Apple Inc. A8X iPad chip causing big problems for Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung and Nvidia

Posted:
in iPad edited June 2015
Apple's A-series Application Processors that power iPads--including the latest and greatest A8X in iPad Air 2--are inciting billion dollar losses for Intel and threatening major problems for rival tablet chips from Qualcomm, Samsung and Nvidia, along with all the companies that depend upon those vendors for their mobile chips.

A8X


When Apple launched iPad just short of four years ago, rumors had hinted that the new tablet would use Intel's scaled down x86 mobile chip, then known at Silverthorne and now branded as Atom. Instead, Steve Jobs announced the A4, a new ARM chip customized by Apple itself.

In its first year, iPad immediately wiped out Microsoft's Windows Tablet PC (including the thick, expensive Samsung Q1 UMPC, below). In 2011, iPad 2 crushed HP's webOS TouchPad; the BlackBerry PlayBook; and a series of new tablets using Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb, including the Motorola Xoom.

Samsung Q1


By the end of 2011, Amazon attempted to sell a recycled version of the PlayBook as Kindle Fire, and toward the end of 2012, Microsoft's Surface RT appeared, with results no better than the volleys of iPad competitors that had flopped before it.

Since the launch of Microsoft's Surface, Apple has sold about 70 million iPads per year, effectively capturing the vast majority of profits earned from global tablet sales. However, Apple didn't just beat Samsung, Palm, HP, BlackBerry, Google, Amazon and Microsoft in selling tablets. It also trounced every company making the chips intended to power those failed tablets.

The loser chips behind tablet flops

The biggest loser appears to be Intel, which not only lost Apple's business in the iPad but also lost its existing netbook and Tablet PC business due to iPad sales.

Apple's iPad destroyed any prospects for Microsoft's "UMPC" devices like Samsung's Q1, powered by an Intel Celeron M. Intel has also seen minimal uptake for its Atom chips designed to power Tablet PC and netbooks, and also suffered as iPad sales have helped to derail growth in conventional PCs, most of which are powered by Intel x86 processors.

Texas Instruments OMAP chips were also crushed by Apple's iPad. OMAP chips powered the Playbook, Kindle Fire, Motorola Xyboard and a variety of Samsung Galaxy Tab models. The failure of so many OMAP experiments competing against iOS eventually prompted TI to leave the consumer Application Processor business entirely.

Nvidia was also a big loser among the suppliers of failed iPad rivals. After launching its original Tegra chip in Microsoft's failed Zune HD and KIN products, Nvidia's Tegra 2 was paired with such flops as Motorola's Xoom and Dell's Streak tablets, while Microsoft's back-to-back Surface RT flops were powered by Tegra 3 and Tegra 4 chips.

Nvidia's last gasp in tablet Tegra chips is the K1, the first 64-bit ARM chip capable of running Android, with 192 GPU ALUs (erroneously branded as "cores" by Nvidia).

However, before the new K1 could even ship in Google's new Nexus 9, Apple released its own iPad Air 2 A8X with 256 ALUs, beating Nvidia's best chip in both CPU and GPU with superior sustained performance and better power management. Like TI, Nvidia has abandoned the phone market and now appears close to giving up on tablets, too.

Apple's A8X powers iPad Air 2 graphics faster than Google's Nexus 9 w/ Nvidia Denver Tegra K1 http://t.co/X0avk8B6vN pic.twitter.com/CeJiQyZqhs

-- Daniel Eran Dilger (@DanielEran)


Qualcomm has also had a hard time with tablets, powering such flops from the HP TouchPad to the Nokia Lumia 2520. A larger problem for Qualcomm, however, is that Apple's iPad has taken the high end, leaving it to service the large numbers of cheap tablets selling in China. Licensing IP to Chinese companies is a frustrating business, as the company noted in its report to shareholders, which complained that "certain licensees in China currently are not fully complying with their contractual obligations to report their sales of licensed products to us."

Qualcomm Application Processors are used by Samsung, but primarily in the company's phones and 4G tablets, where Qualcomm IP is required. Samsung's higher volume WiFi-only tablets (which it liberally gives away) typically use Samsung's own Exynos ARM chips rather than Qualcomm's Snapdragon, even though Samsung's Exynos is much slower.

Qualcomm also supplies Apple with MDM baseband chips used in 4G iPads (and iPhones), but Apple is very likely to eventually build its own mobile baseband technology into upcoming A-series chips (just as Intel, Nvidia and Samsung have already worked towards).Apple is very likely to eventually build its own mobile baseband technology into upcoming A-series chips

An equally significant problem for Qualcomm is that few companies apart from Apple are even trying to sell premium tablets, and the niche examples of higher end, non-Apple tablets are using competing chips (Microsoft's Surface Pro uses Intel chips, while Google's Nexus 9 has an Nvidia Tegra K1 and Samsung uses Exynos).

That has forced Qualcomm into the low end of tablet-bound chips, resulting in weak profits. Without any real manufacturer demand for powerful Snapdragon tablet chips, Qualcomm has little reason to invest in the development of powerful new tablet chips on par with Apple's A8X.

Apple no longer subsidizing Samsung chips

That means Apple will increasingly hold onto the high end in tablets with few legitimate competitors, while its tablet rivals all fight for scraps at the low end. Vendors who do want to enter the high end tablet space will face chip options limited to Intel's expensive x86 chips or very low end ARM chips aimed at powering phones rather than more sophisticated tablets.

The profits Apple is earning from iPad sales are being aggressively reinvested back into the rapid development of Apple's own A-series chips, which no other vendor has access to. Prior to 2010, Apple had been using off the shelf ARM chips from Samsung in its iOS devices, creating economies of scale that benefitted every user of Samsung's ARM chips, including Samsung itself.

Apple A4


Samsung is now struggling to come up with its own 64-bit ARM alternative to Apple's A7, A8 and A8X, but is forced to use generic ARM designs that are less efficient and powerful compared to Apple's custom designs.

Apple has also diversified its chip manufacturing to include TSMC, which has stripped Samsung of chip manufacturing volume, increasing the production costs of Samsung's own chips.

Apple has an alternative to Intel chips

The billions of dollars Apple has earned from iPad sales, along with even greater profits from iPhones that share the same A-series technology, have enabled Apple to fund the very expensive custom development of mobile Application Processors that are now approaching the CPU and GPU power of entry level PCs, but are cheaper to build and feature superior power management.

That's a potential threat to Intel's Mac business, were Apple to launch new Mac models using the company's own internal A-series Application Processors. But even if that doesn't happen in the next couple of years, Intel also faces the possibility that Apple will continue to launch entirely new product categories that won't need Intel processors.

iPhone, iPod touch and iPad are obvious examples, but another product that is often overlooked is Apple TV. That device was first launched in 2007 with an Intel processor; it was essentially a scaled down desktop Mac. However, in 2010 Apple launched its second generation Apple TV powered by the same A4 chip as the original iPad and iPhone 4.

Apple TV A4


Apple's next product launch, Apple Watch, is similarly powered by a custom designed package of components that Apple calls S1, with no need for an Intel x86 chip. In fact, going forward there is increasingly little need for Intel's x86 anywhere. Apart from Apple inventing new product categories that can be powered by its own A-series chips, server vendors are also increasingly making use of ARM chips.Going forward there is increasingly little need for Intel's x86 anywhere

Samsung, LG and a variety of smaller players are now producing custom ARM chips for consumer devices, but none with the high end, high volume sales that Apple achieves. Their designs also follow the generic outline of ARM, typically using ARM's less powerful Mali graphics (as opposed to the leading PowerVR mobile graphics Apple is incorporating). That results in a market for Application Processors outside of Apple that is either low cost/low power, or extremely low volume and therefore expensive.

Apple has effectively made Application Processor sophistication a strong, proprietary advantage alongside user interface, operating system savvy and advanced software development frameworks and tools. At the same time, the market is seeing a sharp contraction in the variety of distinct processor families available.

These factors will make it increasingly expensive for other vendors to attempt to copy Apple's products, or force them to remain in business at the low end, ceding profitable market segments to Apple. As Google can attest, that's not a desirable position.
«13456713

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 251
    Why don't I own more $AAPL stock? What the hell is wrong with me?
  • Reply 2 of 251

    I imagine that Sony is slowly looking over its shoulder and pulling at its collar as it nervously glances as its PSP lineup. And though Microsoft never entered the handheld department, the A9 might make them get hot and bothered regarding the performance of the Xbone.

     

    Originally Posted by eightzero View Post

    Why don't I own more $AAPL stock? What the hell is wrong with me?

     

    Why don’t I own any?! Need to educate myself on the best way to go about it.

  • Reply 3 of 251
    I knew from the headline alone who wrote this article ;)
  • Reply 4 of 251
    It's almost scary, how proficient Apple's gotten at semiconductor design. And if you look at the specs and design of the A7 and A8, it's clear their team is gunning for Intel, not the other ARM manufacturers. And they're beating the pants off of everyone on a performance-per-watt basis.

    As far as the baseband chips go, I think Apple's primary goal for that is to design the most power efficient chips ever made, for use in the Apple Watch. It's just a matter of time before they make the Watch fully independent.

    And...I still think we may see Macs with A-series chips one day. The A9 should be a tick, bringing us an all new CPU core (Swift>Cyclone>Hurricane?) on a 20nm process. Its not as hard to emulate X86 code on ARM as you might expect, especially since Intel's chips haven't even processed true CISC instructions since the Pentium Pro. But an Intel chip retails for hundreds of dollars, vs much less for their own chips. And Apple is one P&L, they wouldn't have to sell them to themselves for a profit.

    The Pro Macs might stay with Intel chips, no reason a MacBook SuperAir couldn't be ARM based though.
  • Reply 5 of 251
    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

    I knew from the headline alone who wrote this article image

     

    Chip Causes Consternation; Competitors Confounded, Chagrined.

  • Reply 6 of 251
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,541member
    DED's articles are like heroin for Apple junkies. Reading them is like mainlining Apple news.
  • Reply 7 of 251
    I imagine that Sony is slowly looking over its shoulder and pulling at its collar as it nervously glances as its PSP lineup. And though Microsoft never entered the handheld department, the A9 might make them get hot and bothered regarding the performance of the Xbone.


    Why don’t I own any?! Need to educate myself on the best way to go about it.

    IMGTech's Series 7XT GPu's already promise to exceed Xbox 360 and PS3 graphical performance. Yeah, those are from 2004 from a design standpoint, but the PowerVR chips are a lot cheaper. It'll be a bit before they catch the newer consoles, especially the PS4. Hard for a mobile device to beat an eight-core CPU with a good GPU, 8GB of GDDR5, and no power consumption limits. Obviously the Xbone is weaker, but still has advantages over mobile.
  • Reply 8 of 251
    It's almost scary, how proficient Apple's gotten at semiconductor design.

    I have to think even Apple is impressed with themselves. "[CE] guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
    ...it's clear their team is gunning for Intel, not the other ARM manufacturers. And they're beating the pants off of everyone on a performance-per-watt basis.

    I don't think that's clear but I can't say I've ever been presented with an argument that Apple's goal is to out-Intel Intel. I see them as looking to make the best chips possible, and Intel certainly hasn't been viable in the mobile arena. I can also see an ARM-based Mac* and have argued the case for it on many occasions, but I see the term gunning for as wanting to take over a company's market, not simple replace a component for one that is both less expensive and better suited for their needs.


    * Or rather a Mac-like "PC" as I'm not sure the Mac branding would work.

    IMGTech's Series 7XT GPu's already promise to exceed Xbox 360 and PS3 graphical performance. Yeah, those are from 2004 from a design standpoint, but the PowerVR chips are a lot cheaper. It'll be a bit before they catch the newer consoles, especially the PS4. Hard for a mobile device to beat an eight-core CPU with a good GPU, 8GB of GDDR5, and no power consumption limits. Obviously the Xbone is weaker, but still has advantages over mobile.

    When it comes to mobile devices (i.e.: devices that use a battery) we should always be talking about performance per Watt, but even Enterprise solutions are carrying about power consumption. Of course, gamers don't, but gamers also seem to cling to Windows and building their own "PC." At least according to AnandTech's forums.
  • Reply 9 of 251
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by paxman View Post



    DED's articles are like heroin for Apple junkies. Reading them is like mainlining Apple news.

    image

    ..except that we actually get to catch the dragon! Love me some DED.

  • Reply 10 of 251
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

     

    Why don’t I own any?! Need to educate myself on the best way to go about it.


     

    (1) Open an account with a broker, like E-trade or Scottrade or Ameritrade or whomever you please

     

    (2) Transfer over some money to fund your account

     

    (3) Purchase X amount of shares of AAPL when you feel the time is right

     

    (4) sit back and relax

     

    (5) profit

  • Reply 11 of 251
    [QUOTE]Qualcomm also supplies Apple with MSM baseband chips used in 4G iPads (and iPhones)[/QUOTE] Correction, Qualcomm supplies MDM modem chips to Apple, not MSM Chips. MSM chips are Qualcomm's application processors with an integrated 4G/LTE modem in one package. Qualcomm supplies the Mobile Device Manager (MDM) only, and Apple pairs it with their Ax family of apps processors.

    Small but important distinction.
  • Reply 12 of 251
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member

    As for the A8X chip. Tell me about it. I've been using it since day one. My iPad is screaming. 

     

    The A9 chips and so on are obviously going to be even more powerful. The future for iPads, iPhones and other iOS devices looks pretty bright.

  • Reply 13 of 251
    It never seems to amaze me how much Apple flavored koolaide there is to go around and, honestly, how many zealots there to drink it up.

    This article, along with 80% of the comments, are so consumed by Apple hyperbole that it almost feels like the matrix. Seriously, people try to do some independent thinking and maybe think of the world in terms broader than Garageband and Apple TV.

    The A8 albeit good, isn't a game changing piece of silicon. It's ok at best and arguably not even the best ARM design there is. I think NVIDIA's tegra k1 denver is a better architecture and the benchmarks prove it for most applications. Also, while we are on the subject of NVIDIA, that GPU that the A8 and earlier are using is very likely infringing on patents owned by NVIDIA and I am guessing will likely result in a license agreement between the two companies once Samsung ponies up.

    Apple is a consumer products, software focused, company. They are not a silicon company that is a losing proposition for them. The scale simply isnt there nor do they have the talent or IP on their side. The licensed every block of their chip.
  • Reply 14 of 251
    The reality is that whilst both nVidia and Octacore chips are technically many a mile ahead of Apples usage of ARM, it is Apple who have the lowest costs but biggest bull..
  • Reply 15 of 251
    The question then becomes does the AX series scale up? It is still multitudes slower than what is in a high end Mac.
  • Reply 16 of 251
    misamisa Posts: 827member
    It's almost scary, how proficient Apple's gotten at semiconductor design. And if you look at the specs and design of the A7 and A8, it's clear their team is gunning for Intel, not the other ARM manufacturers. And they're beating the pants off of everyone on a performance-per-watt basis.

    As far as the baseband chips go, I think Apple's primary goal for that is to design the most power efficient chips ever made, for use in the Apple Watch. It's just a matter of time before they make the Watch fully independent.

    And...I still think we may see Macs with A-series chips one day. The A9 should be a tick, bringing us an all new CPU core (Swift>Cyclone>Hurricane?) on a 20nm process. Its not as hard to emulate X86 code on ARM as you might expect, especially since Intel's chips haven't even processed true CISC instructions since the Pentium Pro. But an Intel chip retails for hundreds of dollars, vs much less for their own chips. And Apple is one P&L, they wouldn't have to sell them to themselves for a profit.

    The Pro Mac's might stay with Intel chips, no reason a MacBook SuperAir couldn't be ARM based though.

    Well Apple tends to be shooting where the market is going, while others are trying to chase where the market is now.

    Intel's problem is that it's more interested in creating parts for which there is no market. Celeron's and Atom's serve what purpose? Creating a market for underpowered useless computers that OEM's then try to push as viable machines (see Windows XP and the underpowered netbook.) Poor Asus, completely fell on it's face with the eeePC, when it was supposed to be what the "chromebook" effectively is. The Atom parts only belong in devices that need a low power draw, but not on battery, but any place they could possibly used, ARM parts are better performance per watt. See GoogleTV "SmartTV"'s and AppleTV.

    Apple still needs Intel, at least as long as there is a "desktop" market. Apple may have tried to stealth kill the Mac Pro, but the 3D animation, film and music industry didn't want to throw out their existing investments just to switch to Windows, or be forced to use expensive-to-manage Linux workstations. I don't see this changing, and changing to ARM would cause the same problem.

    In fact, as much as Apple has refused to license OS X, if Apple ever decides to stop producing the "Mac Pro" , it would be in their best interest to license someone to build BYO Mac Pro (workstation) class hardware that OS X can be licensed to run on. Few people who use OS X want to switch to Windows, and there has always been a market for this class of hardware. It's not that they don't want Apple's hardware, it's that Apple doesn't produce hardware that the (gaming) high end want. No ARM chip is ever going to hit that.

    Existing ARM parts are more powerful than 8 year old computers. But this is comparing completely dissimilar power profiles.
    http://browser.primatelabs.com/android-benchmarks
    Geekbench 3 scores are calibrated against a baseline score of 2500 (which is the score of an Intel Core i5-2520M @ 2.50 GHz).
    Alright, so what is equal to that?
    Exynos 5 Octa 5420 1900 MHz (4 cores) = 2536
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2265 MHz (4 cores) = 2544
    Meanwhile Apple:
    Apple A7 1300 MHz (2 cores) = 2522
    MacBook Pro (Late 2008)
    Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2400 MHz (2 cores)=2483

    Just based on die-shrink's, consider that those producing ARM parts are on the same process node as Intel is, but the parts they are producing aren't even close.
    Mac mini (Late 2014)
    Intel Core i7-4578U 3000 MHz (2 cores) = 7240
    vs
    iPad Air 2
    Apple A8X 1500 MHz (3 cores) = 4512

    iPhone 6
    Apple A8 1400 MHz (2 cores) = 2882

    If you could glue a heatsink on top of the A8, I'm sure it's possible to just double the clock and get something faster than the Haswell Dual core, but would it burn energy twice as fast?
  • Reply 17 of 251
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    I'm not sure what this article is trying to convey other than manufactures should just pack it in and give up. I quite like my iPad, it serves my purposes for certain tasks such as music creation perfectly, but I don't think I would like to use it for all of my tablet needs, especially not being unable to run multiple apps in the background, which would more than likely drive me nuts. So I'm extremely happy to have choice that will give me those things that the iPad doesn't offer. regardless of DED's biased feelings on the matter. As long as manufactures continue to make decent products with decent hardware and software, I just don't see what the big deal is if it's not as fast as the iPad, the majority of people don't even know what to do with this power anyway. Example; the Nokia 2520 mentioned in the article isn't as fast as the current iPad but it's more than quick enough for the software it's running and it get's 11 hours on a charge, 16 when the keyboard is plugged in, it's also one of my favorite gadgets, so much so that I bought 2 for when(if) my current one fails. The article also fails to mention that these companies are just now getting into 64Bit computing, the Nvidia chip that DED loves to belittle is just the first of many to be introduced, the quad core variant is expected to be released in Q1 of 2015. Current K1 64Bit benchmarks have shown it to hold it's own just fine when paired up against the dual core variant of the A8, add another 2 cores and it will be just as fast, if not faster than the A8X as the K1's 64Bit single core benchmarks suggest. Even if it isn't, I still don't see what the problem is, why does everything have to faster than Apple's A8x to be considered decent in DED's eyes. I have been using the K1 32Bit variant for about 6 months now, it's an incredible chip and again as long as manufactures keep producing decent products using these chips, like the Nokia 2520, I will continue to purchase them. So I get it DED, in your opinion nothing is better than Apple but that doesn't mean others can't produce decent products as well or at least try, it's like he wants everyone to fail.
  • Reply 18 of 251
    bugsnwbugsnw Posts: 706member

    We should thank our lucky stars that Steve Jobs was driven to seek perfection by his own passion. He instilled that in Apple.

     

    Business school would teach that as competition falls, the winning company starts to sit on their ass, raking in the profits. Without competition driving them, they slowly get fat and complacent and eventually get caught by a savvy upstart and go bankrupt.

     

    Except Apple is driven by their own passion towards perfection. They have the discipline of Schwarzenegger and keep improving despite an utter lack of competition on the high end. Except in my view, they do have competition in a way. In addition to their dedicated fan base who will stick by Apple no matter what, they are also competing for the $$$ of those that like free stuff. They have to be so much better that people who would ordinarily buy that $50 tablet see the value in paying $499 for an Apple product. Apple has to be that good. They don't just take the high end and abuse their hard-won gains. They move incredibly aggressive towards perfection.

     

    I had a chance to play with my parents' new iPad. I was blown away at how fast and thin it was. The pictures my mom took (she's less than an amateur photographer) were stunning. It just blew my iPad 3 away in every respect. So much so that I'm saving up for the Thanksgiving sale that's coming. I don't need this thing, but it's just so damn sexy and appealing that I have to have it. Damn my college fund.

  • Reply 19 of 251
    relic wrote: »
    I'm not sure what this article is trying to convey other than manufactures should just pack it in and give up.

    Why doesn't talking about advancements to an SoC force you to respond in that way? Why can't OEMs try to do a better job in competing, or do you not think they are capable?
    I quite like my iPad, it serves my purposes for certain tasks such as music creation perfectly, but I don't think I would like to use it for all of my tablet needs, especially not being unable to run multiple apps in the background, which would more than likely drive me nuts. So I'm extremely happy to have choice that will give me those things that the iPad doesn't offer. regardless of DED's biased feelings on the matter.

    I have no idea why you bring up what you feel you can and can't do with your excessive number of CE, especially when we're talking specifically about an SoC's evolution in a short time frame.
    As long as manufactures continue to make decent products with decent hardware and software, I just don't see what the big deal is if it's not as fast as the iPad.

    You forget your history.
    Example; the Nokia 2520 mentioned in the article isn't as fast as the current iPad but it's more than quick enough for the software it's running and it get's 11 hours on a charge, 16 when the keyboard is plugged in. The article also fails to mention that these companies are just now getting into 64Bit computing, the Nvidia chip that DED loves to belittle is just the first of many to be introduced, the quad core variant is expected to be released in Q1 of 2015. Current K1 64Bit benchmarks have shown it to hold it's own just fine when paired up against the dual core variant of the A8, add another 2 cores and it will be just as fast, if not faster than the A8X as the K1's 64Bot single core benchmarks suggest.

    At the same performance per Watt?
    Even if it isn't, I still don't see what the problem is, why does everything have to faster than Apple's A8x to be considered decent in DED's eyes.

    Why mention the K1 as being faster than the A8X? Why does anything have to be faster than the A8X? At least DED is writing a relevant article on site that warrants the editorial.
    I have been using the K1 32Bit variant for about 6 months now, it's an incredible chip and again as long as manufactures keep producing decent products using these chips, like the Nokia 2520, I will continue to purchase them. So I get it DED, in your opinion nothing is better than Apple but that doesn't mean others can't produce decent products as well or at least try, it's like he wants everyone to fail.

    It's such a weird concept to me that some people can't get past superficial performance numbers to look at the big picture: usability. At least some Android users can be objective.
  • Reply 20 of 251
    They should really invest more in battery technology. Its all very well them being slim but you end up putting the devices in cases to protect the soft aluminium. I have an iPad 3 which does my basic needs of surfing and don't really need a superheats processor. Id rather spend money on a macbook air.
Sign In or Register to comment.