Intrinsity likely powers Apple's A4 iPad processor

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Additional evidence has surfaced which indicates Apple purchased privately held chip designer Intrinsity in order to deliver iPad's fast A4 processor.



Corroborating the findings Appleinsider published at the beginning of April, a new report by IEEE's Spectrum indicates that Apple did indeed buy Intrinsity to speed up the design of ARM chips used in its mobile devices.



While there has been speculation that Apple designed the A4 in-house using either its own ASIC design team or the expertise it acquired from PA Semi, the report notes that "designing a CPU usually takes two to three years?making it unlikely that the PA Semi engineers created the iPad chip in the time they?ve been with Apple."



Additionally, the report cited market analyst Will Strauss of Forward Concepts in Tempe, Arizona as pointing out that Qualcomm spent three years and $300 million developing "Snapdragon," an ARM Cortex A8 processor design capable of running at 1GHz. The standard Cortex A8 design can only be clocked up to 650MHz.



"There?s nothing in the quarterly statements from Apple indicating they spent that kind of money or time" to develop a similarly fast, independent version of the Cortex A8 design.



The only other company with chip acceleration technology similar to Qualcomm's was Intrinsity, which dubbed its version of the Cortex A8 capable of running at 1GHz "Hummingbird." While Apple could have simply bought up a large number of Hummingbird devices (which are designed by Intrinsity and built by Samsung), the fact that Apple referred to the iPad's chip as being "the A4" and an Apple design leaves little doubt that Apple simply acquired Intrinsity and its Hummingbird chip technology.



?Actually, there?s no speculation,? Strauss said in the report. ?It?s only the Intrinsity folks who could have taken it up to a gigahertz. Period.?



While Apple isn't talking about the acquisition, Intrinsity employees are now listed as Apple employees, and Spectrum reported that Intrinsity officials referred it to a press spokesman at Apple for additional comment. Apple declined to comment.



From Exponential to Intrinsity



Apple's acquisition of Intrinsity would be an interesting turn of events, as the company was founded in 1997 from remnants of the implosion of Exponential Technology. Exponential spent the mid 1990s working to develop a blazing fast version of the PowerPC processor for Apple's Macs, an experiment that ultimately could not deliver all of its expected results.



Once Motorola convinced Apple to stick with its roadmap for PowerPC, Exponential focused on selling its fast PowerPC chips to cloners Power Computing and UMAX. When Apple terminated its Mac cloning program, Exponential ran out of potential customers and closed in 1997. The Exponential design team began working under the name EVSX, and then changed its name to Intrinsity in 2000.



Since then, the Austin, Texas firm has developed a suite of design tools called "Fast14" to design dynamic logic that can accelerate clock speeds greater than is possible with static designs. Intrinsity has developed a series of accelerated ARM, MIPS and Power Architecture cores under the brand "FastCores." Last summer, Intrinsity announced its collaboration with Samsung to deliver its 1GHz implementation of the ARM Coretex A8. Apple appears to have officially acquired the company at the start of April 2010, just weeks before releasing iPad.



PA Semi plus Intrinsity



An acquisition of Intensity would also mirror the history of Apple's purchase of PA Semi. That company similarly invested significant efforts into speeding up PowerPC chips in the early 2000s, with the expectation of earning Apple as a key customer. However, Apple subsequently announced a transition to Intel in 2005, leaving PA Semi without a primary customer for its fast new PWRficient processors.



After PA Semi developed a new market for its efficient, high speed processors, Apple returned to acquire PA Semi in April 2008, expressly for the purpose of accelerating ARM chips for its mobile devices. Despite some speculation that it might return to using PowerPC chips in its Macs, Apple subsequently dismantled PA Semi's PWRficient business.



The fruits of Apple's new developments with PA Semi are not likely to ripen until 2011, leaving Apple with an urgent need for short term acceleration of ARM processor cores that could make its iPad and fourth generation iPhone fast enough to be compelling to users. It appears the company solved that problem by buying up Intrinsity.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    "Collaborating the findings Appleinsider..."



    I think you meant "Corroborating the findings Appleinsider..."
  • Reply 2 of 31
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,989member
    "GrammarCop"... heh, heh. Love it.



    In other news, Apple is seriously beefing up their IP warchest in the chip design area. Although as we've seen some of the ex-PA Semi guys leave to start-up their own new business, Apple's Borg-like absorption of the best and brightest continues. Keep it up, Team Apple!
  • Reply 3 of 31
    Good to see another Austin based tech firm succeed. Austin, TX - little Silicon Valley.
  • Reply 4 of 31
    cincyteecincytee Posts: 260member
    Thanks GrammarCop; just beat me to it!
  • Reply 5 of 31
    So, is my first iPhone going to have this type of processor??? Please!!!



    A couple more months and I'll know...
  • Reply 6 of 31
    O, wood luv 2 c aapl buy ARM as well and dominate in this area.



    (take that GrammarCop)
  • Reply 7 of 31
    ozexigeozexige Posts: 215member
    OK, that's all well and good, it's a great combo, the A4 coupled with a PowerVR SGX GPU runs at 1.0GHz.



    How the hell do they get 10 hrs outta this thing, it's amazing



    it's Magical?
  • Reply 8 of 31
    ozexigeozexige Posts: 215member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    "GrammarCop"... heh, heh. Love it.



    In other news, Apple is seriously beefing up their IP warchest in the chip design area. Although as we've seen some of the ex-PA Semi guys leave to start-up their own new business, Apple's Borg-like absorption of the best and brightest continues. Keep it up, Team Apple!



    hehe, gotta love those Borg
  • Reply 9 of 31
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,255member
    Well Apple certainly is developing a dream team of

    engineers to work on mobile processing design.



    Kind of makes you think they are going to buy ARM themselves.

    Oh wait
  • Reply 10 of 31
    "An acquisition of Intensity would"



    typo. Intensity not acquired. Intrinsity.



    Although, maybe their name meant intensive intrinsics.
  • Reply 11 of 31
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,507member
    This is now old news. Still, it's good news. Coupled with ARM, which Apple was an original partner, with Acorn(?). It's back in the fold.



    So, over to the next thread.
  • Reply 12 of 31
    jmmxjmmx Posts: 341member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    "GrammarCop"... heh, heh. Love it.




    It is not grammar - it is simply the wrong word.
  • Reply 13 of 31
    jmmxjmmx Posts: 341member
    There is talk that the A4 is actually a PPC dual core, not ARM at all. If that is the case, then they could have used existing PA Semi designs with modifications.



    One thing is clear - Apple wants to differentiate itself on hardware speed + efficiency.
  • Reply 14 of 31
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,255member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jmmx View Post


    There is talk that the A4 is actually a PPC dual core, not ARM at all. If that is the case, then they could have used existing PA Semi designs with modifications.



    One thing is clear - Apple wants to differentiate itself on hardware speed + efficiency.





    http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconduct...ty-in-the-ipad



    Quote:

    ?Actually, there?s no speculation,? market analyst Will Strauss, from Tempe, Ariz.?based Forward Concepts, says of the Hummingbird-iPad claim. ?It?s only the Intrinsity folks who could have taken it up to a gigahertz. Period.?





    Strauss, one of a number of industry analysts who have made the case that Hummingbird powers the iPad, points to the fact that X-ray photography and analysis by reverse-engineering firm Chipworks have confirmed that the iPad runs on some version of the single-core A8 processor.



  • Reply 15 of 31
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,507member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jmmx View Post


    There is talk that the A4 is actually a PPC dual core, not ARM at all. If that is the case, then they could have used existing PA Semi designs with modifications.



    One thing is clear - Apple wants to differentiate itself on hardware speed + efficiency.



    No there isn't any talk about that. One person speculated about that tongue in cheek. Nothing serious.
  • Reply 16 of 31
    gotta love these late night posts, troll free! wooo!
  • Reply 17 of 31
    t0mat0t0mat0 Posts: 58member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    No there isn't any talk about that. One person speculated about that tongue in cheek. Nothing serious.



    Technomicon made a decent case to say it wasn't ARM. vs e.g. John Stokes Ars Technica article - the A4 isn't a Cortex A9, but simply a single core A8 - http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/20...pads-brain.ars



    I don't see this AI article as really describing how you have to rule out the PA6T being the basis of the A4 (and likely other family member for the 4th gen iPhone). There seems to be a clinging of the notion by Eran, and others that the A4 is ARM-based. Why? Has this been proven?

    http://www.technomicon.com/iPad_Saga..._6_p_2I42.html



    Why not Power Architecture? As noted in the above article:



    Quote:

    In September 2009, IBM announced a PPC 476 32 bit core for embedded SOC applications that dissipates just 1.6 W at 1.6 GHz, so I have to believe that the PA semi design would perform even better using the 45 nm process



    So Apple's had PowerPC experience, nearly went with PA Semi over Intel before, has now bought PA Semi, and has also bought Intrinsity, which has dealt with amongst other things, Power Architecture...

    So now they're going to go with ARM Cortex?



    Even if you look at the chip, isn't there a discrepancy about transistor numbers when comparing to Cortex A8/A9?

    Can we rule out it's an A8 first? And are there any other Cortex A9 chips in production yet? OMAP-44X? Next Gen Tegra? EMMA Movile EV? Is the assumption it's A9 just because people can't think it'd be otherwise?



    What's to stop Apple using Power Architecture, and simulating ARM for now? Do we know the Snapdragon is even Cortex-A9 based (has ARM or Qualcomm said this)?



    For a company that's done MOtorola 68000 to IBM PowerPC, then to Intel, then to ARM for the iPhone, is it that much of a stretch of the imagination WWDC 2010 will have an announcement on this?



    As the article notes, the PA6T at 1GHz, is 2x performance of the current iPhone 3GS processor. We have an Intel iPhone emulator, right?

    http://www.technomicon.com/iPad_Saga..._3_p_EG98.html



    I think it's worth a bet that we'll see a dual core processor based on PA6T with Apple dealing with the graphics. Maybe Mark Hibben got it wrong - but he's put up a much better case than - "It just is an ARM Cortex A9 ok"
  • Reply 18 of 31
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Looks like I was right on the money - sixteen days ago.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


    Why do people keep insisting Apple designed this chip? Their contribution is probably tiny, Just enough to allow them to stick their logo on it. It doesn't even have a © symbol on it.



    I think the A4 is really Just a repackaged Samsung Hummingbird processor.



    There is a rumour that Apple has just bought another ARM chip design company - Intrinsity.



    Intrinsity apparently designed the Hummingbird for Samsung. The A4 is manufactured by Samsung.



    The Hummingbird is the chip that will be powering Samsung's new smart phones, the i9000 S Galaxy and the S8500 Wave, except the Hummingbird in these phones actually has 512mb of RAM.



    Perhaps Apple's contribution to the A4 was to ask Samsung to drop half the RAM from the Hummingbird so they could put their logo on it and pretend it was a custom designed processor.



  • Reply 19 of 31
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,507member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by t0mat0 View Post


    Technomicon made a decent case to say it wasn't ARM. vs e.g. John Stokes Ars Technica article - the A4 isn't a Cortex A9, but simply a single core A8 - http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/20...pads-brain.ars



    It wasn't a serious argument, and then everyone got on their case about it.

    Quote:

    I don't see this AI article as really describing how you have to rule out the PA6T being the basis of the A4 (and likely other family member for the 4th gen iPhone). There seems to be a clinging of the notion by Eran, and others that the A4 is ARM-based. Why? Has this been proven?

    http://www.technomicon.com/iPad_Saga..._6_p_2I42.html



    Why not Power Architecture? As noted in the above article:







    So Apple's had PowerPC experience, nearly went with PA Semi over Intel before, has now bought PA Semi, and has also bought Intrinsity, which has dealt with amongst other things, Power Architecture...

    So now they're going to go with ARM Cortex?



    Even if you look at the chip, isn't there a discrepancy about transistor numbers when comparing to Cortex A8/A9?

    Can we rule out it's an A8 first? And are there any other Cortex A9 chips in production yet? OMAP-44X? Next Gen Tegra? EMMA Movile EV? Is the assumption it's A9 just because people can't think it'd be otherwise?



    What's to stop Apple using Power Architecture, and simulating ARM for now? Do we know the Snapdragon is even Cortex-A9 based (has ARM or Qualcomm said this)?



    For a company that's done MOtorola 68000 to IBM PowerPC, then to Intel, then to ARM for the iPhone, is it that much of a stretch of the imagination WWDC 2010 will have an announcement on this?



    As the article notes, the PA6T at 1GHz, is 2x performance of the current iPhone 3GS processor. We have an Intel iPhone emulator, right?

    http://www.technomicon.com/iPad_Saga..._3_p_EG98.html



    I think it's worth a bet that we'll see a dual core processor based on PA6T with Apple dealing with the graphics. Maybe Mark Hibben got it wrong - but he's put up a much better case than - "It just is an ARM Cortex A9 ok"



    You're speculating way too much. Its ARM, there's no question about that.
  • Reply 20 of 31
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jmmx View Post


    It is not grammar - it is simply the wrong word.



    GrammerCop was the name of the poster.
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