Analysis of Apple's A8X SoC uncovers customized GPU, confirms 3-core architecture

Posted:
in iPad edited November 2014
Apple appears to have moved to a semi-custom design for the graphics processor in its new A8X SoC while employing an unusual triple-core CPU, according to a new analysis of the chip that powers the iPad Air 2.

A8X die mockup | Courtesy of AnandTech
A8X die mockup | Courtesy of AnandTech


The A8X's 8-core GPU is not an off-the-shelf part from longtime partner Imagination Technologies?--?which has not yet released such a part --?but instead seems to be a bespoke design that essentially combines two of Imagination's 4-core GX6450 GPUs. The new design was discovered by AnandTech.

Apple is a minority investor in Imagination and licenses their GPU designs, similar to the Cupertino company's arrangement with semiconductor firm ARM, which allows them to create customized versions of the parts for inclusion in the A-series chips.

In addition to the custom GPU, the A8X was found to contain only three physical CPU cores. Its tri-core design was already known, but many previously speculated that it may be a conventional quad-core design with one core simply disabled.

In addition to the extra GPU and CPU cores, the A8X contains approximately 1 billion more transistors than the A8 that powers the iPhone 6 series. The company also doubled the processor's L2 cache to 2 megabytes, increased the clock speed to 1.5 gigahertz, and moved to a 128-bit wide memory bus.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 48
    This doesn't mean much to the average users.
  • Reply 2 of 48
    Are the people who care about these chip specs competitors and investors, or just fans of chip design?
  • Reply 3 of 48
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by unDED View Post



    This doesn't mean much to the average users.

     

    The average person doesn't have to know or even care about chip design, but the average person definitely notices that when they use an iPad Air 2, that it's screaming fast, and that's what counts.

  • Reply 4 of 48

    I know what you are saying but I think it does - this information tells me that this CPU is way overkill for this current Ipad and therefore it will supported for the next 4-6 OS releases.

     

    Before they kill support for the A8X - Apple will need to retire the A5, A6, A7 and A8 - unlikely since they are still selling A5 devices on 2014.

  • Reply 5 of 48
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by unDED View Post



    This doesn't mean much to the average users.

     

     

    The terminology doesn't, but the user experience it affords, when connected with iOS, does

     

    So Apple's processor design actually means everything

     

    For a good dose of meaning, look no further than the astronomical levels of consumer satisfaction, sustained, unremitting interest in iDevices year after year, and the unprecedented mindshare that Apple commands with their products. 

     

    User Experience is all. 

  • Reply 6 of 48

    This would make it rather easy to have split screen app support, the A8X is overkill for the Air 2 right now. Also should drive an iPad Pro easily.

     

    I can't wait to see a real die shot soon.

  • Reply 7 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post



    Are the people who care about these chip specs competitors and investors, or just fans of chip design?



    Primarily the second. Competitors can always buy an iPad and dissect it for the info they need.

  • Reply 8 of 48
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

     

    the A8X is overkill for the Air 2 right now. 


     

    I wouldn't exactly say that. The more powerful, the better.

     

    Ports of desktop games to iPad still have to be dumbed down in many cases. The iPad version won't have the same fancy lighting effects and other things that are very GPU intensive.

     

    Having a more powerful GPU allows for better graphics and lighting, higher frame rates, more detailed graphics and a better experience.

  • Reply 9 of 48
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post

     

     

     

    The terminology doesn't, but the user experience it affords, when connected with iOS, does.

     

    So Apple's processor design actually means everything.

     

    For a good dose of meaning, look no further than the astronomical levels of consumer satisfaction, sustained, unremitting interest in iDevices year after year, and the unprecedented mindshare that Apple commands with their products. 

     

    User Experience is all.


    I think he meant the article doesn't mean much, not that the subject isn't meaningful.  Personally I got nothing from the article or the picture other than "some people are starting to understand what Apple did with their latest processor, and it's not an off-the-shelf component."

  • Reply 10 of 48
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

     

     

    I wouldn't exactly say that. The more powerful, the better.

     

    Ports of desktop games to iPad still have to be dumbed down in many cases. The iPad version won't have the same fancy lighting effects and other things that are very GPU intensive.

     

    Having a more powerful GPU allows for better graphics and lighting, higher frame rates, more detailed graphics and a better experience.


     

    Well, we don't know just how powerful this tandem GPU arrangement is. Imagination says the new Series7XT GPU's, the six cluster and higher units will be more powerful than the RSX in the PS3 and the GPU in the Xbox 360. And the 16 cluster model will be comparable to a GT 730M. That's still a ways from current PC levels, but it will handle quite a bit thanks to the efficiency of the PowerVR architecture.

     

    But the issue will be that, to really leverage the Air 2, devs will need to ignore all the A5 and A6 devices, and really thrash the A7, to take advantage of the A8x. That's years away.

  • Reply 11 of 48
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

    But the issue will be that, to really leverage the Air 2, devs will need to ignore all the A5 and A6 devices, and really thrash the A7, to take advantage of the A8x. That's years away.

     

    That's already happening more and more often.

     

    Older iPads will be left behind.

     

    And just wait until devs begin releasing more apps and games that take advantage of metal.

     

    There are certain games that I play that detects which iPad you are using, and you won't get any enhanced graphics if your iPad is not a newer model.

  • Reply 12 of 48
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,974member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by unDED View Post



    This doesn't mean much to the average users.

    For someone who's the antithesis of DED (Daniel E. Dilger), this doesn't surprise me. As for these specs not meaning anything, look at the type of people who frequent AI. To these people (me included), these specs are significant. For any person who has to put up with people spewing technical specs about their favorite Android mobile device or desktop, it gives me additional information to remind them that Apple knows what to do with the additional power while their manufacturer hasn't the faintest idea. 

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by alvinguzman View Post

     

    I know what you are saying but I think it does - this information tells me that this CPU is way overkill for this current Ipad and therefore it will supported for the next 4-6 OS releases.

     

    Before they kill support for the A8X - Apple will need to retire the A5, A6, A7 and A8 - unlikely since they are still selling A5 devices on 2014.


    I disagree. With IBM and Apple joining forces to produce enterprise level applications and services along with the latest iPad being used as a POS NFC-enabled terminal (point of sale for those people who think this acronym means something else) I don't think it's underpowered at all. I can't wait to see scientific applications written for the iPad that take advantage of this power. Microsoft thinks their surface is better than an iPad, let's see some benchmarks on both using something other than email, browsing and simple video. The A8X combined with iOS will continue to be more powerful than non-Apple devices and depending on the usage it should be fine for several years for the average user; especially when the A10 is released ;-).

     

    I read the AnandTech article after posting and and even more excited about the specs and initial speed tests. 2GB RAM, 128-bit memory bus (compared to 64-bit), 25.6Gb/ps memory bandwidth (previous have that), and 2MB L2 cache. Most of these are twice the A8. This is a significant enhancement.

  • Reply 13 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

     

     

    That's already happening more and more often.

     

    Older iPads will be left behind.

     

    And just wait until devs begin releasing more apps and games that take advantage of metal.

     

    There are certain games that I play that detects which iPad you are using, and you won't get any enhanced graphics if your iPad is not a newer model.


     

    There are nine Metal games at the moment. Happily both my iPad (A7) and iPhone (A8) can take advantage of Metal. Actually, I haven't tried the update to Epic Zen Garden yet.

     

    Ultimately, for me though, high end games need buttons more than graphics.

  • Reply 14 of 48
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,071member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by unDED View Post



    This doesn't mean much to the average users.

     

    Which is why Apple does not mention it at all in their marketing.   The people talking about it are the tech geeks and stuff.

  • Reply 15 of 48
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,949member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post



    Are the people who care about these chip specs competitors and investors, or just fans of chip design?

     

    Competitors already do this sort of analysis.  Investors should be interested in the fact that Apple has the expertise to customize chip designs to their needs rather than just blindly use off-the-shelf designs like most of their competitors do.  This gives them an edge.  Especially when combined the software expertise to ensure iOS and apps are highly optimized for this.

     

    Even if investors don't understand or care about the technical details, they should understand that quality of the customer experience (due to this attention to detail) is a large part of what drives sales and brand loyalty.

  • Reply 16 of 48
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    We know Apple can kill it with hardware. No let's see them step it up on the software side.
  • Reply 17 of 48
    rptrpt Posts: 173member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by unDED View Post



    This doesn't mean much to the average users.



    That is why the average user doesn't read this. Fortunately, we are not all average users!

  • Reply 18 of 48
    unded wrote: »
    This doesn't mean much to the average users.

    Love your name ... Maybe someone will pounce on GratefulUnDED
    Are the people who care about these chip specs competitors and investors, or just fans of chip design?

    What this indicates is that we may soon seen new Apple Products such as:
    1. a New 12" iPad Pro / Mac Digitizer Tablet / Personal TV
    2. a Mac portable with mondo battery life
    3. a New AppleTV / Home Hub / Game Console
    4. something(s) we haven't thought of yet

    1) and 2) will, likely, be a result of the Apple/IBM partnership ... and be announced 1Q 2015.

    As I write this, AAPL went over $111 ...
  • Reply 19 of 48
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    But the issue will be that, to really leverage the Air 2, devs will need to ignore all the A5 and A6 devices, and really thrash the A7, to take advantage of the A8x. That's years away.

    All the more reason it's ridiculous that Apple is still selling A5 devices. Non-retina mini should be killed off (Apple shouldn't be selling any non-retina iOS devices at this point). And the iPod touch should either be updated or discontinued. Make a decision on iPods rather than letting them die on the vine.
  • Reply 20 of 48
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,949member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

     

    But the issue will be that, to really leverage the Air 2, devs will need to ignore all the A5 and A6 devices, and really thrash the A7, to take advantage of the A8x. That's years away.


     

    As long as developers are building their apps with newer versions of Xcode, it will take advantage of optimizations for each CPU type.  Xcode will build different versions of the app for each CPU type you tell it to, glue them together, and then dynamically choose the right version based on the device you're running the app on.  It's the same technology that was used during the PowerPC to Intel transition on OS X (re: universal binaries).

     

    That, combined with use of Grand Central Dispatch (which automatically parallelizes based on the number of cores you have), will get apps performance gains without any significant changes.

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