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Teardown of Apple's A6 processor finds 1GB RAM with 2 CPU & 3 GPU cores

post #1 of 61
Thread Starter 
A closer look at Apple's new A6 processor found in the iPhone 5 has found that the system-on-a-chip includes two CPU cores, three graphics processing units, and a full gigabyte of RAM.

A6


The teardown of the A6 chip was conducted via a collaboration between Chipworks and iFixit. They used an ion blaster to remove layers of silicon and find out exactly what's inside Apple's custom-made chip.

Under a microscope, they found that the device has a gigabyte of Elpida LP DDR2 SDRAM. That same RAM is also used in the recently released Motorola Droid Razr Maxx.

A6


The A6 chip itself was fabricated by Samsung via their 32-nanometer CMOS process. It measures 9.70 by 9.97 millimeters.

Though the A6 was manufactured by Samsung, it is the first chip custom designed by Apple, based on the ARMv7s instruction set. Apple's first-ever complete control of the design allowed the company to customize the performance as they chose.

A6


Inside the A6, the most prominent features are the dual ARM cores and the three PowerVR graphics chips. Chipworks found that the ARM processors are laid out manually, which can result in faster processing speeds but is also more expensive and time consuming to develop.

"The manual layout of the ARM processor lends much credence to the rumor that Apple designed a custom processor of the same caliber as the all-new Cortex-A15, and it just might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years," iFixit said.

With their microscopes, Chipworks also took a look at who manufactures the cameras featured on the iPhone 5. They found that the rear 8-megapixel camera is manufactured by Sony, while the forward-facing FaceTime camera is built by Omnivision.
post #2 of 61
Ion blasting? Wow. Astonishing tear down.
post #3 of 61
Yeah, this kind of teardown is so helpful for consumers (very sophisticated analysis), but I'm guessing Apple hates it. The telecommunications industry for years and years and years has been incredibly secretive about hardware specs, presumably on the basis that it slows down competitors.
post #4 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by gregquinn View Post

Yeah, this kind of teardown is so helpful for consumers (very sophisticated analysis), but I'm guessing Apple hates it. The telecommunications industry for years and years and years has been incredibly secretive about hardware specs, presumably on the basis that it slows down competitors.

The competition can buy the device and simply do their own teardown but this makes that much easier.
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post #5 of 61
Based on this with 75% of the GPU cores (which may be faster than the iPad's GPU cores) the 4th gen iPad should be much thinner and lighter with a hybrid A9-A15-esque chip (if they don't go with a custom chip all based on A15) and the 32nm process.

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post #6 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by gregquinn View Post

Yeah, this kind of teardown is so helpful for consumers (very sophisticated analysis), but I'm guessing Apple hates it. The telecommunications industry for years and years and years has been incredibly secretive about hardware specs, presumably on the basis that it slows down competitors.

 

I'm sure competitors can do similar analysis.  In fact a key competitor actually built the chip.

post #7 of 61
Ion blasting aka plasma etching
post #8 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by alandail View Post

I'm sure competitors can do similar analysis.  In fact a key competitor actually built the chip.

Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.
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post #9 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Based on this with 75% of the GPU cores (which may be faster than the iPad's GPU cores) the 4th gen iPad should be much thinner and lighter with a hybrid A9-A15-esque chip (if they don't go with a custom chip all based on A15) and the 32nm process.

iPhone 5 doesn't need a quad core GPU, it's not pushing that many pixels in the display. It is faster at 266 vs 200 in the iPad.  You're right, iPad 2013 will probably be the A6, thinner (much like iPad 2), lightning connector, and a PowerVR Series 6 GPU. 

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post #10 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.

Really? How do you figure? The Exynos processor designs are stolen from Apple too now??

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post #11 of 61
I was pleased to learn that the armv7s, as Apple calls the new chip architecture, includes a hardware divide instruction. This may explain the rather impressive benchmark results. It will certainly make optimizing our apps easier as this architecture is deployed across the entire iOS family of mobile products.
post #12 of 61
I'll tell you one thing, that new iPhone 5 runs effing warm. I was at my local Apple store on Miami Beach yesterday toying with it. Pretty damn warm. It was also fast as hell!!!!!! They probably had that fast wifi in the store. Damn!
And the phone took pictures as fast as I could press the button. Holy sh**!
I'll get it soon but I have to cop a new pair of glasses first.
post #13 of 61

These people that keep rambling on about how Apple has become 'lazy' can just STFU now. This kind of custom design is no cakewalk, it takes an enormous amount of work and R&D to have customization to this level. Glad to know Apple cares enough to put in that kind of effort to get top efficiency and performance. 

 

 

 

Quote:
- When compared to the rigid, efficient layout of the GPU cores directly below it, the layout of the ARM cores looks a little homespun—at first. 

- Generally, logic blocks are automagically laid out with the use of advanced computer software. However, it looks like the ARM core blocks were laid out manually—as in, by hand. 

- A manual layout will usually result in faster processing speeds, but it is much more expensive and time consuming. 

- The manual layout of the ARM processors lends much credence to the rumor that Apple designed a custom processor of the same caliber as the all-new Cortex-A15, and it just might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years.

Edited by Slurpy - 9/25/12 at 1:16pm
post #14 of 61
What's interesting about this is that while they can tell what the obvious areas do, such as the CPU's, the GPU's, I/O, and a few other normal functions, that still leaves a good 40% of the chips functioning areas unexplained. There is no easy way to determine what the rest of the circuitry on the chip does. This has been a problem for these companies for years. This isn't the first chip Apple has worked on that's like that.

Even last year, there was an area on the chip that no one could figure out, until Apple stated that they had designed their own photo processing circuits, similar in function to what Canon, Nikon, Sony and others use in their cameras, except simpler (it can use the rest of the chip for some of the processing power, which cameras can't.).

We can be sure that there is a bunch of things this chip does that no one will understand, from a chip manufacturing perspective. You can't always look at unknown areas on a chip and think that you know what it's for.
post #15 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by maccherry View Post

I'll tell you one thing, that new iPhone 5 runs effing warm. I was at my local Apple store on Miami Beach yesterday toying with it. Pretty damn warm. It was also fast as hell!!!!!! They probably had that fast wifi in the store. Damn!
And the phone took pictures as fast as I could press the button. Holy sh**!
I'll get it soon but I have to cop a new pair of glasses first.

My 4S can run warm too. But unlike thick glass, an aluminum enclosure is a good heatsink. Hopefully that means that the interior of the phone will run cooler.
post #16 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post

These people that keep rambling on about how Apple can become 'lazy' can just STFU now. This kind of custom design is no cakewalk, it takes an enormous amount of work and R&D to have customization to this level. Glad to know Apple cares enough to put in that kind of effort to get top efficiency and performance. 

Yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but, yeah, but the Samsung Galaxy SIII International version has 4 cores¡
Edited by SolipsismX - 9/25/12 at 12:47pm

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post #17 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post

Really? How do you figure? The Exynos processor designs are stolen from Apple too now??

No, but it can't be a comfortable feeling that your primary competitor is the very one that produces your very own custom made chip. On paper it all checks out, I am sure but...

post #18 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

What's interesting about this is that while they can tell what the obvious areas do, such as the CPU's, the GPU's, I/O, and a few other normal functions, that still leaves a good 40% of the chips functioning areas unexplained. There is no easy way to determine what the rest of the circuitry on the chip does. This has been a problem for these companies for years. This isn't the first chip Apple has worked on that's like that.
Even last year, there was an area on the chip that no one could figure out, until Apple stated that they had designed their own photo processing circuits, similar in function to what Canon, Nikon, Sony and others use in their cameras, except simpler (it can use the rest of the chip for some of the processing power, which cameras can't.).
We can be sure that there is a bunch of things this chip does that no one will understand, from a chip manufacturing perspective. You can't always look at unknown areas on a chip and think that you know what it's for.

 

 

A bit like human brain .. tear down cannot explain everything ....

post #19 of 61
I was just thinking, Apple really went far to keep the size of the phone small ....

If not to preserve the phone dimensions, they would not be constrained by the battery capacity and just throw in whatever latest cores ready in the market.
(Just like all the big screen competitors are doing now)

So it looks like the iPad mini(if it comes out soon), will be an A6 at higher freq. and the next iPad4 will be A6X(think die shrink needed to squeeze in 4 cored GPU).
Cool ....
post #20 of 61
IPad 4 should be very interesting to say the least. However I'd rather see them go for broke performance wise and not worry about the battery thinnest. Just keep performance at a level that maintains current long battery lifetimes.

As far as the A15, A6 is a sign that buying cores from ARM is now a forgotten memory at Apple. This new core of Apples is already as fast or faster than A15 and most likely is running extremely slow at 1GHz in iPhine 5. I wouldn't be surprised one bit to see the A6 running at 1.5GHz in iPad 4. That is if they don't already have a quad core on the way for iPad. Apple now has more flexibility than at anytime in the past for SoCs so as stated iPad 4 had the opportunity to be very interesting to say the least.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Based on this with 75% of the GPU cores (which may be faster than the iPad's GPU cores) the 4th gen iPad should be much thinner and lighter with a hybrid A9-A15-esque chip (if they don't go with a custom chip all based on A15) and the 32nm process.
post #21 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.

 

It will be very interesting to see if Samsung tries to copy the design.  A violation of that sort would be far beyond simply copying a style or an icon and could land them in serious criminal trouble.  It would be more in the line of industrial espionage and people would be going to jail.  

post #22 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

IPad 4 should be very interesting to say the least. However I'd rather see them go for broke performance wise and not worry about the battery thinnest. Just keep performance at a level that maintains current long battery lifetimes.

I disagree with you here (as usual). I do want longer battery life but portability is also very important. I think the weight and, by association, thickness need to be and will reduced for the next gen iPad.
Quote:
As far as the A15, A6 is a sign that buying cores from ARM is now a forgotten memory at Apple. This new core of Apples is already as fast or faster than A15 and most likely is running extremely slow at 1GHz in iPhine 5. I wouldn't be surprised one bit to see the A6 running at 1.5GHz in iPad 4. That is if they don't already have a quad core on the way for iPad. Apple now has more flexibility than at anytime in the past for SoCs so as stated iPad 4 had the opportunity to be very interesting to say the least.

I try to use the suffix -esque and -like to indicate that these aren't ARM's specific designs for A9 or A15 but custom designs built from more basic reference designs from ARM. While the A6 looks much like Krait in its A9 with A15 features I wouldn't be surprised if the next iPad is much further toward the A15 envelope.I wish there was a marketing name to refer to base designs from ARM.

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post #23 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

IPad 4 should be very interesting to say the least. However I'd rather see them go for broke performance wise and not worry about the battery thinnest. Just keep performance at a level that maintains current long battery lifetimes....

 

I think the reverse is true in this case.  If ever there was a clunky, heavy Apple product it is the iPad 3.  As soon as it's not on sale anymore even the tech press will be able to admit what a kludge this particular model was.  

 

If the mythical mini ever appears it might solve the problem, but it seems that even then, the iPad 3 could really benefit from a much thinner, lighter form factor.  

post #24 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.

I didn't read about that at all. Can you supply some evidence to that effect?

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post #25 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I didn't read about that at all. Can you supply some evidence to that effect?

Sure. Read the trial transcripts. Their analysis of the iPhone and what they needed to do to be competitive came from the microprocessor group.
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post #26 of 61
What puzzles me is that Apple is using 3 GPUs. Why would they use 3? Isn't it customary to use GPUs in pairs if multiple GPUs are used? I've never heard of a 3 GPU design.
post #27 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smartcat View Post

I was just thinking, Apple really went far to keep the size of the phone small ....
If not to preserve the phone dimensions, they would not be constrained by the battery capacity and just throw in whatever latest cores ready in the market.
(Just like all the big screen competitors are doing now)
So it looks like the iPad mini(if it comes out soon), will be an A6 at higher freq. and the next iPad4 will be A6X(think die shrink needed to squeeze in 4 cored GPU).
Cool ....

 

I think the mini is still going to use a 32nm A5 processor to keep costs down not interfere with the iPhone 5 wrt manufacturing. 
 
I wouldn't mind the next iPad moving to Quad Core with Rogue graphics.   It's time to start bringing the Pro apps to iOS. 
 
Aperture 
Final Cut Pro X 
Logic  
 
A 128GB Quad Core iPad with Rogue is going to be up to the task.  
 
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post #28 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Sure. Read the trial transcripts. Their analysis of the iPhone and what they needed to do to be competitive came from the microprocessor group.

Yeah, not going to read the transcripts from a trial that lasted several weeks. I thought you had an analysis or even a website that detailed that aspect in a cogent argument .

Quote:
Originally Posted by drblank View Post

What puzzles me is that Apple is using 3 GPUs. Why would they use 3? Isn't it customary to use GPUs in pairs if multiple GPUs are used? I've never heard of a 3 GPU design.

A poster from AnandTech explains it well...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Penti 
It's three "compute units" nothing wrong with that and the SoC seems perfectly fine. Basically 3/4 of the power of the A5X just from the GPU-config, might have better clocks though. So roughly the same, but in phones. It's not three gpus or any SLI/Crossfire/Lucid configuration.

They do stuff in parallel, they don't have three memory interfaces, the driver/software just schedules the work for the available units, but so does any other GPU. And it is tiled-based rendering regardless of how many cores you have here,1-16 is supported. Regardless of how many threads it's core can keep active. The tiles are handled in hardware. The scaling is pretty linear and don't have much overhead. It's not like having to copy frame buffers over the PCIe bus. Most mobile GPU's does do tiling as does the Xenos Xbox360 gpu. All have some type of multicore setup. Should make no difference that it is an odd number here. Rendering are already subdivided and multi-threaded even with one core here.

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post #29 of 61
This isn't space age science. It's routine, and yes, this analysis is standard for all chip fabs.
post #30 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


I disagree with you here (as usual). I do want longer battery life but portability is also very important. I think the weight and, by association, thickness need to be and will reduced for the next gen iPad.

 

I bought my wife the original iPad and the Apple case.  It wasn't super thin, but it certainly felt like you were holding something when you had it in hand.  It's survied very nicely and gets a lot of use from our kids.  Every time I handled an iPad 2 in stores, it always felt too thin.  I was actually glad to see the iPad 3 felt a bit more substantial.  I like the current body and while I'm sure Apple will tweak things and try to go thinner, I think maintaining for the next go round and making more efficient use of the space internally will be better.  The trick is figuring out how to have lighter batteries.

 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

 

I think the reverse is true in this case.  If ever there was a clunky, heavy Apple product it is the iPad 3.  As soon as it's not on sale anymore even the tech press will be able to admit what a kludge this particular model was.  

 

Completely disagree.  Then again, people whining about the weight of a product that weighs under 1 1/2 pounds...I've carried around and regularly read heavier books.

post #31 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by SSquirrel View Post

I bought my wife the original iPad and the Apple case.  It wasn't super thin, but it certainly felt like you were holding something when you had it in hand.  It's survied very nicely and gets a lot of use from our kids.  Every time I handled an iPad 2 in stores, it always felt too thin.  I was actually glad to see the iPad 3 felt a bit more substantial.  I like the current body and while I'm sure Apple will tweak things and try to go thinner, I think maintaining for the next go round and making more efficient use of the space internally will be better.  The trick is figuring out how to have lighter batteries.

That's easy. You make the battery smaller. :D With a more efficient CPU/GPU/PoP/SoC/ASIC and with the 32nm lithography you can use a smaller battery and get the same performance and run time, as we're seeing with the new iPhone. I have no doubt that Apple's focus will be to reduce its weight. I, too, like the feel of the original iPad but thickness often accompanies weight. I doubt they will leave empty space inside and the next display could very well be in-cell touch and a single, smaller backlight, and will likely use GG2 so we're talking about a thinner model just from those elements.

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post #32 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxman View Post

No, but it can't be a comfortable feeling that your primary competitor is the very one that produces your very own custom made chip. On paper it all checks out, I am sure but...

That's the problem with these huge conglomerate companies. They often compete with other companies in one sector while partnering with the same companies in other sectors.

And it also makes it hard to hate them when one division does bad things, when the other divisions have no fault. My Samsung refrigerator is the best & they make quality memory and SoCs, doesn't mean I care for their mobile division's policies. I play my PS3 often, but everything else Sony does is appalling. Microsoft Exchange & Active Directory are feature rich, well integrated and easy to maintain, but .... well, you know Microsoft.

I own...

1 Android Phone, 2 iPads, 1 Nook reader, 1 Mac Desktop, 1 Windows Laptop, 1 Linux Server, 1 FireTV

 

They all are used regularly and each have their place. Competition is good.

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They all are used regularly and each have their place. Competition is good.

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post #33 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmurchison View Post

I think the mini is still going to use a 32nm A5 processor to keep costs down not interfere with the iPhone 5 wrt manufacturing.

I think it'll use A5, like the iPod Touch, for cost reasons but will use 32nm lithography for power efficiency reasons.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

I think the reverse is true in this case.  If ever there was a clunky, heavy Apple product it is the iPad 3.  As soon as it's not on sale anymore even the tech press will be able to admit what a kludge this particular model was.  

If the mythical mini ever appears it might solve the problem, but it seems that even then, the iPad 3 could really benefit from a much thinner, lighter form factor.  

The Mini doesn't solve any such problem because it won't be pushing 3,145,728 pixels, only 786,432 pixels. That's 1/4 the number of pixels which means a lot less processing power, a lot less power for the display elements, and a much, much smaller battery.

The only way to have kept the iPad 3 as thin and lightweight as the iPad 2 and still be usable was to simply not used the Retina display. I'm quite happy with a slightly heavier device that has the Retina display as opposed to one that is slightly lighter with only 1024x768. In no way is the iPad 3 a "badly put together machine".

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post #34 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

It will be very interesting to see if Samsung tries to copy the design.  A violation of that sort would be far beyond simply copying a style or an icon and could land them in serious criminal trouble.  It would be more in the line of industrial espionage and people would be going to jail.  

If you can reverse engineer a netlist you deserve to use the chip design.

J.
post #35 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

I think the reverse is true in this case.  If ever there was a clunky, heavy Apple product it is the iPad 3.  As soon as it's not on sale anymore even the tech press will be able to admit what a kludge this particular model was.  

If the mythical mini ever appears it might solve the problem, but it seems that even then, the iPad 3 could really benefit from a much thinner, lighter form factor.  

You obviously don't use an iPad3.

J
post #36 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Yeah but, not but, yeah but, no but, yeah, while the Samsung Galaxy SIII International version has 4 cores¡

And the Tegra 2 and three have, how many, 6 or 8 or 12 graphics cores? And 4 core CPU, and is still handily beaten by Apple's chips.

If we've learned anything over the years, it's that the number isn't the only thing that matters. Right now, while a 4 core CPU will give better numbers on tests that measure all core use, in the real world, it's negated by apps that only use one or two cores. It's per core performance that still matters, and multiprocessing efficiency, that is, how much of a boost is there going to more cores. They don't add up perfectly after all, and a second core may only add 80%, a third, another 70%, and the forth, just 60%.

Generally, it's better today, but not all the time.
post #37 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by umrk_lab View Post


A bit like human brain .. tear down cannot explain everything ....

Yup, the gestalt is such that the whole is worth more than its parts.
post #38 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

IPad 4 should be very interesting to say the least. However I'd rather see them go for broke performance wise and not worry about the battery thinnest. Just keep performance at a level that maintains current long battery lifetimes.
As far as the A15, A6 is a sign that buying cores from ARM is now a forgotten memory at Apple. This new core of Apples is already as fast or faster than A15 and most likely is running extremely slow at 1GHz in iPhine 5. I wouldn't be surprised one bit to see the A6 running at 1.5GHz in iPad 4. That is if they don't already have a quad core on the way for iPad. Apple now has more flexibility than at anytime in the past for SoCs so as stated iPad 4 had the opportunity to be very interesting to say the least.

I wouldn't have minded if the phone only weighed 15% less, and was another .5 mil in thickness if it gave another 15% or so better battery life. That is, just for the phone. The iPad is heavy enough already.

As Pogue said, this is well on its way to becoming a bookmark.
post #39 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmurchison View Post

I think the mini is still going to use a 32nm A5 processor to keep costs down not interfere with the iPhone 5 wrt manufacturing. 
 
I wouldn't mind the next iPad moving to Quad Core with Rogue graphics.   It's time to start bringing the Pro apps to iOS. 
 
Aperture 
Final Cut Pro X 
Logic  
 
A 128GB Quad Core iPad with Rogue is going to be up to the task.  
 

I'd love 128 in the next version. The question is how much more that will cost. We'll likely see better graphics performance. But I'm not sure what we'll be able to get as a GPU. I'm hoping the series 6 cores will be available. Four of those operating at a higher speed using a 32nm node would be awesome. Not certain of what we'll get for CPU's either. We may just see these running at, hopefully, a max of 1.5 GHz. We'll get four core at so e point, just not so sure Apple wants another sku for their SoC so soon.
post #40 of 61
can someone explain me what a manual chip layout means and how those people could have come to that conclusion?
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