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Apple TV "single core" A5 actually has two cores, one is off

post #1 of 53
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An investigation into the custom A5 chip used in Apple TV has found that the new Application Processor uses both a smaller, more efficient 32nm die process and actually incorporates two cores, one of which is simply turned off.

According to a report by Chipworks, the custom A5 "APL2498" used in the third generation, 1080p Apple TV has improved upon the 45nm LP CMOS process of the previous A5 "APL0498," used in both iPad 2 and iPhone 4S last year.

The smaller die size makes the Apple TV's A5 almost 41 percent smaller than the original part, allowing more chips to be created from a single silicon wafer. That makes producing the part cheaper, and also helps improve performance and lower power consumption (as its components are shrunken down and therefore closer to each other).




In addition to being smaller, Chipworks found that the new version of the A5 actually incorporates two cores. Apple only advertises Apple TV as having a single core chip, so the investigation notes that "either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts."

By turning off one core, Apple could reduce the power consumption of a device. However, Apple TV lacks the power constraints of battery-powered mobile devices, making it more likely that the company simply developed a smaller, cheaper version of the A5 and is using the dual core rejects to power Apple TV, where one core is sufficient.

Chipworks explains that such "parts binning is a common process in semiconductors where devices are segregated (binned) based on meeting a subset of the overall requirements, in this case they could disable the 'bad' core, this increases the usable die per wafer, lowering the cost."

Chip makers routinely create CPUs and RAM components and test them for the highest speed they can consistently operate at, selling the fastest parts for more and the slower components for less, rated to work at a slower clock speed.

This strategy would allow Apple to use its poorest performing new A5 chips in the $99 Apple TV, while creating a new supply of fully functional 32nm A5 chips that are faster, smaller and cheaper than last year's 45nm batch.

Chipworks notes that these chips could either power a new generation of iPhones (or other devices) or help to reduce the cost of existing products such as the iPhone 4S or iPad 2. The latest third generation iPad uses a custom chip Apple calls A5X, which incorporates the same dual ARM cores but delivers quad-core GPUs to drive its Retina Display, with four times the pixels.

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 53
I wonder if Apple will start to release new chip models like they do the iPhone. For example. iPhone 3G, iPhone 3Gs. iPhone 4, iPhone 4Gs. A5, A5x. A6, A6x and so on.

Just a thought.
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post #3 of 53
Two cores. Only 1 in use. Very anthropomorphic.
post #4 of 53
Odd title. The use of only one core was already known. What wasn't known is Apple using the new Apple TV and the new $399 iPad 2 (2,4) as the testbed for the 32nm process.

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post #5 of 53
I assume this could be for heat issues, or possibly power? I can't see any other reason why they'd disable the other core.

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post #6 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

Two cores. Only 1 in use. Very anthropomorphic.

Where is oneCoreWhore when we need him?
post #7 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by macxpress View Post

I assume this could be for heat issues, or possibly power? I can't see any other reason why they'd disable the other core.

Whenever a chip is fabricated, tests are performed on them to ensure that hey all work correctly. There are times that parts of the chip may work and others won't (this defines the number of faulty chips and the yield of the fabrication process)

What Apple is doing here is that if there is at least one functional core, they put it in the Apple TV instead of throwing the chip away.
post #8 of 53
edit: Pipped by DrFreeman.

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post #9 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by iSheldon View Post

Where is oneCoreWhore when we need him?

You want more gore from oneCoreWhore?
post #10 of 53
edit: Pipped by DrFreeman as well
post #11 of 53
Man, the prediction business is hard!

Something is afoot.
post #12 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

You want more gore from oneCoreWhore?

Ooops- I meant 8CoreWhore!
post #13 of 53
And there ya go. Some people got upset for some reason in articles where myself and some others suggested it was die-harvested. Its a normal practice, no reason for Apple not to do it.


More interesting is that this is 32nm rather than 45 like the A5X, I wonder if that means a silently updated 2012 iPad with lower power consuming 32nm chips.
post #14 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shrike View Post

Man, the prediction business is hard!

Something is afoot.

They are testing a new new process node with a low-volume product. I don't think we've seen Apple do that before, but it's also not surprising that they would as 32/28nm is expected to be in volume for the 6th gen iPhone.

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post #15 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFreeman View Post

Whenever a chip is fabricated, tests are performed on them to ensure that hey all work correctly. There are times that parts of the chip may work and others won't (this defines the number of faulty chips and the yield of the fabrication process)

What Apple is doing here is that if there is at least one functional core, they put it in the Apple TV instead of throwing the chip away.

When is the class action regarding this faulty Core ?
post #16 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by umrk_lab View Post

When is the class action regarding this faulty Core ?

"DoJ files suit against Apple for colluding with chip manufacturers to disable cores in Apple TV and iPads."

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post #17 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFreeman View Post

Whenever a chip is fabricated, tests are performed on them to ensure that hey all work correctly. There are times that parts of the chip may work and others won't (this defines the number of faulty chips and the yield of the fabrication process)

What Apple is doing here is that if there is at least one functional core, they put it in the Apple TV instead of throwing the chip away.

This is an assumption on the parts of ChipWorks. It may well be correct, or not. One problem with this premise - it is based on another assumption: that Apple is producing millions of smaller versions of A5 (APL2498) and are picking off some of the defective ones to use in AppleTV. So Apple is already manufacturing this 32 nm A5 in sufficient volume that one specific defective species is sufficiently large in quantity as to supply another product line? Pretty big assumption.
post #18 of 53
Anyone else think they are trying to get 32nm production mature enough for 32nm parts in the next iPhone? The rumour was that it would have an power enhanced A5X, sounds like a 32nm one to me.
post #19 of 53
The most obvious prediction here is that they're busy making 32nm SOCs for the next iPhone, which makes a lot of sense since it would otherwise be very difficult to fit 45nm improvements into the current form factor.

What I'd like to know is:
How many GPU cores are there?
I'm looking at the above photos and I can't tell.

NOTE: The Article incorrectly references a "33nm" die. Everything I've previously read has pointed to the development of either 28 or 32nm dies across the different manufacturers.
post #20 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by brutus009 View Post

What I'd like to know is:
How many GPU cores are there?
I'm looking at the above photos and I can't tell.


As a reference:



Looks like 2 to me, like the A5.
post #21 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

Anyone else think they are trying to get 32nm production mature enough for 32nm parts in the next iPhone? The rumour was that it would have an power enhanced A5X, sounds like a 32nm one to me.

I agree this all about getting the process issues ironed out. But it doesn't look like it will be Cortex-A9-based.

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post #22 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I agree this all about getting the process issues ironed out. But it doesn't look like it will be Cortex-A9-based.

I'd like to think it will be A15, but has the iPhone ever been ahead of the iPad in CPU? I think it will be a 32nm A5X, then the next iPad will be first to A6 with Cortex A15 cores.
post #23 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by umrk_lab View Post

When is the class action regarding this faulty Core ?

I'm sure there are some bottom-feeding attorneys fishing for consumers that will cry about being harmed by this.

If they advertise it as single core, and they're using a binned dual-core with the defective core disabled I could care less.

The only time I would have a problem with this are like the stunts that IBM pulls all the time with their mid-range platforms (iSeries, AS/400, etc..) where they would install fully-function multi-core CPU's in all their machines but software lock the extra cores which would then require an additional fee to "activate" each individual core.

I got into arguments with IBM over the years on this. They would spin their stories as "providing only the performance tailored to the customer" or other BS and I would turn around and tell them that they are selling me a fully-functional V8 motor with two of the spark plug wires pulled out.

If Intel pulled a stunt like IBM does, the market would riot.

I'm curious to see what Apple's response would be. Not that having extra cores would necessarily help stream a 1080p video any faster.
post #24 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

I'd like to think it will be A15, but has the iPhone ever been ahead of the iPad in CPU? I think it will be a 32nm A5X, then the next iPad will be first to A6 with Cortex A15 cores.

Three things:

1) The iPad's SoC has been ahead of the iPhone thus far, but this year is unusual as there was no 32nm process or Cortex-A15 that was ready for the iPad's release. Both of those are looking to be possible for Autumn.

2) The iPad had never been ahead of the iPhone in cellular connectivity until the iPad (3) despite having more room from the start for larger and more cellular chips, so it's possible that things will change as components permit or market pressure forces Apple's hand.

3) I don't know of any new Img Tech GPUs that could lower the power envelope but I don't think they will go with the 4 core system, which I think you are suggesting with the 'X' usage. The 4 cores were only needed for the 2048x1536 display. Maybe they will, but a much slower speeds but I'd think that two, higher performing cores make more sense.

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post #25 of 53
How long till someone in the jailbreak community tries to enable the other core?
post #26 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by libertyforall View Post

how long till someone in the jailbreak community tries to enable the other core?

3...2...1...

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post #27 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by libertyforall View Post

How long till someone in the jailbreak community tries to enable the other core?

They can try, and only a few will succeed.
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post #28 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by sflocal View Post

I'm sure there are some bottom-feeding attorneys fishing for consumers that will cry about being harmed by this.

If they advertise it as single core, and they're using a binned dual-core with the defective core disabled I could care less.

<...>

I got into arguments with IBM over the years on this. <..>

Interesting point, which probably explains why Apple advertises it as a single Core. But by doing so, they are outside of specifications, and guilty of lying ! ----> in either cases, there is room for suing Apple !
post #29 of 53
A valid reason for minimizing overall footprint (ie cost, heat, powerconsumption etc)
is for example plans for external or internal embedding.
Internal=put it inside A own or others future products, ie TVs, screens/projtrs, desktops/laptops
External=sold as external add-on to retrofit to customers existing prod's as above
think "oversized HDMI plug w sneak cable to TV/screen/proj USB outlet for power
add antennas for WiFi & Bluetooth protruding from HDMIplug
"IOS enable your screen for 50bucks"
as precursor to build subscriberbase and momentum for "the real thing"

Would allow smarter Airplay enabling also for high-end audio gear
If you can do robust,smart & min overall footprint it has enormous impact on
reduced cost of acquiring new consumers and "convienience ball&chain" for existing
customers.

"Think big, start "small" "
post #30 of 53
Or really manufacturing in general. No process is absolutely perfect.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

And there ya go. Some people got upset for some reason in articles where myself and some others suggested it was die-harvested. Its a normal practice, no reason for Apple not to do it.

It is actually normal in many industries, that is one often has processes that seldom yield 100% if ever.
Quote:

More interesting is that this is 32nm rather than 45 like the A5X,

This is huge and totally ignored by the article. It means a lower power processor for the next series of Touches and iPhones. At 32 nm they would also have the option of cranking up the clock rate without penalty.
Quote:
I wonder if that means a silently updated 2012 iPad with lower power consuming 32nm chips.

I don't think there is a chance in hell. Maybe not for the expected reasons either. Apples processor consumption is such that they will likely need to employ multiple plants and processes to meet demand. Two years ago they where using 80% of Samsungs production capacity. Today I suspect that they are using all of Samsungs existing capacity plus the capacity of the new Texas plant. Thus the need to spread production across plants and processes.

In any event this does give us a ball park figure to work with. 32nm should allow Apple to hit 1.6GHz easy or to beef up the GPU in the next iPhone. It would be nice to have more detail with respect to this processor, especially if it is a simple die shrink or in some way enhanced.
post #31 of 53
They are ramping a brand new process in a brand new plant. Smart move by any measure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

They are testing a new new process node with a low-volume product. I don't think we've seen Apple do that before, but it's also not surprising that they would as 32/28nm is expected to be in volume for the 6th gen iPhone.
post #32 of 53
No one has speculated that a dual core version of the 32nm A5 could end up in something completely new like the so-far mythical "Jesus" television.
post #33 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

Two cores. Only 1 in use. Very anthropomorphic.

Having one core going along for a free ride doesn't make much sense to me, at all . I can only trust that Apple knows what it is doing or that the second core can be turned on if needed. So, it's possible the theory of this A5 processor being a reject processor might be wrong. I'd like to see if someone can turn on that second core to prove it's functional. Apple is doing things that are hard to fathom. If the Apple TV sells for $99, why disable one core when two can be put in use. Is it possible there might be a heat issue? I would think that it would make more sense to use both of those cores and downclock both cores. I honestly tend to believe it's a yield problem with one core possibly not up to spec, but what do I know. I doubt that any Android vendor would ever consider disabling a working core because for them it's all about specs.
post #34 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by umrk_lab View Post

Interesting point, which probably explains why Apple advertises it as a single Core. But by doing so, they are outside of specifications, and guilty of lying ! ----> in either cases, there is room for suing Apple !

The Apple haters would jump all over this. Apple is cheating consumers with defective or reject components. The only thing is that if the device performs as specified, there's nothing for anyone to complain about. I just don't like that AppleTV doesn't support Hulu Plus but that has nothing to do with the hardware aspect.
post #35 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Constable Odo View Post

Having one core going along for a free ride doesn't make much sense to me, at all . I can only trust that Apple knows what it is doing or that the second core can be turned on if needed. So, it's possible the theory of this A5 processor being a reject processor might be wrong. I'd like to see if someone can turn on that second core to prove it's functional. Apple is doing things that are hard to fathom. If the Apple TV sells for $99, why disable one core when two can be put in use. Is it possible there might be a heat issue? I would think that it would make more sense to use both of those cores and downclock both cores. I honestly tend to believe it's a yield problem with one core possibly not up to spec, but what do I know. I doubt that any Android vendor would ever consider disabling a working core because for them it's all about specs.

You might reconsider your thoguhts after actually reading the article and the previous comments.
post #36 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

And there ya go. Some people got upset for some reason in articles where myself and some others suggested it was die-harvested. Its a normal practice, no reason for Apple not to do it.


More interesting is that this is 32nm rather than 45 like the A5X, I wonder if that means a silently updated 2012 iPad with lower power consuming 32nm chips.

...but... but... but... I paid for two fully functioning cores. So, can I get half my money back?
post #37 of 53
My god man it couldn't be any clearer than has been explained in this thread. It is common practice in the industry to bin parts. Is that difficult to understand?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Constable Odo View Post

Having one core going along for a free ride doesn't make much sense to me, at all .

Give me a break, this isn't rocket science at all.
Quote:
I can only trust that Apple knows what it is doing or that the second core can be turned on if needed. So, it's possible the theory of this A5 processor being a reject processor might be wrong.

It isn't a reject it is simply a different part number. It is no different than Intel baking a wafer and getting a range of processors that meet different performance levels. Or for that matter Intel turning off defective core and selling the chips as Celerons or whatever. Ever semiconductor manufacture bins parts, they always have and always will.
Quote:
I'd like to see if someone can turn on that second core to prove it's functional. Apple is doing things that are hard to fathom.

This is no time to be dense.
[quote[If the Apple TV sells for $99, why disable one core when two can be put in use. Is it possible there might be a heat issue? I would think that it would make more sense to use both of those cores and downclock both cores. I honestly tend to believe it's a yield problem with one core possibly not up to spec, but what do I know. I doubt that any Android vendor would ever consider disabling a working core because for them it's all about specs. [/QUOTE]

I'm mystified here as to your mental processes here. Honestly you should look for a job with the department of justice you would fit in with those idiots just fine.
post #38 of 53
Waiting for the obligatory lawsuit: "My Apple TV has a bad core."
post #39 of 53
Do we know if this is a Samsung chip? Were they planning for 32nm? If so, could this be from the new Texas plant? Texas is new and perhaps they are still refining the process and getting a high reject rate.

If Apple sells 3 million of these this year, and they are the "rejects," what does that imply about the number of non-rejected parts? Could that tell us anything about the product they will go into (for example, probably not the rumored iTV, because the numbers are so larger)?

If these chips are the rejects from the next-gen iPhone chips, isn't it kind of early for an October release, for Apple to be producing chips in quantity enough to get all these rejects?

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post #40 of 53
I'm not surprised they are binning the A5 CPU's, and I'm not surprised they are using the dual-core rejects as single core in the Apple TV. All makes perfect sense. Wat I do find newsworthy is that apparently, Apple is using the Apple TV as some kind of test bed for 32 nm parts.

If true, I don't think this is very common in the semiconductor industry. Usually foundries like to optimize every process node to the maximum, and take big and discrete steps to newer process nodes. This means production runs of distinct designs will always be on the same node, anything else is R&D only. The switch is flipped when R&D yields satisfy some criterium, after which all production moves to the new node.

Apple is now using (and probably will be using of some time to come) variants of the A5 in almost every iOS device they sell, so if the can have the luxury to move it to 32 nm, with reduced risk because try can use dual-core rejects in the Apple TV, this could be a very smart move.
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