Custom Apple A4 iPad chip estimated to be $1 billion investment

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
In bypassing a traditional chip maker like Intel and creating its own custom ARM-based processor for the iPad, Apple has likely incurred an investment of about $1 billion, a new report suggests.



Profiling the rise of competitors to Intel, The New York Times noted the costly investments technology companies have made to create advanced mobile processors for smartphones. But in the race to build smaller and more efficient chips for mobile devices, overseas foundries have proven to be formidable rivals against Intel, the industry leader.



"Apple, Nvidia and Qualcomm are designing their own takes on ARM-based mobile chips that will be made by the contract foundries," the report said. "Even without the direct investment of a factory, it can cost these companies about $1 billion to create a smartphone chip from scratch."



Building a factory, the report said, would cost a company about $3 billion. And as chip makers prepare to fight over who will supply processors for the next generation of devices, "the chip wars," the report noted, "are about to become even more bloody."



Intel is pushing its low-power, low-cost Atom processor for mobile devices, including smartphones, but the chips still cost more and use more power than their ARM competitors. The Atom was even pegged to be coming to Apple products in 2008, though it never came to be.



The forthcoming iPad includes a 1GHz Apple A4 processor, based on the ARM architecture, which includes an integrated CPU and graphics processing. Based on the Cortex-A9 MPCore, the processor is much faster than the ARM-based CPU that powers the iPhone 3GS.







In addition to the iPad, processors based on the ARM design will find their way into new laptops coming from HP and Lenovo.



Reference designs for the Cortex-A9 call for either two or four cores. The architecture is the successor to the ARM Cortex-A8 upon which the 600MHz iPhone 3GS is based.







As first reported by AppleInsider in 2008, Apple has been a licensee of the ARM architecture for years, but the company became invested in the chip-making business when it purchased P.A. Semi for $278 million.



But Monday's $1 billion estimate from the Times would suggest that Apple's investment went well beyond the purchase of P.A. Semi. Apple has more cash on-hand than any U.S. technology company, with an announced $39.8 billion at the end of the December quarter.



Apple claims the power efficiency of its custom-built chip will allow the iPad to offer users 10 hours of battery life in use, and over a month of standby.



"iPad is powered by our own custom silicon. We have an incredible group that does custom silicon at Apple," company co-founder Steve Jobs said when he unveiled the device. "We have a chip called A4, which is our most advanced chip we've ever done that powers the iPad. It's got the processor, the graphics, the I/O, the memory controller -- everything in this one chip, and it screams."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 134
    when was the last time that apple did this?
  • Reply 2 of 134
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Good article, Oliver.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider;1577222...


    processors based on the ARM design will find their way into new laptops coming from HP and Lenovo.



    What OS are they are they going to use?
  • Reply 3 of 134
    I guess we won't be seeing Atom processors anytime soon.
  • Reply 4 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BMWintoxication View Post


    when was the last time that apple did this?



    Ha! Thats what i was wondering too.
  • Reply 5 of 134
    This is a smart investment by Apple. It will offer a competitive advantage across their product lines. I imagine Apple will utilize these custom chips in all their products as soon as possible. I think back to the Amiga computer in the 80s and am stoked about the potential new capabilities and features coming. No one innovates like Apple so we should look forward to drool-worthy products coming out of Cupertino in the near future.
  • Reply 6 of 134
    why would it cost 1billion? this article just didn't give me any explanation.
  • Reply 7 of 134
    Do I sense the real purpose behind custom processors is content protection?
  • Reply 8 of 134
    mactelmactel Posts: 1,275member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BMWintoxication View Post


    when was the last time that apple did this?



    It is marketing spin. This is the first time they've done this and if people knew that they might be hesitant to use the product. There's some truth in that line too.
  • Reply 9 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Good article, Oliver.





    What OS are they are they going to use?





    Windows pequeno 1.0
  • Reply 10 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BMWintoxication View Post


    when was the last time that apple did this?



    Did what? Design their own chip or sink a billion in R&D for one project?



    I don't recall Apple ever having designed their own CPU, but they've had a VLSI design group for at least ten or fifteen years.



    As to a large-scale R&D investment, Apple has probably sunk a billion over the years in designing a tablet. They probably racked up a billion in R&D costs for the iPhone.
  • Reply 11 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    What OS are they are they going to use?



    Name-brand Linux (like Ubuntu) or derivative (like Chrome OS) as we know that Windows won't run on anything but x86.
  • Reply 12 of 134
    Apple wants control of all stages of production.



    Not just for profits put IP protection as well!



    Am I stating the obvious here?

  • Reply 13 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BMWintoxication View Post


    when was the last time that apple did this?



    During the 1990s, when they partnered with IBM and Motorola to produce the PowerPC.
  • Reply 14 of 134
    boogabooga Posts: 1,075member
    Apple was one of the partners (along with IBM and Motorola) in the chip designs that became the PowerPC. They also had a lot of input in the early ARM development since the Newton was based on it.



    Nice thing this time is that they're using the ISA and reference designs of one of the most popular existing chip lines of all time, instead of trying to come up with something new and different from scratch.



    Intel is playing catch-up here. They don't have the greater market share OR the best technology in this segment.
  • Reply 15 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post


    Apple wants control of all stages of production.



    Not just for profits put IP protection as well!



    Am I stating the obvious here?





    You'd be right if Apple had their own foundry.
  • Reply 16 of 134
    oh, you guys mean the 1 billion as R&D investment of the whole iPad project over years? that's much more believable than saying that delevoping the custom A4 ARM chip costed that much.
  • Reply 17 of 134
    cmf2cmf2 Posts: 1,427member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BMWintoxication View Post


    when was the last time that apple did this?



    Arm chips are basically the industry standard. Apple is doing their own take on an Arm chip, not adopting a competing and incompatible architecture. This is closer to Intel vs AMD, than to x86 vs PowerPC. It would actually be like AMD taking Intels designs and tweaking them for their specific needs. Of course Intel designs are not licensed like Arm designs are so that isn't possible.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ghostface147 View Post


    I guess we won't be seeing Atom processors anytime soon.



    No we won't and they aren't in any competing smartphones either. Even some netbooks are starting to go to Arm chips (if they choose to use a mobile OS). Atom chips are only good because they work with windows. They don't offer that advantage if you want to use a mobile OS like iPhone OS or Android.
  • Reply 18 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cvaldes1831 View Post


    Did what? Design their own chip or sink a billion in R&D for one project?



    I don't recall Apple ever having designed their own CPU, but they've had a VLSI design group for at least ten or fifteen years.



    As to a large-scale R&D investment, Apple has probably sunk a billion over the years in designing a tablet. They probably racked up a billion in R&D costs for the iPhone.



    From Wikipedia's article about one of the variants of the G5:



    "CPC925 ? Designed by Apple[8] and called the U3 or the U3H (which supports ECC memory). It is capable of supporting up to two PowerPC 970s or PowerPC 970FXs and has two 550 MHz unidirectional processor buses, a 400 MHz DDR memory controller, x8 AGP and a 400 MHz 16-bit HyperTransport tunnel. It fabricated on a 130 nm process."
  • Reply 19 of 134
    For more insight about the chip, I found this:



    http://www.brightsideofnews.com/news...-the-gpu!.aspx



    Apple acquired PA Semi Conductor in 2008 for $278M. edit forgot the M--at $278 I would have bought it.



    Maybe a new direction for Apple? Suspect the chip wars are going to heat up. Question whether Apple will look into developing their own CPU's?
  • Reply 20 of 134
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cvaldes1831 View Post


    You'd be right if Apple had their own foundry.



    Apple is a design and marketing company, par excellence...



    They 'control' many facets of the production thru their manufacturing partners in China...I think they want tighter control over the chips for proprietary reasons. This will allow them to stay well ahead of the competition.
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