Apple's A8 SoC likely carrying new 6-core PowerVR GPU, clocked at 1.4GHz with 1GB RAM

Posted:
in iPhone edited September 2014
Apple boasts of massive performance improvements in its latest A-series processor -- up to 84x over the first-generation iPhone -- and the company is thought to have achieved those gains by moving to a new 6-core GPU design alongside a slightly redesigned application processor, data suggests.




The A8 that sits at the heart of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus is likely equipped with Imagination's six-core PowerVR Series6XT GX6650, according to analysis from AnandTech. The GX6650 is the only PowerVR part that could both match Apple's claimed performance improvements and supports OpenGL's Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression, which Apple developer documents say is available with its next-generation graphics processors.

ASTC is a relatively new standard for texture compression that allows GPU vendors to make their chips more power efficient, while still maintaining high levels of performance. The codec can compress nearly any texture, no matter the format, and output in a wide variety of bitrates that can be varied based on performance requirements.

Meanwhile, the application processor is believed to run on a modified version of the Cyclone architecture introduced with the A7. Based on Apple's presentation last Tuesday, AnandTech believes that benchmarks leaked shortly before the iPhone 6's introduction are legitimate, placing the clock speed of the A8 at 1.4 gigahertz.

That would be a mere 100 megahertz increase over the A7, a bump that the publication believes is not enough to account for the A8's upgraded performance. Instead, Apple is likely to have "enhanced or otherwise significantly optimized" the A8's processor core, which would represent "a significant accomplishment" given the time frame involved.

One thing that is unlikely to have changed is the built-in RAM allotment, which is thought to have held steady at 1 gigabyte. Apple has not increased the amount of RAM since moving to 1 gigabyte with the iPhone 5, despite advancements in nearly every other area.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 269
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,334member
    Cue the AI experts telling Apple it needs more RAM .... ;)

    Not my area of knowledge at all, but can someone explain if these babies are even close to being able to run OS X?
  • Reply 2 of 269
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

    Not my area of knowledge at all, but can someone explain if these babies are even close to being able to run OS X?

     

    With the most powerful mobile processor on the market, they might be able to run Android. I remember installing 1.6 on my first gen iPhone. Even with the best hardware on the market and the most accurate touchscreen, it lagged like nobody’s business and my Q and P keys couldn’t be touched.

  • Reply 3 of 269
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member
    The benchmarks and reviews for this phone will be interesting...
  • Reply 4 of 269
    1gb of ram only???? for a phone that costs between $700 and 1000?? what do we need to wait 3 years and beg again for more ram as we did for larger screens?
  • Reply 5 of 269
    Originally Posted by gimarbazat View Post

    1gb of ram only???? for a phone that costs between $700 and 1000?? what do we need to wait 3 years and beg again for more ram as we did for larger screens?

     

    3/10, try again.

  • Reply 6 of 269
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,572member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gimarbazat View Post



    1gb of ram only???? for a phone that costs between $700 and 1000?? what do we need to wait 3 years and beg again for more ram as we did for larger screens?

    It is likely that Apple tests a variety of RAM configurations during the prototyping stage of iPhone development and decided that 1GB was sufficient for a wide range of applications.

     

    Note that increasing RAM also increases costs, something Apple is very careful about.

  • Reply 7 of 269
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,334member
    With the most powerful mobile processor on the market, they might be able to run Android. I remember installing 1.6 on my first gen iPhone. Even with the best hardware on the market and the most accurate touchscreen, it lagged like nobody’s business and my Q and P keys couldn’t be touched.

    I don't follow the Android reference as that is also a mobile OS, I was asking about OS X. Obviously I am wondering how far off a MacBook Air type machine running OS X without an Intel Chip might be. Perhaps Apple have another chip under development that isn't a mobile version ....
  • Reply 8 of 269
    mpantone wrote: »
    Note that increasing RAM also increases costs, something Apple is very careful about.

    And lets not forget the power usage implications...
  • Reply 9 of 269
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,991member
    Cue the AI experts telling Apple it needs more RAM .... ;)

    Not my area of knowledge at all, but can someone explain if these babies are even close to being able to run OS X?

    Nope! Not even close. I've been pointing out what Apple needs to do in order to accomplish that, and this isn't it. The truth is that the chip isn't a "massive" improvement in compute that the article states. Considering that the past two chips had double the performance of the one before, and the chip before that was 50% higher than the one before, with almost 100% higher in graphics (A5 for iPhone, with A5x for iPad), this jump is positively measly.

    What Apple seems to have done this year, according to their own statements during the introduction, is to have used the smaller process technology for efficiency gains more so than for compute gains. But they also doubled the number of transistors to two billion, so something else is obviously going on here.

    But in order to use this for say, a Macbook Air, they need to quadruple the compute capability. And that would just work well for the OS and Apple's apps that were written for ARM. Third parties would still se the usual tradeoffs in speed due to the chip emulation that would be needed. Traditionally, it's considered that in order to emulate another chip family, the chip on which the emulation is being done needs to be about five times as powerful as the one being emulated. We saw that with emulation earlier, where software ran at 10-20% of the speed as on a comparable Windows machine.

    But, Apple could work this out, which is why I wonder at all those extra transistors. There are things they are using some of them for, such as a dedicated camera module in the chip, etc. but still, double? It's been understood that there are just a relatively few instructions that need to be emulated that use most of the processing time. If Apple put those instructions into their ARM chips, so that the OS called them only when needed for emulation, then Apple could cut emulation speed by 80%. This could work.

    But, it still requires an ARM chip to equal the power of whatever x86 chip Apple is using, and the lowest chip Apple uses for the Macbook Air is an Ultra Low Power i5. If the A8 was double the power, and using two cores, could be mated with another, then Apple could have a chip that comes at around the power of that low end i5. That could do it for rewritten apps, and if the instructions for x86 were included, this would be viable for a low end, less expensive, lighter, and longer battery life machine.

    But, as you can see that's a lot of steps needed, and it doesn't look as though the power of the processor is enough, unless there's something that Apple has done that they aren't talking about. Perhaps they can raise the clock on a device with less of a battery and cooling issue. But Apple's design is wide and low clock, so it's hard to say how much they could raise it.

    Some have said that third parties could always recompile their software for OS X over ARM, but as usual, that's just a pipe dream, and XCode would need to support that. Small, simple, apps can often be run through, and will work with little work afterwards. But major apps will take months to fix up, and the question is how many developers will want to make another change.
  • Reply 10 of 269
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,334member
    melgross wrote: »
    Nope! Not even close. I've been pointing out what Apple needs to do in order to accomplish that, and this isn't it. The truth is that the chip isn't a "massive" improvement in compute that the article states. Considering that the past two chips had double the performance of the one before, and the chip before that was 50% higher than the one before, with almost 100% higher in graphics (A5 for iPhone, with A5x for iPad), this jump is positively measly.

    What Apple seems to have done this year, according to their own statements during the introduction, is to have used the smaller process technology for efficiency gains more so than for compute gains. But they also doubled the number of transistors to two billion, so something else is obviously going on here.

    But in order to use this for say, a Macbook Air, they need to quadruple the compute capability. And that would just work well for the OS and Apple's apps that were written for ARM. Third parties would still se the usual tradeoffs in speed due to the chip emulation that would be needed. Traditionally, it's considered that in order to emulate another chip family, the chip on which the emulation is being done needs to be about five times as powerful as the one being emulated. We saw that with emulation earlier, where software ran at 10-20% of the speed as on a comparable Windows machine.

    But, Apple could work this out, which is why I wonder at all those extra transistors. There are things they are using some of them for, such as a dedicated camera module in the chip, etc. but still, double? It's been understood that there are just a relatively few instructions that need to be emulated that use most of the processing time. If Apple put those instructions into their ARM chips, so that the OS called them only when needed for emulation, then Apple could cut emulation speed by 80%. This could work.

    But, it still requires an ARM chip to equal the power of whatever x86 chip Apple is using, and the lowest chip Apple uses for the Macbook Air is an Ultra Low Power i5. If the A8 was double the power, and using two cores, could be mated with another, then Apple could have a chip that comes at around the power of that low end i5. That could do it for rewritten apps, and if the instructions for x86 were included, this would be viable for a low end, less expensive, lighter, and longer battery life machine.

    But, as you can see that's a lot of steps needed, and it doesn't look as though the power of the processor is enough, unless there's something that Apple has done that they aren't talking about. Perhaps they can raise the clock on a device with less of a battery and cooling issue. But Apple's design is wide and low clock, so it's hard to say how much they could raise it.

    Some have said that third parties could always recompile their software for OS X over ARM, but as usual, that's just a pipe dream, and XCode would need to support that. Small, simple, apps can often be run through, and will work with little work afterwards. But major apps will take months to fix up, and the question is how many developers will want to make another change.

    Thanks for the info.

    I always recall that Steve had a secret team running Mac OS on Intel in parallel to the Power PC years before it was known. I can't help wonder if there might be a skunk works team deep underground already running OS X on an secret new Apple chip as we speak.
  • Reply 11 of 269
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,991member
    Thanks for the info.

    I always recall that Steve had a secret team running Mac OS on Intel in parallel to the Power PC years before it was known. I can't help wonder if there might be a skunk works team deep underground already running OS X on an secret new Apple chip as we speak.

    I would be very surprised if Apple hasn't had OS X running on their ARM chips since the A5x. But running, and running usefully are two different things. I would love to see a lower priced, lower weight, longer battery life Macbook Air, of some sort. It possibly wouldn't need a fan, and the fan uses appreciable battery power, even if it only comes on occasionally. It also takes up a fair amount of space.
  • Reply 12 of 269

    The A8 is a process shrink and power saving design. Any extra speed is a benefit from tweaking the design.

     

    Maybe the A9 is the next generation core - Apple can't keep on releasing new super-cores every year! Clearly Cyclone was a lot of work over several years, and the A8 is just an evolution. It's clearly good enough right now.

     

    More concerning is the 1GB RAM. There's something about that which doesn't seem right, for long term viability for applications with large datasets (and remember the display will use a lot more RAM, especially with multiple buffers and apps running at the same time). For something that is cheap and easy to remedy, it's annoying, and it's an easy thing for competitors to target with their 2GB -> 4GB phones in the next year.

     

    But OTOH Apple looks like it will sell umpteen million of these regardless, so what do I know!

  • Reply 13 of 269
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

    I don't follow the Android reference as that is also a mobile OS, I was asking about OS X.

     

    Yeah, but that’s nonsense is all.

     

    Obviously I am wondering how far off a MacBook Air type machine running OS X without an Intel Chip might be. Perhaps Apple have another chip under development that isn't a mobile version ....


     

    Of course they do. They probably still have OS X running on Power7, too.

  • Reply 14 of 269
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,991member
    hattig wrote: »
    The A8 is a process shrink and power saving design. Any extra speed is a benefit from tweaking the design.

    Maybe the A9 is the next generation core - Apple can't keep on releasing new super-cores every year! Clearly Cyclone was a lot of work over several years, and the A8 is just an evolution. It's clearly good enough right now.

    More concerning is the 1GB RAM. There's something about that which doesn't seem right, for long term viability for applications with large datasets (and remember the display will use a lot more RAM, especially with multiple buffers and apps running at the same time). For something that is cheap and easy to remedy, it's annoying, and it's an easy thing for competitors to target with their 2GB -> 4GB phones in the next year.

    But OTOH Apple looks like it will sell umpteen million of these regardless, so what do I know!

    I've seen it described as a "tick", as in Intel fashion, but I'm not sure. The question is when the Apple will be able to go to 16nm next year, or whether they will stay with 20nm one more year.

    Of course, it's always possible that Apple has a parallel chip development program for OS X. Cook just said that Apple has products in development that no one knows anything about, so who knows?
  • Reply 15 of 269
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,313member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DaveMcM76 View Post





    And lets not forget the power usage implications...



    True, but I'd be happier with the same thickness as the iPhone 5S with a bigger battery and 2gb+ or Ram.



    I love Mr Ive's designs, but he frequently seems to choose form over function when it comes to the thickness of a device.

  • Reply 16 of 269
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by melgross View Post





    Nope! Not even close. I've been pointing out what Apple needs to do in order to accomplish that, and this isn't it. The truth is that the chip isn't a "massive" improvement in compute that the article states. Considering that the past two chips had double the performance of the one before, and the chip before that was 50% higher than the one before, with almost 100% higher in graphics (A5 for iPhone, with A5x for iPad), this jump is positively measly.

     

     

    It's hardly "measly". It is a huge improvement in efficiency and that's what Apple's goal is here. More than likely it has also been been designed to be much more scalable in clock speed, which we may see in the next iPads. This will be the major differentiator between the iPad mini and the iPhone 6 Plus. The mini has a much larger footprint and therefor can hold a larger battery able to support an A8 running at a much higher clock speed.

     

    With the iPhone 6 Plus out, Apple is going to have to do something about increasing the desirability of the iPad mini, which many will see as a redundant device.

  • Reply 17 of 269
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,740member

    AI, if you are going to run a story based solely on Ryan Smith's story on AnandTech, you owe it to them at least provide a link: 

     

    AnandTech | Analyzing Apple’s A8 SoC: PowerVR GX6650 & More

  • Reply 18 of 269
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,991member
    saarek wrote: »

    True, but I'd be happier with the same thickness as the iPhone 5S with a bigger battery and 2gb+ or Ram.


    I love Mr Ive's designs, but he frequently seems to choose form over function when it comes to the thickness of a device.

    The entire industry is trying to make phones, and tablets, as thin as possible. I think they're thin enough. I'm happy there is a little bit of better battery life for the 6, and bigger gains for the 6+. I really haven't wanted a 5.5" phone, but now, I'm leaning towards it. I'll know once I get I to the store and try both out. The 6+ has enough better features that it might sway me.

    Likely 1GB RAM is enough for the 6, but I wonder about the 6+. You're right about screen resolution. As far as I know, it's still shared RAM. But with the doubling of transistors, I've wondered if so e of that is dedicated GRAM. I would have thought that Apple would have mentioned that at the introduction, but with them, maybe not.
  • Reply 19 of 269
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,991member
    mjtomlin wrote: »

    It's hardly "measly". It is a huge improvement in efficiency and that's what Apple's goal is here. More than likely it has also been been designed to be much more scalable in clock speed, which we may see in the next iPads. This will be the major differentiator between the iPad mini and the iPhone 6 Plus. The mini has a much larger footprint and therefor can hold a larger battery able to support an A8 running at a much higher clock speed.

    With the iPhone 6 Plus out, Apple is going to have to do something about increasing the desirability of the iPad mini, which many will see as a redundant device.

    It is measly when compared to,what came before with the past three generations. And yes, I stated that Apple used a lot of the shrink for efficiency. I'm talking about capabilities, not efficiency. We're talking about the possibility of OS X, and that's why the increase in power is measly. This year we'll see other chip makers catching up much more easily than before, where the A7 still beats most of the new chips in most performance areas. I hope that Apple isn't doing what it usually does, which is to get a lead, and then become complacent, allowing others to trample,them.

    They did that with iPhone screen size. The only phones to have larger, and sometimes, higher Rez screens were the old Win Mobile phones, where they really needed it because of the supposed Windows UI. When the iPhone first came out, therefor, the screen was being described as large, and high resolution. But we see what happened. Others got same size and Rez screens, and then went larger and higher Rez. Apple finally made the screen slightly larger, but now they've been trailing. It's cost them sales, make no mistake about that, which is why they have them now. I'm just hoping they don't allow their lead in SoC's die too.
  • Reply 20 of 269
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    saarek wrote: »

    True, but I'd be happier with the same thickness as the iPhone 5S with a bigger battery and 2gb+ or Ram.


    I love Mr Ive's designs, but he frequently seems to choose form over function when it comes to the thickness of a device.
    Except Apple watch of course. ;)
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