called the 7-inch Galaxy Tab and other Android-powered tablets inadequate, and suggested Samsung would lead 2011 to become the "year of the copycats" as competitors scramble to compete with the iPad.



Apple's drubbing of Samsung comes as the Cupertino, Calif., hardware maker is expected to be the largest customer of Samsung in 2011. Between deals for mobile processors and flash memory, Apple is expected to buy $7.8 billion in parts from Samsung this year.

Chipworks' closer look at the A5 found that the new dual-core processor is more than twice as large as last year's A4 CPU. The new chip is 10.1 x 12.1 mm, compared to 7.3 x 7.3 mm in last year's iPad.



"Given that the A5 is a dual-ARM core, and has more graphics capability than the A4, more than doubling the size is to be expected, but it's also a clue that this is still made in 45-nm technology," they said.

Delayering the A5 processor and its nine layers of metal found the two ARM-based cores in the right half of the chip, each with about 4.5 megabytes of cache memory. The integrated 512MB of DDR SDRAM is also included in the bottom right.



Chipworks concluded in its teardown that the A5 is the "main innovation" of the iPad 2 internally. Aside from the new processor, the device's touchscreen relies on three chips, just like the first-generation iPad, and the CDMA 3G model utilizes the same chipset that shipped on the Verizon iPhone in February.



For a closer look at the rest of the iPad, see the iFixit teardown that discovered a slight increase in battery size in the second-generation device. The same company also took a peek inside the iPad 2 Smart Cover and its 21 magnets.
post #2 of 22
whooaa nelly, they would go as far as x-raying the A5 chip eh..
post #3 of 22
Its just mind boggling to think about modern processors. A human hair is 100 ┬Ám in width on average, each transistor in chips like these are 45nm, and some processors down to 32nm. 100 Micrometers (um) = 100000 Nanometers (nm), let that sink in. And some processors have over a billion of them in a chip the size of your pinky nail, some graphics chips over three billion.
post #4 of 22
Gradual transition to TSMC is a logical step considering the amount and technology involved. Since Apple already buying the flash RAM from Samsung, it make sense to delegate other component to other company and not buy more than two from the same company esp. Samsung.

Sure they failed to sell a 'quite rough' (see what I did there?) amount of Tab etc. but if Samsung supplies Apple multiple components, part of iDevice's profits will go to them regardless. So, the less to Samsung (in Apple's eyes) is the better. That's being tight arse I know but damage limitation I guess.
post #5 of 22
We've read about a few iPad2's being disassembled and dissected.

How come no one's put one in a blender yet?
post #6 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

... Chipworks this week disassembled the new iPad 2, and also took a closer x-ray look at the A5 processor that powers the second-generation device. The experts concluded, by comparing the shape of the transistor gates and dielectric layers in the A5 to last year's A4 CPU, that the A5 is currently being manufactured by Samsung. ...

My question is, how is it legal to do this?

They are X-raying the chip and providing detailed "reports" of what's inside, for money.

The chip has proprietary technology inside covered by patents that would be easily visible under these kinds of conditions so it seems that someone buying one of those more detailed reports would be engaging in industrial espionage no?
post #7 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

My question is, how is it legal to do this?

They are X-raying the chip and providing detailed "reports" of what's inside, for money.

The chip has proprietary technology inside covered by patents that would be easily visible under these kinds of conditions so it seems that someone buying one of those more detailed reports would be engaging in industrial espionage no?

No - not even close.

Do yourself a favor and read up on intellectual property law. In particular, look at the ways that reverse engineering is legal. Then, look up the exceptions for academic research.
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Gatorguy 5/31/13
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"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
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post #8 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

My question is, how is it legal to do this?

They are X-raying the chip and providing detailed "reports" of what's inside, for money.

The chip has proprietary technology inside covered by patents that would be easily visible under these kinds of conditions so it seems that someone buying one of those more detailed reports would be engaging in industrial espionage no?

Thing is, it would be just as easy to tell if another chip violated their patents. Its like saying looking at the macbooks hinge is espionage. You can be sure these companies check other chips for patent violations.
post #9 of 22
I wonder why Samsung doesn't use a simmilar chip in its phones. This is much better than the Hummingbird.
post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by gwlaw99 View Post

I wonder why Samsung doesn't use a simmilar chip in its phones. This is much better than the Hummingbird.

Samsung is only the contract manufactuer for A5. To use it, Samsung would have to purchase license from Apple.
post #11 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

No - not even close.

Do yourself a favor and read up on intellectual property law. In particular, look at the ways that reverse engineering is legal. Then, look up the exceptions for academic research.

Well, you don't have to be so mean about it. It is a valid concern and I was just asking a question. I am aware that reverse engineering is both possible and legal, but generally that would be done in a "black box" type of situation with chips, because to be re-used they would have to infer the design rather than discover it through x-rays. Anything they could see through x-rays that is patented is still patented.

Also, academic research doesn't apply in this situation since they are selling access to the design
post #12 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

Thing is, it would be just as easy to tell if another chip violated their patents. Its like saying looking at the macbooks hinge is espionage. You can be sure these companies check other chips for patent violations.

You're right. I hadn't thought of it that way.

Even so, *selling* the access to the designs (that they don't own) seems terribly shady even if it's not technically illegal. I can't but think that the majority of people buying these reports would be doing so for less than above board practices. Any serious competitors would have their own x-ray gear and not need these guys to do it for them.
post #13 of 22
X-Ray does not prove anything related to Samsung, the title is quite stupid

Only comparing cross-section SEM photos of A5, actually of SoC APL0498, to a A4 (APL0398) or other Samsung made ICs could indicate that Samsung had produced APL0498...
post #14 of 22
Firstly, it's Megabits, not Megabytes. Each A9 core probably has 512KB (4096 Kbit) of L2 cache. Extra bits will go towards the L2 cache tags.

It's interesting that WiFi appears to now be integrated into the A5 SoC.

Other logic blocks will include USB, Security, memory controllers, misc I/O, audio and of course, graphics (presumably the large blocks above the CPU cores).
post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by rd68k View Post

X-Ray does not prove anything related to Samsung, the title is quite stupid

Only comparing cross-section SEM photos of A5, actually of SoC APL0498, to a A4 (APL0398) or other Samsung made ICs could indicate that Samsung had produced APL0498...

You mean like the SEM cross-section photos in the linked article?

http://www.chipworks.com/en/technica...sung-not-tsmc/

Just because AppleInsider calls them 'X-rays' doesn't actually mean anything - they used X-rays to see a high level floorplan initially before moving onto the SEM, and as you say, it's the SEM that allows you to see who made the chip. So yeah, the title is quite stupid.
post #16 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

My question is, how is it legal to do this?

They are X-raying the chip and providing detailed "reports" of what's inside, for money.

The chip has proprietary technology inside covered by patents that would be easily visible under these kinds of conditions so it seems that someone buying one of those more detailed reports would be engaging in industrial espionage no?

I don't know about the legality of it, but I'll be stunned if Samsung, TSMC, Global Foundries et al don't all cross section each others devices.

In practice, they will already know to some extent what the others are doing, since they all buy manufacturing equipment from the same companies, so the process they are following is pretty much the same.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

No - not even close.

Do yourself a favor and read up on intellectual property law. In particular, look at the ways that reverse engineering is legal. Then, look up the exceptions for academic research.

Why do you always have to be so unpleasant to everyone? Prof asked a perfectly fair question and you have to go and attack him.
post #17 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Well, you don't have to be so mean about it. It is a valid concern and I was just asking a question. I am aware that reverse engineering is both possible and legal, but generally that would be done in a "black box" type of situation with chips, because to be re-used they would have to infer the design rather than discover it through x-rays. Anything they could see through x-rays that is patented is still patented.

Also, academic research doesn't apply in this situation since they are selling access to the design

I'm only 'mean about it' because I'm fed up with people who have no clue what they're talking about cluttering up forums like this with inane comments - and making rational discussion impossible. It happens on almost every thread - people who don't know a megabit from a transistor posting ridiculous comments - and then others taking the comments as gospel and further spreading the drivel.

And academic research most certainly could apply. Some of the people who have dissected this chip have done so solely to increase the public state of knowledge. It doesn't have to be done by a university to be covered under the research exemption.
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Gatorguy 5/31/13
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"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
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post #18 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

I'm only 'mean about it' because I'm fed up with people who have no clue what they're talking about cluttering up forums like this with inane comments - and making rational discussion impossible. It happens on almost every thread - people who don't know a megabit from a transistor posting ridiculous comments - and then others taking the comments as gospel and further spreading the drivel.

And academic research most certainly could apply. Some of the people who have dissected this chip have done so solely to increase the public state of knowledge. It doesn't have to be done by a university to be covered under the research exemption.

Personally I'd rather read perfectly fair questions from people who are pleasant than the genius writings of an arsehole.
post #19 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by xsu View Post

Samsung is only the contract manufactuer for A5. To use it, Samsung would have to purchase license from Apple.

Heh, and you think apple would ever do that?

Plenty of chips out there - the GPU does not seem to be an apple exclusive.
post #20 of 22
Apple's done an amazing job with the design here. The A5 basically has double the transistors (both GPU and CPU. L2 cache too I think), fabbed on the same Samsung 45 nm process, and has been able to maintain the same power consumption as the A4. Actually, they've managed to maintain the power draw for the total package including LCD, radios and SoC to the same as the iPad 1. That's the most amazing thing.

With the PowerVR SGX543MP2, Apple will have the best GPU for smartphones and slate tablets for basically the rest of the year. Tegra 2 ULP is about half as slow in GPU. OMAP 44xx with PowerVR SGX540 will be about half as slow. Samsung Exynos with Mali 400 will be about twice as slow. Qualcomm Snapdragon 8060 with Adreno 220 will be about twice as slow.

Even the mighty Nvidia Kal-El may not be faster than the SGX543MP2. Sony NGP's quad A9 and SGX543MP4 is obviously faster. These SoCs really have to be fabbed at 32 nm to 40 nm nodes to make it fit inside smartphones. And the move to quad-core, that's pretty excessive. We (consumers) barely can make use of quad cores on our desktops. On tablets and smartphones, that's got to be 2 to 3 years aways before it is really useful. Transcoding video? Graphics processing? Audio processing? Maybe.

Computational solvers where it could use as many cores as you can throw at it, probably never.
post #21 of 22
didn't apple buy PA Semi? What became of that?
post #22 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by rtm135 View Post

didn't apple buy PA Semi? What became of that?

The Apple A4 and A5 SoC are the fruit of the labors from PA Semi and Intrinsity teams. It's kind of doubtful that Apple would have them embark on a totally different ARM design. But integration of components inside the SoC, implementing power savings features, etc, takes a bit of work. To do it, yeah, you'll need some good talent to do that.

They made the right choice for the A5. Of the 2011 class ARM SoCs, no one else has chosen to use PowerVR SGX543 MP2. Samsung, Qualcomm, TI, and Nvidia all have slower GPUs. Only Sony has chosen something even more powerful, but that's a late 2011 delivery if they can meet their schedules and power budget. I wouldn't be surprised if they slip 6 months.
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