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iPad A5X processor built on Samsung's 45nm technology

post #1 of 28
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Infrared microscope inspection of Apple's new A5X processor revealed that the chip was designed and built around Samsung's 45nm low power architecture, which is currently used in A5 processor found in the iPhone 4S and iPad 2.

As part of its comprehensive component-by-component analysis of the third-generation iPad, Chipworks has discovered that Apple's new A5X processor is being manufactured using Samsung 45nm CMOS process.

Measurements of the connected gates taken during cross-section analysis of the A5X confirm that it is a 45nm chip, similar in architecture to Apple's previous generation A4 and A5 silicon.

Unlike the older A-series chips, which sport a package-on-package design with the processing unit stacked below the LP-DDR2 SDRAM, the A5X configuration moves the 1GB of physical memory to a motherboard location opposite the processor.

Apple is continuing to source its memory from different suppliers as the Chipworks A5X used Samsung LP-DDR2, while an identical unit analyzed by iFixit implemented Elpida SDRAM.


Discrete DDR2 RAM modules, in this case Samsung-sourced. | Source: Chipworks


The A5X's die measures 12.82mm-by-12.71mm, which is a 35 percent increase in area compared to the A5 chip's 10.01mm-by-11.92mm die. Contributing to the increase in size is the addition of a quad-core GPU to the existing dual-core CPU.


Apple's new A5X chip boasts a 45nm LP CMOS architecture. | Source: Chipworks


Despite sharing the same CPU clock speed with the older A5 chip, the graphics and memory boosts in the new iPad's A5X processor should allow higher performance in graphics-intensive applications.

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 28
Dear editor,

There are no infrared microscope pictures here. The first picture is made on an optical microscope and the second one is made on a SEM (scanning electron microscope).
post #3 of 28
45nm process
Other products are being manufactured at 28nm and 22nm.
So, how more do we get when the iPad/iPhone processors are made with these narrow widths?
Exponential progress really hurts the brain.
post #4 of 28
Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

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post #5 of 28
This is the first iPad that gets hot to the touch. Not that's it's unwarranted with the needed GPU performance but it's unusual and uncomfortable for this device. Solution is simple: turn 180°.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

Intel can do 32nm ARM fabs and at the quantities Apple needs?

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post #6 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

Well yea why not I heard that the new Atom processors are getting better. Maybe now we will be able to install Windows 8 on the iPad.

Intel no longer makes ARM CPU's. Samsungs next ARM CPU's are all 32nm, they could have easly made the A5x on a 32nm die. It was probably not economicly feasable or maybe Apples design simply isn't ready for 32nm.
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post #7 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

Because Intel publicly stated that they're not really interested in fabbing someone else's ARM chips. They didn't come right out and say 'no', but more like the Japanese "it would be very difficult" - which amounts to the same things.
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post #8 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

... revealed that the chip was designed and built around Samsung's 45nm low power architecture...

The process technology may be Samsung's, but the architecture is Apple's (with help from the CPU and GPU IP owners).

Whether it is "designed" around this choice is an unanswerable question. My guess is Apple stayed with 45nm and general design rules not optimized for Samsung's process technology to give flexibility in switching fabs.
post #9 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Intel can do 32nm ARM fabs and at the quantities Apple needs?

Maybe. Intel is already moving to 22nm (Ivy Bridge) with trigate transistors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Relic View Post

Well yea why not I heard that the new Atom processors are getting better. Maybe now we will be able to install Windows 8 on the iPad.

Intel no longer makes ARM CPU's. Samsungs next ARM CPU's are all 32nm, they could have easly made the A5x on a 32nm die. It was probably not economicly feasable or maybe Apples design simply isn't ready for 32nm.

Where did I say Atom? All I'm saying Intel can operate as a foundry. They are ahead on their process technology it isn't even funny. I bet in a generation or two they'll get Atom to be more power efficient than ARM, medfield already looks promising. I can't vet whether Atom can be ever as efficient as ARM as an architecture but Intel's advanced process makes up for that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Because Intel publicly stated that they're not really interested in fabbing someone else's ARM chips. They didn't come right out and say 'no', but more like the Japanese "it would be very difficult" - which amounts to the same things.

I thought Intel was open to fabricating someone else's designs.

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post #10 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

Samsung's 32nm process isn't ready, as even they haven't shipped out any chips for there phones. And Apple would have had to make this decision months ago, you don't just suddenly switch from 32nm back to 45nm.
post #11 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

They would be digging their own graves.

Their goal is to rid ARM processors from the market, not encourage it by being one of its proponents.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

I thought Intel was open to fabricating someone else's designs.

You assumed wrong.

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post #12 of 28
Maybe Apple should jus buy Samsung
post #13 of 28
Hey AI, I had the scoop on this.
On the positive side, this means that the new iPhone will have 40 hours of use and 800 hours of standby time with the same performance as the A5X chip if it is build on 22nm.
The even newer iPad will have 20 hours of use and 2 times the performance of the A5X processor, and will be as fast per pixel as the current iPad2.

J.
post #14 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by dagamer34 View Post

Samsung's 32nm process isn't ready, as even they haven't shipped out any chips for there phones. And Apple would have had to make this decision months ago, you don't just suddenly switch from 32nm back to 45nm.

As far as I can see Samsung is already able to produce 28nm chips.
I don't know if they are ready to produce processor chips with this feature size and required volume.
So it could be they are not ready, yet.
But Samsung isn't the only company that can produce ARM chips with this feature size.
So my guess is that it won't take long before we see an A6 chip with a feature size of 32nm. The new iPhone, later this year will have one.

J.
post #15 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Maybe. Intel is already moving to 22nm (Ivy Bridge) with trigate transistors.

I thought Intel was open to fabricating someone else's designs.

Intel has made some vague pronouncements on this, but they are far from being a turnkey fab like TSMC or Global. From what I've seen, they've opened up to some FPGA makers, but doing that is common for fabs to fine-tune their fab line (nice regular structures to test new fab processes on).

The margins on fab-for-hire are much lower than if you design the chip as well. Intel will be wary against giving that up, and they certainly don't want to do it for an architecture (ARM) which they are wary of (their attempts to break into the low-power market have, so far, failed, but ARM may start making headway into the server and even desktop market).
post #16 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jimbo1234 View Post

Maybe Apple should jus buy Samsung

I am sure the Korean government would welcome that with as much enthusiasm and acceptance as the US government would if a Russian company were to try and buy Boeing.
post #17 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jimbo1234 View Post

Maybe Apple should jus buy Samsung

Considering Samsung spent more than $100 billion in investments alone in 2010-2012, I highly doubt that would be possible.
post #18 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

I am sure there's a very good reason.

Apple/Samsung really pushes the concept of frenemies to new levels... Apple couldn't actually make iPad 3s at all if it wasn't for Samsung. Samsung makes the CPU and the vast majority of the high res displays. I am sure Apple is trying to switch, but they can't. Apple needs Samsung.

As to why Samsung wants to supply its competitor I am not sure... probably to make money, to get early access to the very latest tech themselves (with Apple paying for development and Samsung reaping the benefits in their own devices)? IDK. Those reasons don't seem very strong to me. I don't know enough about Samsung...
post #19 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

I am sure the Korean government would welcome that with as much enthusiasm and acceptance as the US government would if a Russian company were to try and buy Boeing.

Or they can just buy a controller stake getting some seats on the Samsung board and have them give Apple favorable licensing terms of their IP portfolio.
post #20 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tune View Post

Considering Samsung spent more than $100 billion in investments alone in 2010-2012, I highly doubt that would be possible.

So what?

Samsung Electronic's market cap is something under $180 B. Typically, acquisitions are made at a slight premium to market cap, so it would take Apple something like $200 B to buy them.

With $100 B in cash and no debt, Apple would have absolutely no problem in buying Samsung if they wished. Of course, it is extremely unlikely that they'd want to.
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post #21 of 28
Intel is not exactly taking the market by storm with their smaller process technology. Yet. Ivy Bridge has been delayed. Their lower power Atom processors on 32nm are nothing special. I doubt they could match the A5X in power efficiency when integrated into a tablet. There is a lot more that goes into efficient chip design than just shrinking the process.

I see the A5X as being similar to the "tick tock" strategy Intel has been using - first you get the design right, then you shrink it. Apple has the ability to create processors that include unique feature sets. Beside the 2 CPU & 4 GPU cores, it has circuity for interfacing with the cameras and memory.

What is interesting about A5X is they moved the DRAM off to separate chips, which would seem to indicate it would not work in an iPhone because of the extra space required. I could see Apple have two distinct lines of ARM processors in the future - ones focused for iPhones with RAM onboard, and the other on iPads with separate RAM chips. It is probably cheaper to manufacturer a chip without piggybacking the RAM on another layer, and it gives Apple flexibility to source iPad RAM from multiple vendors
post #22 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by rd68k View Post

Dear editor,

There are no infrared microscope pictures here. The first picture is made on an optical microscope and the second one is made on a SEM (scanning electron microscope).

Haven't you heard? Facts are no longer important, only feelings.

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post #23 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by msimpson View Post

Intel is not exactly taking the market by storm with their smaller process technology. Yet. Ivy Bridge has been delayed. Their lower power Atom processors on 32nm are nothing special. I doubt they could match the A5X in power efficiency when integrated into a tablet. There is a lot more that goes into efficient chip design than just shrinking the process.

Shrink the process is how Intel keeps ahead of the game. It isn't like their processor designs are in anyway outstanding.
Quote:
I see the A5X as being similar to the "tick tock" strategy Intel has been using - first you get the design right, then you shrink it. Apple has the ability to create processors that include unique feature sets. Beside the 2 CPU & 4 GPU cores, it has circuity for interfacing with the cameras and memory.

If the processor is still on 45nm then I'm a bit shocked. However my iPad 3 experience has been really good so I really don't care. Lower power and more speed is always nice but I'm impressed with the step up from iPad 1.
Quote:
What is interesting about A5X is they moved the DRAM off to separate chips, which would seem to indicate it would not work in an iPhone because of the extra space required. I could see Apple have two distinct lines of ARM processors in the future - ones focused for iPhones with RAM onboard, and the other on iPads with separate RAM chips. It is probably cheaper to manufacturer a chip without piggybacking the RAM on another layer, and it gives Apple flexibility to source iPad RAM from multiple vendors

I would think that a dual track development program is a requirement. it is far more important to stuff tablets with more power. More importantly I think Apple needs an even smaller processor for phones and other smaller devices.
post #24 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by davebarnes View Post

45nm process
Other products are being manufactured at 28nm and 22nm.
So, how more do we get when the iPad/iPhone processors are made with these narrow widths?
Exponential progress really hurts the brain.

Well, 28nm and 22nm, if you're Intel, doesn't hurt 'em one bit. Samsung, TSMC, AMD, etc... not sure.

10nm or bust!

45nm explains some heat issues.
post #25 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by rd68k View Post

Dear editor,

There are no infrared microscope pictures here. The first picture is made on an optical microscope and the second one is made on a SEM (scanning electron microscope).

I wouldn't call it an optical microscope, someone might have just used an iPhone and then zoomed in/ cropped in Photoshop.

Back in my day, optical microscopes were... yada yada yada

Quote:
Originally Posted by msimpson View Post

Intel is not exactly taking the market by storm with their smaller process technology. Yet. Ivy Bridge has been delayed. Their lower power Atom processors on 32nm are nothing special. I doubt they could match the A5X in power efficiency when integrated into a tablet. There is a lot more that goes into efficient chip design than just shrinking the process.

I see the A5X as being similar to the "tick tock" strategy Intel has been using - first you get the design right, then you shrink it. Apple has the ability to create processors that include unique feature sets. Beside the 2 CPU & 4 GPU cores, it has circuity for interfacing with the cameras and memory.

What is interesting about A5X is they moved the DRAM off to separate chips, which would seem to indicate it would not work in an iPhone because of the extra space required. I could see Apple have two distinct lines of ARM processors in the future - ones focused for iPhones with RAM onboard, and the other on iPads with separate RAM chips. It is probably cheaper to manufacturer a chip without piggybacking the RAM on another layer, and it gives Apple flexibility to source iPad RAM from multiple vendors

The chilling possibility is that short of Apple making its own fab, any Apple A6/7/etc. at 28nm or less may very well have to be done through Intel... Unless Samsung or others can really deliver ~ we'll have to see, I'm not saying Samsung sucks per se simply because this is at 45nm. But one would imagine a quad PowerVR Rogue with ARM quad (big.Little dual A7 with dual A15) would do much better on a nice 28nm process.

BTW besides space, did they separate it also because they need to have a heatsink on the main die, and no need for heatsinks on the RAM?
post #26 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aizmov View Post

Still on 45nm? Why does Apple still let Samsung fab them? Can't Apple design them but have Intel fabricate them? Intel had 32nm since 2010 and they are bringing out 22nm this year.

Because the only third parties that Intel lets use its fabs are FPGA companies, and that's because FPGAs are simpler devices that allow Intel to test their new processes earlier than they can with more complex CPU designs (i.e., there's a real benefit for Intel besides earning money for letting FPGAs be fabbed on their leading-edge processes).

In addition you can't just switch to a different fab. Each company's process is different from the next. It can take 6 months to a year to port a design to a different fab.

And ultimately, Apple needs millions of these chips each month, and thus proven processes like Samsung's 45nm process are guaranteed to allow that rate of production with no hiccups (e.g., TSMC 28nm issues).

Samsung do currently have a 32nm process as well, so I'm sure the A6 will be using that once it is ready to handle the volumes that Apple require. I'm sure that Apple is also looking at GlobalFoundries and TSMC as alternatives as well.
post #27 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

So what?

Samsung Electronic's market cap is something under $180 B. Typically, acquisitions are made at a slight premium to market cap, so it would take Apple something like $200 B to buy them.

With $100 B in cash and no debt, Apple would have absolutely no problem in buying Samsung if they wished. Of course, it is extremely unlikely that they'd want to.

Samsung is not for sale due to Korean government regulations, you can't even buy Samsung stock in US on open market, but only though specialized brokers who have access to Korean stock market.

But Intel is available. Its market cap is $138 B. Also AMD, TI, Transmeta, National Semi, Taiwan Semi.

AMD can build CPU and flash memory and it's only $6 B. But of course it will take a couple of years until any of these would be able to produce processors in these high volumes.

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post #28 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

So what?

Samsung Electronic's market cap is something under $180 B. Typically, acquisitions are made at a slight premium to market cap, so it would take Apple something like $200 B to buy them.

With $100 B in cash and no debt, Apple would have absolutely no problem in buying Samsung if they wished. Of course, it is extremely unlikely that they'd want to.

Buying another company for the mear fact that it can and based on personal grudge isnt a very sound investment move. If you were CEO, you'd lose your job in an instant.

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