Apple's A5 processor could pave the way for larger chip trend

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
Despite sharing similar specifications, Apple's bigger A5 System on a Chip processor used in the iPad 2 has posted better performance than Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip, causing one analyst to believe that Apple is leading a trend toward larger, faster mobile processors.



Responding to another analyst's claims that, from a semiconductor perspective, "Apple is falling behind - way behind," analyst Didier Scemama of RBS issued a report on Friday defending the A5's larger footprint, Barrons reports.



Given that the A5 is 122 square millimeters in dimension, compared to the Tegra 2's 49 square millimeters, Scemama finds the difference "surprising" because both processors have similar specifications: "dual core Cortex-A9 ARM CPU, high-end GPU, HD video, high-end audio and imaging."



That size difference is partly attributed to the 45-nanometer process used by Samsung to build the A5, as Nvidia used Taiwan Semiconductor's smaller 40-nanometer process.



According to Scemama, "the major difference in specification between the chips is that Apple uses Imagination Technologies? PowerVR SGX543 dual-core GPU in the A5 and Nvidia uses its own GPU called GeForce.?







The PowerVR SGX543, which AppleInsider was first to report would be included in the iPad 2, provides a dramatic boost in graphics power. Though Apple claims a 9x graphics speed bump from the original iPad to the iPad 2, real world tests suggest the second-generation tablet has roughly 5x the graphics power of its predecessor.



The analyst cited OpenGL benchmark tests that show "that the A5 beat Tegra 2 handsomely." When tested against the Tegra 2-powered Motorola Xoom tablet, the iPad 2 performed 3.7x better than the Xoom.



The Tegra 2's slower performance may be a result of cost limitations that Nvidia faces with its customers, the report noted. Scemama believes that Nvidia needs to keep the Tegra 2 chip in the $15 to $20 range. In contrast, UBM TechInsight estimates that Apple's new chip costs $25 to make, though the research firm speculates that high volume, generated by building A5 into a range of products such as the iPhone 5 and next-generation iPod touch, could bring the costs down to $15.



"Apple can afford to use a larger chip, which delivers substantially better performance, as it pays a fraction of the price it would pay if it used an off-the-shelf solution with similar performance," said Scemama.



Scemama speculates that ARM and Imagination Technologies would benefit from an ensuing spec race as competitors attempt to match Apple in terms of performance.



"Given the current gap in performance between the A5 from Apple and other competing chips, we believe it is possible higher performance (and therefore potentially larger die size) processors may be required by OEMs. This may explain the current race among ARM partners to launch higher performance processors in terms of CPU but also, crucially, GPU," he noted.



Nvidia's price limits could stem from struggles by rival tablet makers to keep costs down while remaining competitive with the iPad on features and performance.



Last year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs noted that the company's "potential competitors [in tablets] are having a tough time coming close to iPad's pricing. iPad incorporates everything we've learned about building high value products. We create our own A4 chip, software, battery chemistry, enclosure, everything. This results in an incredible product at a great price. The proof will be in the pricing of our competitors' products, which will offer less for more. "



Jobs' words rang true this spring when Motorola revealed a $799 price tag for the entry level Xoom, despite the company's use of the cheaper Tegra 2 chip. Shortly after Apple unveiled the iPad 2, Motorola announced a $599 Wi-Fi only version of the Xoom.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 120
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,116member
    Yep. Remember, to get the surface area of a transistor, figures like 45nm are squared, so a difference of 5nm is larger than it seems. Plus, the A5 uses the MP2 version of the 543 GPU, which obviously would take more room, seeing as its a whole 'nother graphics core. Not really surprising that its bigger, nor that it does better in raw graphics benchmarks.



    I know the 543 was built from the ground up to be scalable (up to 16, I think, and the PSP2/NGP will use the 4 core version), I wonder if Nvidia's equivalent GPU is like that? If so, they could catch up soon.
  • Reply 2 of 120
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    The important thing is how flat/thin it is, right? Otherwise if you can make it cheaper by spreading it out, and you have the room anyway, go for it.
  • Reply 3 of 120
    sheffsheff Posts: 1,407member
    Apple made a great move by building their own chip on top of an already fast arm architecture. This means the performance will stay competitive, but competition will gain little in adopting newer versions as direct comparison based on chip number or even gigahertz impossible.
  • Reply 4 of 120
    sheffsheff Posts: 1,407member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    The important thing is how flat/thin it is, right? Otherwise if you can make it cheaper by spreading it out, and you have the room anyway, go for it.



    Agreed. Not a big deal for iPad, which at least in version 1 had room to spare, but an iPod touch might have a problem with larger design. Also heat and ventilation are a concern though a bigger surface area may make cooling easier.
  • Reply 5 of 120
    rhyderhyde Posts: 294member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tipoo View Post


    Yep. Remember, to get the surface area of a transistor, figures like 45nm are squared, so a difference of 5nm is larger than it seems. Plus, the A5 uses the MP2 version of the 543 GPU, which obviously would take more room, seeing as its a whole 'nother graphics core. Not really surprising that its bigger, nor that it does better in raw graphics benchmarks.



    I know the 543 was built from the ground up to be scalable (up to 16, I think, and the PSP2/NGP will use the 4 core version), I wonder if Nvidia's equivalent GPU is like that? If so, they could catch up soon.



    Don't forget the layers. These chips are also three-dimensional.

    Does the A5 have more layers than the Nvidia chip?
  • Reply 6 of 120
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    You can now buy the WiFi version of the 32GB Xoom for $599, matching Apple?s 32GB iPad price point.
    I suppose some will honestly feel that the slightly higher resolution display and 16:9 aspect ratio on a TN panels are more important than a more universal 4:3 IPS panel on a tablet, or that their cameras are more awesomer despite being cameras on a tablet, or that it?s not to locked to iTunes and you don?t have to buy all your stuff from iTunes Store, or that Android is open and free? I said ?feel?, I didn?t say they would ?think?.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    The important thing is how flat/thin it is, right? Otherwise if you can make it cheaper by spreading it out, and you have the room anyway, go for it.



    A couple weeks ago we were wondering if this larger chip could fit into the iPhone 4/G4 iPod Touch casing. I recall that it?s only slightly larger on the short access making it possible if they maneuvered some other chips on the board.



    sheff?s remark that it could be for better cooling makes sense to me. Do we know how thick the A4 and A5 PoPs are compared to other chips? No one has yet made a logic board as dense as Apple?s iPhone 4 board. They are stacking chips on either side so perhaps thickness is more important than area in this case.
    They?ve come a long way.
  • Reply 7 of 120
    extremeskaterextremeskater Posts: 2,248member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sheff View Post


    Apple made a great move by building their own chip on top of an already fast arm architecture. This means the performance will stay competitive, but competition will gain little in adopting newer versions as direct comparison based on chip number or even gigahertz impossible.



    Apple didn't build the A5 chip, Samsung built the A5.
  • Reply 8 of 120
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    A couple weeks ago we were wondering if this larger chip could fit into the iPhone 4/G4 iPod Touch casing. I recall that it?s only slightly larger on the short access making it possible if they maneuvered some other chips on the board.



    It's a good question. Maybe with it's smaller screen they will be able to leave off some of the graphics circuitry, but still have the same CPU. But then again, it is a retina display!
  • Reply 9 of 120
    alienzedalienzed Posts: 393member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by extremeskater View Post


    Apple didn't build the A5 chip, Samsung built the A5.



    Apple designs the chip, Samsung produces it.
  • Reply 10 of 120
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,756member
    Apple's chugging along to complete self-sufficiency.
  • Reply 11 of 120
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by extremeskater View Post


    Apple didn't build the A5 chip, Samsung built the A5.



    That?s like arguing that Apple doesn?t build the iPhone, Foxconn does. In the end, Apple isn?t buying off-the-shelf components for the A5. It?s there design? for the A5 chip, regardless of what reference design was used, who they hired to help with tweaking to their needs and who actually produced it, the same way that the iPhone wasn?t completely designed by Apple or produced by Foxconn if we consider the many components within the device that were actually bought off-the-shelf.
  • Reply 12 of 120
    mactelmactel Posts: 1,275member
    It is fun to follow the progress of Apple's designs including their A line of processors.



    I'm still hoping to see to 4" iPod Touch this fall. The A5 would fit nicely in such a device. iPod Touch devices with built-it 3G/4G connectivity or wifi only would be even nicer. That device is pegged for the mobile gaming market so why not make it a bit bigger and give it more than wifi as an option for online gaming anywhere.
  • Reply 13 of 120
    scroatscroat Posts: 9member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by extremeskater View Post


    Apple didn't build the A5 chip, Samsung built the A5.



    Apple designed the chip. They pay samsung to manufacture it. Apple owns the design.
  • Reply 14 of 120
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by extremeskater View Post


    Apple didn't build the A5 chip, Samsung built the A5.



    No Apple made their own modifications to the Cortex A9 Arm chip and coupled it with a GPU and ram of its choice. Apple designed the A5, Samsung just manufactures it...
  • Reply 15 of 120
    I guess you guys don't realize that the Tegra 2 is last year's chip. You are comparing the A5 to a chip from 2010. The next chip will be out in products in June. Code-named Kal-El, it is the first quad-core processor on the market. Five times faster than the Tegra 2.



    That is THIS YEAR's chip. Cannot wait to see how the A5 stacks up.



    Apple would be better served buying the chips from Nvidia. By 2014, Nvidia will have chips 100 times faster than Tegra 2. This is an arena Apple will not be able to keep up in.
  • Reply 16 of 120
    pokepoke Posts: 506member
    While it's nice that Apple is competitive in this area, I don't think it's a huge deal. When you're on a yearly upgrade cycle, there's just not enough time for developers to really max out the performance of a CPU/GPU. Very few developers have the capability to do so anyway. It's the software that really makes the difference. Current Android games still look two generations behind iOS games because the platform has yet to attract A-list developers. This is true even when Android phones have more powerful processors and GPUs. As long as they remain in roughly the same league, I don't the CPU/GPU performance matters. Heat, size, cost and power saving are all more important to mobile devices.
  • Reply 17 of 120
    patspats Posts: 112member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by EgisCodr View Post


    I guess you guys don't realize that the Tegra 2 is last year's chip. You are comparing the A5 to a chip from 2010. The next chip will be out in products in June. Code-named Kal-El, it is the first quad-core processor on the market. Five times faster than the Tegra 2.



    That is THIS YEAR's chip. Cannot wait to see how the A5 stacks up.



    Apple would be better served buying the chips from Nvidia. By 2014, Nvidia will have chips 100 times faster than Tegra 2. This is an arena Apple will not be able to keep up in.



    I think your optimistic on Nvidia's timeline for Kal-el. The first silicon was shown at MWC in Feb. So it won't likely be in a shipping product in June. More likely late 2011. I would expect Apple to have an A6 design based on Samsung's 32/28nm process for 2012 which will provide plenty of power and reduce power consumption. Apple has implemented dynamic frequency and voltage clocking and a wider memory bus then Nividia so that contributed to the increased die size verse Tegra 2 in addition to the dual core 543mp
  • Reply 18 of 120
    alienzedalienzed Posts: 393member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MacTel View Post


    It is fun to follow the progress of Apple's designs including their A line of processors.



    I'm still hoping to see to 4" iPod Touch this fall. The A5 would fit nicely in such a device. iPod Touch devices with built-it 3G/4G connectivity or wifi only would be even nicer. That device is pegged for the mobile gaming market so why not make it a bit bigger and give it more than wifi as an option for online gaming anywhere.



    You mean like, an iPhone?
  • Reply 19 of 120
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by EgisCodr View Post


    I guess you guys don't realize that the Tegra 2 is last year's chip.



    The typical rebuttal to Apple's success: Soon. Soon, soon, soon! Ate we talking about technology or Waiting for Godot?



    Quote:

    You are comparing the A5 to a chip from 2010. The next chip will be out in products in June.



    You honestly think it's wrong to compare products that are shipping now than ones that will eventually be shipping in products that don't yet exist. You have no idea what Apple has planned for future chips so you've ignored it, just like you've ignored the Tegra 2-based Xoom with 1GB RAM barely besting a year old iPad with a single-core Cortex-A8 and GPU with 256MB RAM.



    Quote:

    Code-named Kal-El, it is the first quad-core processor on the market. Five times faster than the Tegra 2.



    With such a cool codename I guess we shoul all wait until the bottom of the year and Jr assume it's going to be the bees knees... Or, we an stop saying "soon" and start expecting to see real world results before we start making silly claims about will be the fastest forever and ever and ever.



    Quote:

    That is THIS YEAR's chip. Cannot wait to see how the A5 stacks up.



    Tell us again what the calendar year has to do with anything relevant.



    Quote:

    Apple would be better served buying the chips from Nvidia. By 2014, Nvidia will have chips 100 times faster than Tegra 2. This is an arena Apple will not be able to keep up in.



    If you are still reading you'll be licking your wounds, so I'll throw you a bone: Why do you think Apple's Ax chips chips can't ever use Nvidia GPUs? They've certainly switched many times in their Macs, and even switched from Motorola to IBM to Intel. They do hold a small stake in Imagination Tech, but to assume they would use inferior GPUs that would hinder sales forever and ever and ever because of 7.5% ownership is silly. But that's beside the point since IMG has delivered and your claims are nothing more than the parroting of a company infamous for over-promising and unde-delivering.
  • Reply 20 of 120
    ksecksec Posts: 1,567member
    It isn't so much about die size at all. 45nm is roughly 25% larger then 40% i best case scenario. @ 91.5 mm2 A5 is still double the size of Tegra 2.



    It is about the pricing and economy. Both Nvidia and Apple's Chips costs in $2x range. Not what the article state Tegra 2 are in $15 range, as far as i know even high volume clients and in the very low end $20 per chip.



    The difference is, $2x is what Apple cost to make. But $2x is what Nvidia cost to sell, Nvidia needs to make a profits from selling its chip, and estimate it cost them roughly $15 to build Tegra, so making $5+ profits isn't that much in Semi Conductor industry. ( You have to factor in the billions into R&D )



    Apple doesn't make, or need to make a single dollar from building A5. The sell iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. When Competition requires $20 to buy an component. They can use the full $20 to make a better component.
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