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New Apple TV sports custom, single-core A5 processor

post #1 of 47
Thread Starter 
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 ]
post #2 of 47
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
post #3 of 47
It's probably just a collection of chips with one core disabled. FAR cheaper than custom designing a new one.
post #4 of 47
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.
post #5 of 47
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.
post #6 of 47
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.
post #7 of 47
I wonder when Apple releases a new iPod touch whether it will use this chip?
post #8 of 47
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.
post #9 of 47
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.
post #10 of 47
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.

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post #11 of 47
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?
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post #12 of 47
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.

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post #13 of 47
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.

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post #14 of 47
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.

Originally Posted by helia

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post #15 of 47
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.
post #16 of 47
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.

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post #17 of 47
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.

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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Originally Posted by helia

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post #18 of 47
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.

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post #19 of 47
BTW, I update my Apple TV software, and the new Apple TV interface is an ABOMINATION! Steve Jobs would never have OK'ed this.

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post #20 of 47
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.

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #21 of 47
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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post #22 of 47
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.

That's a common practice. You're ignorant of it, so you call them trolls? It helps considerably with manufacturing costs by lowering your potential waste.
post #23 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

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



True, but you can't say that the big coloured buttons looks good.

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post #24 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by einsteinbqat View Post

True, but you can't say that the big colored buttons looks good.

I think even what I came up with looks better than the new software, and that's saying something since everything I do seems to be complete trash.

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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Originally Posted by helia

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post #25 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by einsteinbqat View Post

True, but you can't say that the big coloured buttons looks good.

That looks fine, and is by far the best ATV interface yet. What's so bad about it? It's just like an iOS homescreen but with rectangular icons, which look much better on a 16x9 display. It's also an obvious prelude to an appstore to be added.
post #26 of 47
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.

You don't know hat. This could be the interface Steve said he cracked

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

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post #27 of 47
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.

I'm pretty sure this is not correct. The new ATV can play 1080p because it has a faster CPU/GPU (and possibly more RAM). If you upgrade your iTunes app and look at the available movies, it looks like you have a *choice* of downloading HD movies as 720p or 1080p, so it looks like Apple is maintaining two different copies of HD movies (really, three versions, including SD). I suspect that if you *buy* an HD movie from iTunes, you'll be able to download the 720p version from a device that is only capable of 720p or the 1080p version from a device (like this newest ATV) that can do 1080p. If you buy the SD version (at a cheaper price), you'll be limited to re-downloading that version.

Update: I just noticed that the iTunes store tells you the filesizes in advance of buying a movie. The movie Hugo is listed as being 4.84GB in 1080p, 3.99GB in 720p, and 1.74GB in SD. I've been pretty impressed with the PQ of Apple's 720p "HD" movies, but based on this info, it tells me that Apple is over-compressing their 1080p transfers. A 1080p movie has 2.25x the pixels of a 720p movie, but based on the filesizes, Apple's 1080p version of a movie has only a slightly larger filesize than the 720p version.
post #28 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott R View Post

I'm pretty sure this is not correct. The new ATV can play 1080p because it has a faster CPU/GPU (and possibly more RAM). If you upgrade your iTunes app and look at the available movies, it looks like you have a *choice* of downloading HD movies as 720p or 1080p, so it looks like Apple is maintaining two different copies of HD movies (really, three versions, including SD). I suspect that if you *buy* an HD movie from iTunes, you'll be able to download the 720p version from a device that is only capable of 720p or the 1080p version from a device (like this newest ATV) that can do 1080p. If you buy the SD version (at a cheaper price), you'll be limited to re-downloading that version.

The new Apple TV is faster but I am not sure the "technical" limits of ANY previous Apple TV are challanged with this new 1080p as the bit rate is comparable with their 720p offerings. Maybe I'm completely off base but I thought the "work" was a measure of the amount of data per frame not specifically the resolution.

I don't know about switching between 720p and 1080p on the Apple TV but in iTunes 10.6 it's a breeze. It's a simple drop down in Preferences but you can switch it on the fly right from a link in the iTS that will bring up that Prefernces window.

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #29 of 47
I was disappointed that the specs only say its capable of High Profile 4.0. With a bitrate of 25000 kbps, that means no Bluray streaming at 40 Mbps. The iPhone 4S and iPad 3 are both capable of High Profile 4.1 which puts them well above the Bluray bitrate.

The iPad 2 was only rated Main Profile 3.1, but I think that has more to do with only supporting 720p.
post #30 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by spleck View Post

I was disappointed that the specs only say its capable of High Profile 4.0. With a bitrate of 25000 kbps, that means no Bluray streaming at 40 Mbps. The iPhone 4S and iPad 3 are both capable of High Profile 4.1 which puts them well above the Bluray bitrate.

The iPad 2 was only rated Main Profile 3.1, but I think that has more to do with only supporting 720p.

Hmm...I hadn't noticed that the iPhone 4s could do 4.1 and this new ATV only 4.0. That does sound concerning. FWIW, I've been able to play full-bitrate Blu-ray rips on my ATV2 under XBMC (downscaled to 720p, and the source must be in MP4 format - some Blu-rays are encoded as VC1 which the ATV2's GPU can't natively decode), so I would think that this new ATV might be able to pull that off at 1080p, but I guess we'll see.
post #31 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott R View Post

Hmm...I hadn't noticed that the iPhone 4s could do 4.1 and this new ATV only 4.0. That does sound concerning. FWIW, I've been able to play full-bitrate Blu-ray rips on my ATV2 under XBMC (downscaled to 720p, and the source must be in MP4 format - some Blu-rays are encoded as VC1 which the ATV2's GPU can't natively decode), so I would think that this new ATV might be able to pull that off at 1080p, but I guess we'll see.

I have not had the same experience. My ATV2 stutters and chokes on any full Blu-ray rip using XBMC. What kind of network share are you using? I'm using an SMB share, but now that I think of it, I've been trying to stream MKVs rather than MP4.
post #32 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post

That's a common practice. You're ignorant of it, so you call them trolls? It helps considerably with manufacturing costs by lowering your potential waste.

Designing a device with fewer cores is not that hard. It's possible they are using dual cores and disabling one but with the volumes they need, not too likely. A flaw in a die with so few cores need not necessarily disable just the one core. If you have a high number of cores, you are more likely to run into a scenario where a flaw disables one core and not other critical components like a bus or shared cache, e.g., the Sony PS3 shipped with only 7 of its 8 vector units working (6 of those available to programmers).

If Apple TV gets to high volumes, a smaller chip is also a consideration in manufacturing costs, and cost is a critical factor in this case.

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post #33 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by al_bundy View Post

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

++

Also as it's not in a mobile device with battery issues, they can get the same effect as the A5X's 1080p encode/decode (Imagination Tech VXE?) capability (and SGX543MP4 graphics) by clocking the original A5's video core (VXE, SGX543MP2) at a faster speed than in the iPad/iPhone.
post #34 of 47
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.


A rudimentary knowledge of the semiconductor industry is all it would take for you to know its plausible. Chip harvesting happens all the time. Intel does it, AMD does it, IBM does it, why would Apple be unique in throwing away capable chips? If it only takes one core to run 1080p, why not use the harvested chips? Infact most chips ARE harvested, a 3GHz chip from the same family as a 3.4GHz chip probably didn't pass the tests at the higher speed so was lowered and sold as a different part, even if its almost the same. If you're going to call people out, at least know what you're talking about.
post #35 of 47
If Apple were to put the 5X in this and develop a controller, they could be a dominant player in the game console market within a year. The games are already written for iOS, for God's sake! It's a mystery to me why they haven't done this.
post #36 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Morky View Post

If Apple were to put the 5X in this and develop a controller, they could be a dominant player in the game console market within a year. The games are already written for iOS, for God's sake! It's a mystery to me why they haven't done this.

The appleTV is rather well positioned given the rest of the iOS ecosystem.

My guess is that apple is actively choosing to limit their platform in order to keep it monolithic and consistent. That consistency is one of the less recognized advantages of iOS. Apps work great on every device because of consistent screen sizes, hardware capabilities etc. The platform has remained remarkably consistent despite significant hardware upgrades.

If apple were to offer dedicated gaming console functionality or even an app store for the ATV, it would mean apps running on a platform with inherently different screen and interaction characteristics. Apps would need to be tailored specifically to run on the ATV in order for the experience to be as refined as we are used to on handheld touch screen devices. It is unlikely that all developers would invest the development time to make native ATV apps. So either apple would have to allow non-native apps on the ATV, or limit its store to native ATV apps. Either way, to do it right means going all in. To enter the market casually could really hurt the entire iOS ecosystem.
post #37 of 47
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.

I was recently in the market for a quad core intel chip. It seems the chips actually have 8 cores and the bad cores are locked out. One of the ways is to burn a fuse that disables that portion of the chip. I don't think that is what intel uses though because for a bit extra I could buy an unlocked version that allowed additional cores to be used. There were no garantees that those cores would work though.

I'm not convinced that the A5 single core is built this way though.
post #38 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by spleck View Post

I have not had the same experience. My ATV2 stutters and chokes on any full Blu-ray rip using XBMC. What kind of network share are you using? I'm using an SMB share, but now that I think of it, I've been trying to stream MKVs rather than MP4.

I have a gigabit network (the ATV2, of course is only 100mbps) and am using SMB. My full-bitrate Blu-ray rips are in MKV format. I do rip only the main movie and non-lossless 5.1 soundtrack (and forced subs). The movies must be encoded in MP4 format. Some Blu-rays are encoded with VC1 and those will not play. The ATV2's GPU can decode MP4 natively, so the VC1 encoded movies require the CPU to process that and the ATV2's CPU is not up to that task. I've also encountered some issues when subtitles come on-screen.
post #39 of 47
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.

intel does the same thing

i3's and i5's are just bad i7's
post #40 of 47
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.

everyone does it

you really think all those different graphics card chips are separate production runs? nope. the high end $500 model are the perfect chips and everything else are the rejects. use lasers to disable some circuitry and you can sell a rejected CPU. Intel does the same thing. i7's are perfect and i3's and i5's are the rejects.

in fact intel has been doing this for decades. that's why in the 1990's you could buy a slower P2 and overclock it to the top speed. sometimes your CPU was in fact the highest rated one but intel needed some cheaper SKU's
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