First look inside Apple's new iPhone 5 A6 chip appears to show 3 GPUs, 2 CPUs

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Apple's new iPhone 5 A6 chip appears to have 3 GPUs, 2 CPUs

The first inside look at Apple's custom A6 system on chip application processor has revealed "a very unique processor design" with what appears to be 3 graphics processor cores and dual custom CPU cores.

The first internal images of the new chip's layout, released by TechInsights, shows three "easily identifiable" GPUs cores, although the firm noted that "Apple may have used a 'big-little' approach and gone with either a flexible 4th core or a smaller one."

The chip also appears to use dual general purpose ARM cores, although it is known that Apple didn't use either of ARM's stock Cortex-A8 or Cortex-A15 designs. Instead, Apple developed its own custom variant optimized for its own uses.

A6 internal design


A6 back

Origins of ARM

ARM has served as a processor IP design firm for decades since being founded as a collaboration between Apple, the British Acorn and California chip maker VLSI in the early 1990s to adapt Acorn's RISC chip for use in mobile devices (specifically targeting Apple's 1994 Newton Message Pad).

Ever since, ARM has licensed its processor designs to third parties to fabricate. Some licensees only have rights to build ARM's existing designs, but Apple acquired the rights to develop custom versions of ARM's CPU core technologies in obtaining "a long-term architecture license to ARM's current and future technology for use in mobile computing,"

Along with ARM's CPU cores, Apple also secretly inked a "multi-use licensing agreement" with Imagination Technologies in 2007, giving it access to the firm's "next generation graphics and video IP cores."

In early 2008, AppleInsider was the first to report that the "international electronics systems company" making these secret deals was, in fact, Apple.

A is for Apple

Critics scoffed at the idea that Apple could develop its own custom chips, ignoring its series of chip design acquisitions and the increasing sophistication and customization apparent in its A-series chips to suggest that the company has really only been putting its brand name on Samsung's chip designs.

All of Apple's A-series chips to date have all been manufactured by Samsung, which is one of the world's few highly sophisticated chip fabricators capable of producing the large numbers of chips Apple needs to power the tens of millions of iPods, iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and AirPort base stations it sells every quarter.

While Apple began using Samsung-built 8900B application processors in its first two generations of iPhone, it shifted to a series of "APL" chips in 2008 and 2009.

Apple's A-series chips


Apple's acquisition of PA Semi in 2008, followed by its purchase of Intrinsity in 2010 enabled the company to deliver a series of increasingly customized application processor chips for iOS devices. The original iPad shipped with the first SoC Apple branded with its own "A4" moniker.

The company's A-series chips incorporate processor cores based on IP from both ARM and Imagination, along with other customizations, such as the on-chip integration of Audience EarSmart noise reduction technology in last year's A5, which provided the hardware powering the iPhone 4S' Siri feature.

Apple has since apparently created its own noise reduction technology as it continues to optimize its designs.

Will Apple abandon Samsung?

In a previous report, UBM TechInsights noted that, "where the A6 is being fabricated was also a mystery."

While it said that "an early analysis of the die markings of the A6 reveal markings that are similar to the Samsung markings found in the A4 and A5 processors," it also noted that the very small overall size of the new chip suggested a move to a much smaller manufacturing process, potentially in a partnership with rival chip fab TSMC.



In taking a closer look at the chip, the firm is now confident in saying that "the markings show it is Samsung and the die itself is 95.04 sq mm in area."

That's much smaller than the 165 sq mm A5X used in the new iPad, which incorporates quad core graphics and dual core CPUs, or the 122.6 sq mm dual core A5 used in last year's iPhone 4S and iPad 2.

Making chips smaller helps contribute to their power efficiency (shorter distances for electrons to travel) and cost (uses less silicon), but also requires more exacting technology.

UBM TechInsights also noted that on the iPhone 5 it examined, Apple had used 32GB of NAND storage flash memory from SanDisk and 1GB of system "processor on package" memory (integrated onto the A6) from Elpida. While Apple commonly sources components like RAM from multiple companies, the fact that Apple isn't even using Samsung memory on the Samsung built A6 hints at efforts Apple is making to diversify its business away from Samsung.

This summer, Apple revealed in a lawsuit against Samsung evidence showing that Samsung's chip making unit had developed a report showing how the company's phone unit could easily copy Apple's hardware designs, followed by internal reports within the company's phone unit that documented efforts to solve the firms "crisis of design" in a three month effort to duplicate the iPhone as closely as possible.

Samsung has since tried to promote the idea that its chip manufacturing business is protected by a " strict internal firewall" that prevents similar improprieties involving corporate espionage and the cloning of its own customers' products by other parts of the Korean conglomerate's vast business dealings, but it appears Apple is equally as ready to abandon its partnerships wherever possible with Samsung as it is to separate itself from Google.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36


    The Next Big Thing Is Already Here:


    Galax....


    oh wait,

     


    "iPhone 5 Benchmarked: The Fastest Smartphone in the Land" (pcmag.com)


    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2410034,00.asp

  • Reply 2 of 36
    Doesn't the 3rd gen iPad use quad core graphics in the A5X?
  • Reply 3 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mac-user View Post


    The Next Big Thing Is Already Here:


    Galax....


    oh wait,

     


    "iPhone 5 Benchmarked: The Fastest Smartphone in the Land" (pcmag.com)


    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2410034,00.asp



     


    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 


     



    1. Why?


    2. Do you believe this to be a fair comparison?


     


    That aside, odd-core layouts have gained some prominence for power-saving capabilities--for example, running one "little" core for rather idle jobs, such as rendering the "desktop", and starting additional cores when more power is needed. Nvidia does this in some of the Tegra family SoCs. 

  • Reply 4 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Shidell View Post


    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 



     


    Well Samsung already did that....

  • Reply 5 of 36
    Arguing with iSheep is like arguing with Republicans. Instead of using facts and reasons, they make arguments like the one below. Any reasonable person knows that newer phones are faster and more powerful than older phones.

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Shidell View Post

     

    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 

     

    1. Why?
    2. Do you believe this to be a fair comparison?

     

    That aside, odd-core layouts have gained some prominence for power-saving capabilities--for example, running one "little" core for rather idle jobs, such as rendering the "desktop", and starting additional cores when more power is needed. Nvidia does this in some of the Tegra family SoCs. 

  • Reply 6 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Waverunnr View Post


    Arguing with iSheep is like arguing with Republicans. Instead of using facts and reasons, they make arguments like the one below. Any reasonable person knows that newer phones are faster and more powerful than older phones.


     



    Arguing with iSheep is like arguing with Republicans and Democrats. Instead of using facts and reasons, they make arguments like the one below. Any reasonable person knows that newer phones are faster and more powerful than older phones.


     


    -- There, I fixed it for you.  Yeesh!

  • Reply 7 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Shidell View Post


     


    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 


     



    1. Why?


    2. Do you believe this to be a fair comparison?



    I was quoting Sammy's latest advertisement. Btw, should we compare it with what? vaporwares?

  • Reply 8 of 36
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Waverunnr View Post


    Arguing with iSheep is like arguing with Republicans. Instead of using facts and reasons, they make arguments like the one below. Any reasonable person knows that newer phones are faster and more powerful than older phones.


     



     


    I don't think you understand the term "iSheep."  It's a derogatory term used by teenagers to refer to the exact opposite of what this poster was saying.  

  • Reply 9 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mac-user View Post


    The Next Big Thing Is Already Here:


    Galax....


    oh wait,

     


    "iPhone 5 Benchmarked: The Fastest Smartphone in the Land" (pcmag.com)


    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2410034,00.asp



     


    Hm.. I thought spec / benchmarks don't matter for you Apple people?

  • Reply 10 of 36
    Impressive no other phone maker will be able to math this phone weight thiness battery life on LTE. Sure therapy will at it performance wise with quadcore devices but they will be heavy, not as thin and power hungry.

    By the way iPhone 5 already jail broken;

    http://www.iphonehacks.com/2012/09/iphone-5-jailbroken.html
  • Reply 11 of 36


    Originally Posted by tooltalk View Post

    Hm.. I thought spec / benchmarks don't matter for you Apple people?




    Funny how they don't matter to you when you're not winning. 

  • Reply 12 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Shidell View Post


     


    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 


     



    1. Why?


    2. Do you believe this to be a fair comparison?


     


    That aside, odd-core layouts have gained some prominence for power-saving capabilities--for example, running one "little" core for rather idle jobs, such as rendering the "desktop", and starting additional cores when more power is needed. Nvidia does this in some of the Tegra family SoCs. 



     


    The Galaxy S3 was not released a year ago, it was released a quarter before iPhone 5 in June by AT&T (and is still being launched as a new phone by other carriers).


     


    The Google/Motorola RAZR M, the other phone compared against the iPhone 5 by that report, was released a few days ago on the 15. 


     


    That's why PC mag called the two phones the "top Android smartphones."


     


    So a better question is why are you portraying new phones as "a year old"? Is it because they ship with outdated software or will never be updated? 

  • Reply 13 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by tooltalk View Post


     


    Hm.. I thought spec / benchmarks don't matter for you Apple people?



     


    It's important when the difference is meaningful, as it was in 2009 with the iPhone 3GS vs Palm Pre, or the 2010 dual core iPad 2 A5 vs the RIM PlayBook, or the A6 vs stuff that was calling itself faster but really wasn't, including the "we've got lots of cores" Samsung contingent and the "we've got lots of GHz" Intel camp. 


     


    Being faster is, actually, more important that meaningless spec numbers that aren't offering any real improvement to their users.

  • Reply 14 of 36
    shidell wrote: »
    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 
    1. Why?
    2. Do you believe this to be a fair comparison?

    That aside, odd-core layouts have gained some prominence for power-saving capabilities--for example, running one "little" core for rather idle jobs, such as rendering the "desktop", and starting additional cores when more power is needed. Nvidia does this in some of the Tegra family SoCs. 
    I don't like calling people idiots, but in this case it's justified.

    Official announcement of GS3 was May 3rd, 2012. It was available in Europe on May 29th. That means in 8 days from today on Sep 29th it would have been out for only 4 months.

    How in the hell can you claim the GS3 is year old? I guess trolls can't do math.

    As to the cores, Apple doesn't do Nvidias "hack" of a low power companion core to save power. They don't need to as their processor architecture is designed from the ground up to be power efficient. And they don't need 12 cores like the Tegra 3 to do graphics - they can beat it with only 2.
  • Reply 15 of 36


    Nice to see a little bit on the history of ARM as former Acorn A3010 owner - amazing what that 12MHz ARM250 CPU was capable of back in the day :)


     


    Acorn Computers itself now long gone and sadly missed but it's nice to see part of it still alive and slowly taking over the world... 

  • Reply 16 of 36
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,949member
    OK, so what's the defining point of A1, A2 and A3? Is it just arbitrary? Like how the sixth model of the iPhone is iPhone 5?
  • Reply 17 of 36
    If you are intel and you know this year might be the first time tablets will out sell pc/laptops and you see what the chips are doing on phones you are scare sh*tless. In 3 years what will be your unit sold number?
  • Reply 18 of 36


    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

    OK, so what's the defining point of A1, A2 and A3? Is it just arbitrary?


     


    The first three may have been chips that Apple built in-house to test their abilities that were never released. I don't see how starting with 4 makes sense otherwise, but what do I know about counting? I still only use numbers. image

  • Reply 19 of 36

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Corrections View Post


     


    The Galaxy S3 was not released a year ago, it was released a quarter before iPhone 5 in June by AT&T (and is still being launched as a new phone by other carriers).


     


    The Google/Motorola RAZR M, the other phone compared against the iPhone 5 by that report, was released a few days ago on the 15. 


     


    That's why PC mag called the two phones the "top Android smartphones."


     


    So a better question is why are you portraying new phones as "a year old"? Is it because they ship with outdated software or will never be updated? 



     


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post





    I don't like calling people idiots, but in this case it's justified.

    Official announcement of GS3 was May 3rd, 2012. It was available in Europe on May 29th. That means in 8 days from today on Sep 29th it would have been out for only 4 months.

    How in the hell can you claim the GS3 is year old? I guess trolls can't do math.

    As to the cores, Apple doesn't do Nvidias "hack" of a low power companion core to save power. They don't need to as their processor architecture is designed from the ground up to be power efficient. And they don't need 12 cores like the Tegra 3 to do graphics - they can beat it with only 2.


     


    I assumed he meant the Galaxy Nexus, which I'd choose over the S3. I suppose with all the recent news, we should all be in the S3 mindset.

  • Reply 20 of 36
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    shidell wrote: »
    So you're comparing a phone that was released today to a phone that was released a year ago? 
    1. Why?
    2. Do you believe this to be a fair comparison?

    That aside, odd-core layouts have gained some prominence for power-saving capabilities--for example, running one "little" core for rather idle jobs, such as rendering the "desktop", and starting additional cores when more power is needed. Nvidia does this in some of the Tegra family SoCs. 

    Maybe because those are the fastest Android phones on the market today?
    Or maybe because those are the phones that many people are claiming are so superior to the iPhone 5?
    Or maybe because Samsung used the SIII for comparison (ignoring, of course, the fact that Samsung lied in their ad when they claimed that the SIII had both quad core and 2 GB of RAM. In the real world, the different versions have one OR the other, not both).

    What you you have PC Mag compare the iPhone 5 to?

    The Galaxy S3 was not released a year ago, it was released a quarter before iPhone 5 in June by AT&T (and is still being launched as a new phone by other carriers).

    The Google/Motorola RAZR M, the other phone compared against the iPhone 5 by that report, was released a few days ago on the 15. 

    That's why PC mag called the two phones the "top Android smartphones."

    So a better question is why are you portraying new phones as "a year old"? Is it because they ship with outdated software or will never be updated? 

    Obviously because the trolls have nothing more than a nodding acquaintance with the truth.
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