Teardown of Apple's A6 processor finds 1GB RAM with 2 CPU & 3 GPU cores

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
A closer look at Apple's new A6 processor found in the iPhone 5 has found that the system-on-a-chip includes two CPU cores, three graphics processing units, and a full gigabyte of RAM.

A6


The teardown of the A6 chip was conducted via a collaboration between Chipworks and iFixit. They used an ion blaster to remove layers of silicon and find out exactly what's inside Apple's custom-made chip.

Under a microscope, they found that the device has a gigabyte of Elpida LP DDR2 SDRAM. That same RAM is also used in the recently released Motorola Droid Razr Maxx.

A6


The A6 chip itself was fabricated by Samsung via their 32-nanometer CMOS process. It measures 9.70 by 9.97 millimeters.

Though the A6 was manufactured by Samsung, it is the first chip custom designed by Apple, based on the ARMv7s instruction set. Apple's first-ever complete control of the design allowed the company to customize the performance as they chose.

A6


Inside the A6, the most prominent features are the dual ARM cores and the three PowerVR graphics chips. Chipworks found that the ARM processors are laid out manually, which can result in faster processing speeds but is also more expensive and time consuming to develop.

"The manual layout of the ARM processor lends much credence to the rumor that Apple designed a custom processor of the same caliber as the all-new Cortex-A15, and it just might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years," iFixit said.

With their microscopes, Chipworks also took a look at who manufactures the cameras featured on the iPhone 5. They found that the rear 8-megapixel camera is manufactured by Sony, while the forward-facing FaceTime camera is built by Omnivision.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 60
    Ion blasting? Wow. Astonishing tear down.
  • Reply 2 of 60
    Yeah, this kind of teardown is so helpful for consumers (very sophisticated analysis), but I'm guessing Apple hates it. The telecommunications industry for years and years and years has been incredibly secretive about hardware specs, presumably on the basis that it slows down competitors.
  • Reply 3 of 60
    gregquinn wrote: »
    Yeah, this kind of teardown is so helpful for consumers (very sophisticated analysis), but I'm guessing Apple hates it. The telecommunications industry for years and years and years has been incredibly secretive about hardware specs, presumably on the basis that it slows down competitors.

    The competition can buy the device and simply do their own teardown but this makes that much easier.
  • Reply 4 of 60
    Based on this with 75% of the GPU cores (which may be faster than the iPad's GPU cores) the 4th gen iPad should be much thinner and lighter with a hybrid A9-A15-esque chip (if they don't go with a custom chip all based on A15) and the 32nm process.
  • Reply 5 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gregquinn View Post



    Yeah, this kind of teardown is so helpful for consumers (very sophisticated analysis), but I'm guessing Apple hates it. The telecommunications industry for years and years and years has been incredibly secretive about hardware specs, presumably on the basis that it slows down competitors.


     


    I'm sure competitors can do similar analysis.  In fact a key competitor actually built the chip.

  • Reply 6 of 60
    Ion blasting aka plasma etching
  • Reply 7 of 60
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    alandail wrote: »
    I'm sure competitors can do similar analysis.  In fact a key competitor actually built the chip.

    Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.
  • Reply 8 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post



    Based on this with 75% of the GPU cores (which may be faster than the iPad's GPU cores) the 4th gen iPad should be much thinner and lighter with a hybrid A9-A15-esque chip (if they don't go with a custom chip all based on A15) and the 32nm process.


    iPhone 5 doesn't need a quad core GPU, it's not pushing that many pixels in the display. It is faster at 266 vs 200 in the iPad.  You're right, iPad 2013 will probably be the A6, thinner (much like iPad 2), lightning connector, and a PowerVR Series 6 GPU. 

  • Reply 9 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post





    Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.


    Really? How do you figure? The Exynos processor designs are stolen from Apple too now??

  • Reply 10 of 60
    I was pleased to learn that the armv7s, as Apple calls the new chip architecture, includes a hardware divide instruction. This may explain the rather impressive benchmark results. It will certainly make optimizing our apps easier as this architecture is deployed across the entire iOS family of mobile products.
  • Reply 11 of 60
    I'll tell you one thing, that new iPhone 5 runs effing warm. I was at my local Apple store on Miami Beach yesterday toying with it. Pretty damn warm. It was also fast as hell!!!!!! They probably had that fast wifi in the store. Damn!
    And the phone took pictures as fast as I could press the button. Holy sh**!
    I'll get it soon but I have to cop a new pair of glasses first.
  • Reply 12 of 60
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,194member


    These people that keep rambling on about how Apple has become 'lazy' can just STFU now. This kind of custom design is no cakewalk, it takes an enormous amount of work and R&D to have customization to this level. Glad to know Apple cares enough to put in that kind of effort to get top efficiency and performance. 


     


     


     


    Quote:


    - When compared to the rigid, efficient layout of the GPU cores directly below it, the layout of the ARM cores looks a little homespun—at first. 



    - Generally, logic blocks are automagically laid out with the use of advanced computer software. However, it looks like the ARM core blocks were laid out manually—as in, by hand. 



    - A manual layout will usually result in faster processing speeds, but it is much more expensive and time consuming. 



    - The manual layout of the ARM processors lends much credence to the rumor that Apple designed a custom processor of the same caliber as the all-new Cortex-A15, and it just might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years.


  • Reply 13 of 60
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,982member
    What's interesting about this is that while they can tell what the obvious areas do, such as the CPU's, the GPU's, I/O, and a few other normal functions, that still leaves a good 40% of the chips functioning areas unexplained. There is no easy way to determine what the rest of the circuitry on the chip does. This has been a problem for these companies for years. This isn't the first chip Apple has worked on that's like that.

    Even last year, there was an area on the chip that no one could figure out, until Apple stated that they had designed their own photo processing circuits, similar in function to what Canon, Nikon, Sony and others use in their cameras, except simpler (it can use the rest of the chip for some of the processing power, which cameras can't.).

    We can be sure that there is a bunch of things this chip does that no one will understand, from a chip manufacturing perspective. You can't always look at unknown areas on a chip and think that you know what it's for.
  • Reply 14 of 60
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,982member
    maccherry wrote: »
    I'll tell you one thing, that new iPhone 5 runs effing warm. I was at my local Apple store on Miami Beach yesterday toying with it. Pretty damn warm. It was also fast as hell!!!!!! They probably had that fast wifi in the store. Damn!
    And the phone took pictures as fast as I could press the button. Holy sh**!
    I'll get it soon but I have to cop a new pair of glasses first.

    My 4S can run warm too. But unlike thick glass, an aluminum enclosure is a good heatsink. Hopefully that means that the interior of the phone will run cooler.
  • Reply 15 of 60
    slurpy wrote: »
    These people that keep rambling on about how Apple can become 'lazy' can just STFU now. This kind of custom design is no cakewalk, it takes an enormous amount of work and R&D to have customization to this level. Glad to know Apple cares enough to put in that kind of effort to get top efficiency and performance. 

    Yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but, yeah, but the Samsung Galaxy SIII International version has 4 cores¡
  • Reply 16 of 60
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,616member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post


    Really? How do you figure? The Exynos processor designs are stolen from Apple too now??



    No, but it can't be a comfortable feeling that your primary competitor is the very one that produces your very own custom made chip. On paper it all checks out, I am sure but...

  • Reply 17 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by melgross View Post



    What's interesting about this is that while they can tell what the obvious areas do, such as the CPU's, the GPU's, I/O, and a few other normal functions, that still leaves a good 40% of the chips functioning areas unexplained. There is no easy way to determine what the rest of the circuitry on the chip does. This has been a problem for these companies for years. This isn't the first chip Apple has worked on that's like that.

    Even last year, there was an area on the chip that no one could figure out, until Apple stated that they had designed their own photo processing circuits, similar in function to what Canon, Nikon, Sony and others use in their cameras, except simpler (it can use the rest of the chip for some of the processing power, which cameras can't.).

    We can be sure that there is a bunch of things this chip does that no one will understand, from a chip manufacturing perspective. You can't always look at unknown areas on a chip and think that you know what it's for.


     


     


    A bit like human brain .. tear down cannot explain everything ....

  • Reply 18 of 60
    I was just thinking, Apple really went far to keep the size of the phone small ....

    If not to preserve the phone dimensions, they would not be constrained by the battery capacity and just throw in whatever latest cores ready in the market.
    (Just like all the big screen competitors are doing now)

    So it looks like the iPad mini(if it comes out soon), will be an A6 at higher freq. and the next iPad4 will be A6X(think die shrink needed to squeeze in 4 cored GPU).
    Cool ....








  • Reply 19 of 60
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,902member
    IPad 4 should be very interesting to say the least. However I'd rather see them go for broke performance wise and not worry about the battery thinnest. Just keep performance at a level that maintains current long battery lifetimes.

    As far as the A15, A6 is a sign that buying cores from ARM is now a forgotten memory at Apple. This new core of Apples is already as fast or faster than A15 and most likely is running extremely slow at 1GHz in iPhine 5. I wouldn't be surprised one bit to see the A6 running at 1.5GHz in iPad 4. That is if they don't already have a quad core on the way for iPad. Apple now has more flexibility than at anytime in the past for SoCs so as stated iPad 4 had the opportunity to be very interesting to say the least.
    solipsismx wrote: »
    Based on this with 75% of the GPU cores (which may be faster than the iPad's GPU cores) the 4th gen iPad should be much thinner and lighter with a hybrid A9-A15-esque chip (if they don't go with a custom chip all based on A15) and the 32nm process.
  • Reply 20 of 60

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post





    Yes, but Samsung didn't have to do a tear-down. The CA trial made it clear that their cell phone division is getting advance information from the microprocessor division.


     


    It will be very interesting to see if Samsung tries to copy the design.  A violation of that sort would be far beyond simply copying a style or an icon and could land them in serious criminal trouble.  It would be more in the line of industrial espionage and people would be going to jail.  

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