Apple's A6 processor could be company's first custom-designed CPU core

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
A report on on Saturday reveals Apple's new A6 processor is actually the company's first attempt at designing a custom ARMv7 core, possibly debunking earlier claims that the silicon was using ARM's A9 or A15 Cortex designs.

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 5 on Wednesday, not much divulged in the way of technical specifications, including the exact nature and build of the new A6 processor powering the device. Some, including the well-versed Anand Shimpi from AnandTech, speculated that the chip was using ARM Cortex A15 processor cores, the next-generation of ARM architecture that has yet to be seen in a consumer device.

In a follow-up report, Shimpi has reportedly unearthed fresh evidence to support the idea that the A6 is "first Apple SoC to use its own ARMv7 based processor design." He goes on to say the CPU core, or cores, are not based on ARM's A9 or A15 designs, but "are something of Apple's own creation."

"It turns out I was wrong. But pleasantly surprised," Shimpi writes.

A6


In coming to the conclusion that Apple custom designed the SoC's core, Shimpi whittled down the possibilities by delving into Apple's Xcode 4.5 development toolkit, comparing and contrasting certain features. He notes the newest version of Xcode dropped support for the ARMv6 instruction set architecture (ISA) used by the ARM11 core in Apple's original iPhone and second-generation iPhone 3G, while keeping support for the ARMv7 ISA used by current ARM cores. The software also added support for a new architecture designed to integrate with the A6's ARMv7s.

Shimpi goes into the technicalities associated with using the various ARM cores, including which compilers offer certain VFP version support, and came to the conclusion that Apple decided to go with either ARM's Cortex A9 or Cortex A15.

"For unpublishable reasons, I knew the A6 SoC wasn't based on ARM's Cortex A9, but I immediately assumed that the only other option was the Cortex A15," he said. "I foolishly cast aside the other major possibility: an Apple developed ARMv7 processor core."

Giving further clues to a custom-built core is Apple's claim that the A6 offers twice the performance of last year's A5 SoC with added bonus of extended battery life, a feat that cannot be accomplished by simply moving to Samsung's 32nm process. Samsung is responsible for the fabrication of the A-series processors, not the chips' design.

As for the A6 GPU, Shimpi believes Apple is using a higher clocked PowerVR SGX 543MP3 unit with a two 32-bit LPDDR2 memory interface.

While it is still unclear how many cores the A6 employs, a more detailed view of the processor's internal structure should be revealed next week when the iPhone 5 hits store shelves.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 62
    [QUOTE]"For unpublishable reasons, I knew the A6 SoC wasn't based on ARM's Cortex A9, but I immediately assumed that the only other option was the Cortex A15," he said. "I foolishly cast aside the other major possibility: an Apple developed ARMv7 processor core."[/QUOTE]

    You fool! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
  • Reply 2 of 62
    Well at least now the fandroids can have their "A15 first!!!" conceit back. It's important for their self-esteem.
  • Reply 3 of 62
    xrcxxrcx Posts: 117member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post



    Well at least now the fandroids can have their "A15 first!!!" conceit back. It's important for their self-esteem.


    Id really like more info on what the A6 actually is, if not the A15 id love to know what apple did, seems kind of odd that they didn't make mention of customizing it themselves, they are usually quick to pat themselves on the back for design work.

  • Reply 4 of 62


    When the halo settled the last few days, logic settled in to say if Samsung isn't pushing out A15s until the end of the year for themselves how were they pumping out millions for someone else? These kinds of designs take a long time. Wild guess suggests something like Qualcomm's S4; mostly an A15, but not quite.

  • Reply 5 of 62


    Told you it wasnt A15


     


    Samsung is going to be the first or perhaps Meizu as it supplies them with their Exynos chips.

  • Reply 6 of 62
    xrcx wrote: »
    Id really like more info on what the A6 actually is, if not the A15 id love to know what apple did, seems kind of odd that they didn't make mention of customizing it themselves, they are usually quick to pat themselves on the back for design work.

    You didn't watch the keynote presentation when Phil Schiller had the A6 slide up, did you?
  • Reply 7 of 62
    xrcxxrcx Posts: 117member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post





    You didn't watch the keynote presentation when Phil Schiller had the A6 slide up, did you?


    I, infact, did not =P

  • Reply 8 of 62
    It's not everyday that Anand is so off about CPUs. It seems obvious to me that Apple would not millions of A15-based chips ready to go for a shipping product on September 21st when the company that actually manufacture them aren't even getting them in low-volume products yet. I don't see how he didn't consider a Krait-like alternative. He did say he didn't think Apple's prowess in this department was good enough but when faced with a 2x A9 option yet with better battery life without a hugely larger battery and A15 the only options I see are that Apple is lying (which they have no history of for such claims) or that they are using a Krait-like solution.


    "When you have eliminated the impossible , whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." ~Sir Authur Conan Doyle
  • Reply 9 of 62
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member
    From what I've read the S4 isn't A15 either. It's supposed to be SIMILAR to A15. At least that is what I read. But the S4 has older GPUs which don't make them that great.

    Krait has different variations, they range from A5 on up. depending on which design they use. But the name Krait doesn't necessarily mean A15 cores.

    The Exynos that they are using in the S III is supposed to be an A9 design, not A15.

    There are different Exynos chip designs.

    THe other thing is that Samsung is shipping product, depending on the market, both Exynos AND S4's. At least that's according to wikipedia, which is VERY detailed on the specs of the S III components.

    Now, there are lots of people with the S III that have constant charging issues. My friend has one and she has to charge it several times a day. Maybe because of widget, animation background, brightness level, etc. and it runs fairly hot. I've also seen pictures of blown up S III's, whether it was induced outside of normal use or not.
  • Reply 10 of 62
    drblank wrote: »
    From what I've read the S4 isn't A15 either. It's supposed to be SIMILAR to A15. At least that is what I read. But the S4 has older GPUs which don't make them that great.
    Krait has different variations, they range from A5 on up. depending on which design they use. But the name Krait doesn't necessarily mean A15 cores.
    The Exynos that they are using in the S III is supposed to be an A9 design, not A15.
    There are different Exynos chip designs.
    THe other thing is that Samsung is shipping product, depending on the market, both Exynos AND S4's. At least that's according to wikipedia, which is VERY detailed on the specs of the S III components.
    Now, there are lots of people with the S III that have constant charging issues. My friend has one and she has to charge it several times a day. Maybe because of widget, animation background, brightness level, etc. and it runs fairly hot. I've also seen pictures of blown up S III's, whether it was induced outside of normal use or not.

    You are correct. However, you should expect the same people claiming that custom chip was the first A15 core on the market to now come back and laugh and say the A6 does not count because it is a custom core. (even if , like the s4, it supports the A15 instruction set).
  • Reply 11 of 62

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post



    Well at least now the fandroids can have their "A15 first!!!" conceit back. It's important for their self-esteem.


     


    Maybe, but now they might have to concede that Apple actually invents their own stuff. What could be worse for an Apple hater than to find out Apple engineered their own processor?

  • Reply 12 of 62

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post





    You fool! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


    "NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!


    Our chief weapon is surprise...


    surprise and fear...


    fear and surprise....


    Our two weapons are fear and surprise...


    and ruthless efficiency....


    Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency..


    and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope....


    Our four...no...


    Amongst our weapons....


    Amongst our weaponry...


    are such elements as fear, surprise....


    I'll come in again."

  • Reply 13 of 62
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member
    Yeah, I think the GPU is where Apple is also focusing on speed, since a lot of what is going on is GPU intensive. Doesn't Apple use a company's GPU design that's supposed to be some rather intense GPU design? I think that is what was going on when they did the EA demo wasn't it?

    The S4 is supposed to be SIMILAR to the A15, but technically NOT A15.

    Either way, it's funny because the bottom line, if the A6 can render graphics in a game simulation app that EA had and they said it is approaching gaming consoles and they are the only one's doing that in a smartphone, then WTF?

    call it a A1 or A100000, it's still a more powerful chip based on the game demo they performed. Either way, it doesn't matter in the end to the user. It's just that the Android users are trying to cut down Apple any time they can, because they are afraid of admitting that Android sucks as a platform.

    The difference I see is that since Apple didn't want to use things like widgets, animated background, flash and other stupid things that Android uses to requires a LOT of overhead, Apple just is using the processor/RAM, battery more efficiently and what the chip is doesn't really matter. I hate it when the only thing people can talk about it how many cores or what clock speed makes one product better than another.

    Bottom line, does it work? Is it easy to use? Does it overheat? Does it have good battery life? Is it reliable? etc. What the specs of the chips almost don't matter because it boils down to how efficient the OS and application code is at doing it's job.

    Android users should only compare Android products amongst other Android products. Windows users should only compare Windows products, and Apple users should compare Apple products with other Apple products.

    Decide which platform based on if you can run the apps you want to run, if the OS is easy to use, easy to maintain and the company that sells the hardware/software makes good products and supports it well, etc.

    What Apple, Windows, Android requires to run properly is different from OS to OS, version to version and what code is being run to determine how efficient it is.

    I'm sure if an Android user didn't use widgets, animation background, a simple GUI and didn't install Flash, it would run better on less of a processor.
  • Reply 14 of 62
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member
    Other things i've noticed.

    1. Samscum is also trying to push Micro SD as upgradeable storage. Since when did Micro SD Flash become as fast as SSD? My gut feeling is that Samscum has a BIG warehouse in Korea with a boat load of this MicroSD cards sitting around collecting dust and they figured most consumers are stupid and they can pawn that off as a means to "UPGRADE STORAGE" to 64G to make it LESS EXPENSIVE than a 64G iPhone. I talked to a AT
  • Reply 15 of 62
    hmmhmm Posts: 3,405member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by drblank View Post



    Other things i've noticed.

    1. Samscum is also trying to push Micro SD as upgradeable storage. Since when did Micro SD Flash become as fast as SSD? My gut feeling is that Samscum has a BIG warehouse in Korea with a boat load of this MicroSD cards sitting around collecting dust and they figured most consumers are stupid and they can pawn that off as a means to "UPGRADE STORAGE" to 64G to make it LESS EXPENSIVE than a 64G iPhone. I talked to a AT


    You're missing many facts here, and the semantics are really unnecessary. What you don't seem to understand is that the NAND storage of the iphone does not in any way compare to the performance of what most people think of as an SSD. If we assume an SSD refers to a notebook class device, you won't find it in a phone. Micro SD [s]should be on par with what is available to the iphone[/s] is close enough for bulk storage. I remember Micro SD being around 15 MB/s write. Both are a far stretch from what we think of as SSDs. Take a look at the Anandtech review. This was the 4s, but the NAND found in phones will not perform at the level of the SATA drives in your macbook pros and airs. It won't even compare favorably with notebook class HDDs. Power consumption is most likely a much bigger concern than absolute performance for these kinds of devices.


     


     


    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4971/apple-iphone-4s-review-att-verizon/4


     


  • Reply 16 of 62

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by xRCx View Post


    Id really like more info on what the A6 actually is, if not the A15 id love to know what apple did, seems kind of odd that they didn't make mention of customizing it themselves, they are usually quick to pat themselves on the back for design work.



     


    Apple bought a company a while back that was making highly power-efficient ARM chips for the federal government/military. (I can't recall the name of the company) Anyway, the idea was, at the time, that Apple was laying the ground for highly portable devices in the future. My suspicion is that we may see Apple widening the gap with the competition on having more power-efficient iDevices in the near future. The A6 could be the first conservative move in this direction. 

  • Reply 17 of 62
    Apple bought a company a while back that was making highly power-efficient ARM chips for the federal government/military. (I can't recall the name of the company) Anyway, the idea was, at the time, that Apple was laying the ground for highly portable devices in the future. My suspicion is that we may see Apple widening the gap with the competition on having more power-efficient iDevices in the near future. The A6 could be the first conservative move in this direction. 

    It was P.A. Semi and they were actively developing Power PC chips at the time, but they were laying the groundwork. Clearly that investment is paying off.
  • Reply 18 of 62

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by hmm View Post


    You're missing many facts here, and the semantics are really unnecessary. What you don't seem to understand is that the NAND storage of the iphone does not in any way compare to the performance of what most people think of as an SSD. If we assume an SSD refers to a notebook class device, you won't find it in a phone. Micro SD should be on par with what is available to the iphone. Take a look at the Anandtech review. This was the 4s, but the NAND found in phones will not perform at the level of the SATA drives in your macbook pros and airs. It won't even compare favorably with notebook class HDDs. Power consumption is most likely a much bigger concern than absolute performance for these kinds of devices. Perhaps next time you could post something that doesn't make you look like an imbecile?



     


    I enjoy reading various points of view and reading corrections to some statements that may be in error. Thank you for doing so. However, you were rather harsh in your last sentence and I don't think that makes for a good interchange of ideas.

  • Reply 19 of 62
    hmmhmm Posts: 3,405member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Macky the Macky View Post


     


    I enjoy reading various points of view and reading corrections to some statements that may be in error. Thank you for doing so. However, you were rather harsh in your last sentence and I don't think that makes for a good interchange of ideas.





    I was annoyed by the semantics. Those things always irritate me. Note that I removed it a couple minutes later.


     


    Also I apparently didn't do the strikethrough properly.

  • Reply 20 of 62
    hmm wrote: »
    You're missing many facts here, and the semantics are really unnecessary. What you don't seem to understand is that the NAND storage of the iphone does not in any way compare to the performance of what most people think of as an SSD. If we assume an SSD refers to a notebook class device, you won't find it in a phone. Micro SD should be on par with what is available to the iphone. Take a look at the Anandtech review. This was the 4s, but the NAND found in phones will not perform at the level of the SATA drives in your macbook pros and airs. It won't even compare favorably with notebook class HDDs. Power consumption is most likely a much bigger concern than absolute performance for these kinds of devices. Perhaps next time you could post something that doesn't make you look like an imbecile?

    I enjoy reading various points of view and reading corrections to some statements that may be in error. Thank you for doing so. However, you were rather harsh in your last sentence and I don't think that makes for a good interchange of ideas.

    Speed, reliability and service life issues aside -- I find micro SD cards are antithetical to the concept of a "grab and go always with you" smart phone.
    1. Do the cards protrude from the phone when in use -- snagging on pockets?
    2. Do you need a special phone case to accommodate a protruding card?
    3. Where do you put them and their individual little cases when you are on the go -- do you need a separate bag or case for the SD cards?
    4. How do you keep track of what data/content/apps are on which SD card -- do you need to carry and maintain index cards or somesuch?
    5. How do you manage/move/delete the contents from card to card

    I find the whole process too "fiddley" -- too much busy work and another thing to clutter your mind and pockets.
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