Apple's A12Z Bionic chip could be a re-binned A12X

Posted:
in iPad edited June 2020
Apple introduced the A12Z Bionic as a brand new processor with the launch of iPad Pro, but a new report claims the system-on-chip is simply a rebadged A12X that activates a previously disabled GPU core.

iPad Pro
The A12Z Bionic in Apple's new iPad Pro could be a re-binned A12X.


Early benchmark tests of the A12Z reveal performance metrics nearly identical to those put in by Apple's A12X, a chip introduced in late 2018.

The figures are for the most part unsurprising considering both the A12X and A12Z feature 8 CPU cores clocked at 2.48GHz. Apple in its marketing materials notes the latest "Z-series" chip boasts eight GPU cores, up from seven on the A12X. That, however, might not necessarily mean a GPU was added to the custom silicon's layout.

According to a report from NotebookCheck on Thursday, it appears Apple's A12Z is a re-binned chip that activates a latent GPU core present in A12X.

TechInsights, a firm known for comprehensive analysis of microprocessors and other complex silicon, confirms the A12X "physically has 8 GPU cores." TechInsights intends to determine whether the A12Z shares its architecture with the A12X as part of an upcoming evaluation.

"As for the A12Z, we are planning to conduct floorplan analysis to confirm any differences from the A12X," said Yuzo Fukuzaki, senior technology fellow at TechInsights.

There are a number of reasons explaining why Apple decided to deviate from its typical X-series chip update for 2020, a process that normally delivers architecture upgrades to the base SoC. For one, the company potentially felt its A12 series was powerful enough to handle today's computational demands. Re-binning the A12X also grants engineers more time to develop an "A14X" variant capable of chewing through processor-intensive operations associated with future AR tasks and other graphics-heavy applications.

Such a chip might be destined for an iPad Pro with mini LED display rumored to launch later this year.

In any case, the A12Z holds up just fine in everyday use, offering the same powerhouse performance as the A12X, even with Apple's introduction of system-wide cursor support.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    SHOCKING!!!!’ 
  • Reply 2 of 13
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,618member
    Maybe it’s a chip with a previously failed / non-functioning core that has Been corrected in silicon and is finally working.  

    I doubt Apple has been disabling a core for several months just to unlock it now.   
    Taintmasterwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    eriamjh said:
    I doubt Apple has been disabling a core for several months just to unlock it now.   
    It’s a pretty common industry practice. Intel was doing it all the way back in the Pentium days.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,624member
    Intel used to limit clock speeds to meet different price points.  I’m not sure they ever disabled cores unless there was an issue.  I seem to remember a processor sold as 3 cores because of an issue with the 4th...

    I suspect that’s what happened here.  They probably fixed the 8th core a while ago, but left it disabled for consistency.  With a new product shipping, that doesn’t matter.

    I remember many years ago people hunting down certain batches of processors to maximize over clocking.  That’s a headache when a midrange processor is just as stable (fast) as the top of the line (break the bank) processor.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    SHOCKING!!!!’ 

    Because Apple does this often?
    /s

    If this is true it's most likely because Apple had a problem working A12X at full speed with the older harder. Still confused why it wasn't an A13X. Maybe they had tons of these older chips available.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 13
    davendaven Posts: 694member
    Is the disabling of the fourth graphic core done physically or is it a software thing? If it is a software thing, can someone hack iPad OS to enable the fourth core on the 2018 generation?
  • Reply 7 of 13
    The real kicker is the 6GB of memory for the complete lineup, it will greatly accelerate multitasking, no need to suspend apps ...
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 13
    aknabiaknabi Posts: 211member
    I'm not the first to mention this, but it's very plausible that the core ARM team (pun unintended) is cranking away on final delivery for the Mac ARM processors... I know Apple has virtually infinite resources, but there are only so many rock star processor architects/designers and their going need their A+ game to go up directly against Intel's core lineup (again pun unintended)
    edited March 2020 jdb8167cyberzombiewatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 13
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,618member
    Eric_WVGG said:
    eriamjh said:
    I doubt Apple has been disabling a core for several months just to unlock it now.   
    It’s a pretty common industry practice. Intel was doing it all the way back in the Pentium days.
    Intel used to limit clock speeds to meet different price points.  I’m not sure they ever disabled cores unless there was an issue.  I seem to remember a processor sold as 3 cores because of an issue with the 4th...

    I suspect that’s what happened here.  They probably fixed the 8th core a while ago, but left it disabled for consistency.  With a new product shipping, that doesn’t matter.

    Disabling and limiting for price points is for milking your customers at the top level, but keeping process volumes up for all the markets.  Intel did it for profits across all price points.  It was also related to true yields.  

    I think they fixed the 8th core makes sense, but what about the 6GB RAM/. Doesn’t RAM take up real estate?   This means it isn’t a binned processor.  

    Of course, there’s no way to know for sure.  Bring on the xrays! 
    edited March 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 13
    Including LiDAR is probably expensive considering it wasn't previously rolled out in iPhone volumes. That by itself could be a reason for only doing some tweaks with the SoC.
    avon b7FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 13
    PShimiPShimi Posts: 38member
    A12X is TSMC's N7 process (fact)
    A12Z is TSMC's N7P process (educated guess)

    N7P is 10% more efficient for power use.
    The 2020 iPad Pro has a smaller battery, an SoC at the same frequency, yet an additional GPU core turned on - but can run longer at top frequencies (Apple said so) and has the same run time (Apple said so).

    This means it must be a newer process, not just better binning. 
    N7P process is already used for the A13 chip - it's not some special delux process.
    The A14X is likely to be N5 for example.

    As for RAM - it is not part of the SoC Eriamjh.

    avon b7jdb8167frantisekGG1muthuk_vanalingampscooter63FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 13
    PShimiPShimi Posts: 38member
    Forgot to mention - the 12X 8th GPU was probably turned off for heat / power consumption reasons.
    I had initially thought this was for better yelds, but that's less likely.
    FileMakerFellerjdb8167watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 13
    Disabling and limiting for price points is to save test time and improve yields. Not testing a part of the CPU can save precious test time which leads into a cheaper part. Also portions of the chip might not be as fast as the rest due to longer paths to memory, main busses, power rails, etc. Thus, it is faster to test and produce higher yields leading to savings in manufacturing costs. Moreover, a portion of the chip might add too much power consumption or noise to the system, so it is better to shut it off. There could be a bug with a portion of the chip where timing closure was tight and a subsequent version addresses this issue or reduces the power consumption. Given that Apple is the only customer for their own parts, disabling a portion is probably one of these concerns rather than pricing for additional features or speed.
    FileMakerFellerjdb8167watto_cobra
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