Apple's iPad A4 processor X-rayed to reveal three-layer design

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
iFixit and Chipworks this week X-rayed and dismantled the Apple A4 processor that powers the new iPad, discovering a three-layer design with two layers of Samsung RAM and one with the actual microprocessor.



The extensive analysis provides a detailed look inside the technology, an in-depth analysis even for a company like iFixit that specializes in dismantling Apple's priciest hardware. The solutions provider had its first look inside the iPad on launch day, discovering a huge dual battery that gives the device its advertised 10 hours of battery life, and 256MB of system RAM.



That RAM actually exists in two layers within the A4 package, with initial system memory supplied by Samsung. The construction gives Apple the flexibility to change the RAM to any other manufacturer they might choose in the future without remaining locked in to Samsung.



Also of note is that the A4 processor does not have a Samsung part number on the die, which is different from previous ARM chips found in every iPhone model thus far. iFixit declared that it is "perhaps the clearest sign to date that Apple is now in firm control of their semiconductor design."



The process employed a band saw to remove the processor from the motherboard it was soldered on to. Next it was cut in half by grinding slowly through the processor, a process necessary because the A4 package is so tiny.







Below is the photo of a cross section of the ARM processor and RAM package inside the A4. The processor is the center rectangle, while the silver circles underneath are solder balls. The two rectangles above the processor are the RAM dies, offset from each other to make room for the wirebonds. iFixit noted that having the RAM close to the processor allows for faster speeds and lower power consumption.







In addition to the three-layer design, the X-ray images show hundreds of thread-like interconnects, dubbed wirebonds, that carry the electronic signals between dies.



"We don't expect to find any markings from PA Semi, Apple's recent acquisition, but it's safe to assume they played a major role in designing this package," they said.











For more from iFixit and Chipworks, including photos of the rest of the analysed iPad hardware components, visit their Web site.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 99
    akf2000akf2000 Posts: 223member
    "teh" - really? in 2010?
  • Reply 2 of 99
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,330member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post


    "teh" - really? in 2010?



    Likely a typo, as that's how "teh" came about in the first place.
  • Reply 3 of 99
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,330member
    It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.
  • Reply 4 of 99
    istudistud Posts: 193member
    Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?
  • Reply 5 of 99
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    I'm glad to see that the RAM supplier is not set. Samsung likely has more control over Apple than any other company due to the number of components they use.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post


    "teh" - really? in 2010?



    I can't imagine that typo ever going away. It's more like that will become an alternate spelling for it. \
  • Reply 6 of 99
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,330member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iStud View Post


    Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?



    Back engineering? What is that?



    If you meant "reverse engineering", the answer is; not unless you're building something on a patented physical technology in the same way.



    But this isn't reverse anything. What were you meaning?
  • Reply 7 of 99
    damn_its_hotdamn_its_hot Posts: 1,184member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iStud View Post


    Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?



    No, in fact it is done all the time to check for IP patent infringement.



    Actually it depends on your intent. To reverse (or as you called it back) engineer is not illegal but to then use that design (especially if not developed in a 'clean' environment) is considered a BadThing™.



    Edit: Melgross answered first/same time - sorry for the dupe.
  • Reply 8 of 99
    bregaladbregalad Posts: 816member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    I can't imagine that typo ever going away. It's more like that will become an alternate spelling for it. \



    Most common typos are disappearing because word processors auto correct them and operating systems like OS X have system wide flagging of such mistakes. It's reaching the point where writers have to intentionally ignore spelling mistakes for them to slip through. Using the incorrect word, on the other hand, is getting to be an epidemic thanks to those very same spell checkers.
  • Reply 9 of 99
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,868member
    That poor iPad, RIP.
  • Reply 10 of 99
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.



    It was also disappointing when I learned there was no Santa Claus. If fact much more so, because I had very real expectations built on his work. Guesses from 3rd parties using bandsaws and dental X-rays to peak inside a chip... not so much.



    I suggest throttling back your emotional investment in Santa, and especially these types of goofball sources. What would you do with the extra RAM anyway? You'd be just as unrealistically disappointed if these guys guessed 256MB and it later turned out to be 128.
  • Reply 11 of 99
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,868member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bregalad View Post


    Most common typos are disappearing because word processors auto correct them and operating systems like OS X have system wide flagging of such mistakes. It's reaching the point where writers have to intentionally ignore spelling mistakes for them to slip through. Using the incorrect word, on the other hand, is getting to be an epidemic thanks to those very same spell checkers.



    We'll need the advent of contextual checking to get to the next level. I did see a demo of that in a google video recently that worked amazingly well. Obviously it is using remote checking so you'd need to be online.
  • Reply 12 of 99
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,868member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Damn_Its_Hot View Post




    Actually it depends on your intent. To reverse (or as you called it back) engineer ....



    Or as M$ call it ... 'R&D'
  • Reply 13 of 99
    justflybobjustflybob Posts: 1,337member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iStud View Post


    Isn't back-engineering a product illegal?



    I still recall, with some amusement, when I handed Sculley's team an accelerator board for them to play with for a few days.



    I finally got it back, several weeks later. They had literally peeled back the various layers of the board in order to trace the circuits, then glued the thing back together.



    So much for bilateral NDA's!
  • Reply 14 of 99
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    It's disappointing that the original reports' 512 MB of RAM was downgraded to say it's really 256 MB.



    I think everyone is. If the iPad has 256MB and more applicable for multitasking I think it's a fair bet that the next iPhone may have 256MB, again. Though, if it works well with that they I don't care, I just don't want the issues with 128MB iPhones trying to listen to the iPod, while switching between Mail, Safari and some other app.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bregalad View Post


    Most common typos are disappearing because word processors auto correct them and operating systems like OS X have system wide flagging of such mistakes. It's reaching the point where writers have to intentionally ignore spelling mistakes for them to slip through. Using the incorrect word, on the other hand, is getting to be an epidemic thanks to those very same spell checkers.



    Yeah, was gonna mention that. I have lost the ability to spell well. I rely heavily on spell checker and autocorrection. I also can't remember new phone numbers, but ones pre-cellphone era I still can recall instantly, no matter how many years (or decades) they've been out of service. The brain is an odd system, to say the least.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post


    That poor iPad, RIP.



    I think I've seen more iPads dissected than the number of JooJoos sold.
  • Reply 15 of 99
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,330member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by oxygenhose View Post


    It was also disappointing when I learned there was no Santa Claus. If fact much more so, because I had very real expectations built on his work. Guesses from 3rd parties using bandsaws and dental X-rays to peak inside a chip... not so much.



    I suggest throttling back your emotional investment in Santa, and especially these types of goofball sources. What would you do with the extra RAM anyway? You'd be just as unrealistically disappointed if these guys guessed 256MB and it later turned out to be 128.



    I suggest you not get overwrought over a post that in itself, wasn't.



    Apparently, you know little of the issues concerning app loading, or third party multitasking. Learn something about it, then come back.
  • Reply 16 of 99
    grempegrempe Posts: 3member
    The cross section image of a chip that you lifted from the iFixit site is *not* the iPad's A4. The source article states that it is a cross section of the iPhone's system on a chip:



    "This is a cross-section of the iPhone's ARM processor + RAM package. "



    Additionally, the first image you lifted was also showing the various parts of the iPhone motherboard and chips after being run through the bandsaw. These are not iPad components (Notice no big A4 on the main chip!).



    The x-ray images from the iPad chips are later on in the article if you had bothered to actually read it before copying it.



    Sloppy work AppleInsider...
  • Reply 17 of 99
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,330member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    I think everyone is. If the iPad has 256MB and more applicable for multitasking I think it's a fair bet that the next iPhone may have 256MB, again. Though, if it works well with that they I don't care, I just don't want the issues with 128MB iPhones trying to listen to the iPod, while switching between Mail, Safari and some other app.



    Yeah, the hopes were for 512. IF the 4.0 ver. has third party multitasking, I would suppose Apple thinks 256 can squeeze it in.



    Quote:

    Yeah, was gonna mention that. I have lost the ability to spell well. I rely heavily on spell checker and autocorrection. I also can't remember new phone numbers, but ones pre-cellphone era I still can recall instantly, no matter how many years (or decades) they've been out of service. The brain is an odd system, to say the least.



    I could never spell well. We had an expression in my high school; "The more words you know, the less you can spell."
  • Reply 18 of 99
    josh.b.josh.b. Posts: 353member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by oxygenhose View Post


    What would you do with the extra RAM anyway?



    Multitask. Run larger programs. Add background processes that do cool stuff.



    Are you serious? Your insults (which I deleted) indicate that you are a Troll, so I guess your question is not really serious.



    I have not heard the question "what would you do with extra RAM?" since the days of 1 meg '386 class computers. Except from Trolls, I guess...
  • Reply 19 of 99
    josh.b.josh.b. Posts: 353member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post




    Yeah, was gonna mention that. I have lost the ability to spell well. I rely heavily on spell checker and autocorrection.



    I've had the opposite experience.



    Before spellcheckers, I was lousy at spelling. Now I look at the misspelled word, and look at the properly spelled word, and learn the correct spelling. Before spellcheckers, I didn't even realize that I had made a mistake, much less was I able to instantly learn from the mistake.
  • Reply 20 of 99
    asianbobasianbob Posts: 797member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    Back engineering? What is that?



    If you meant "reverse engineering", the answer is; not unless you're building something on a patented physical technology in the same way.



    But this isn't reverse anything. What were you meaning?



    Just to add to this comment. After being purchased, it's techincally the owner's property. They did, after all, trade $X amount of dollars for it. If they want to rip it apart and see what's inside, there's no law stopping them from doing that. Apple already got its money from the purchase.
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