Chipworks continues examination of A7 processor, finds new architecture, quad-core GPU

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Date: Monday, September 30th, 2013, 07:57
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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There’s some cool stuff going on with the iPhone 5s’ new A7 processor.

Per an analysis published by Chipworks, the A7 contains assorted changes from the previous A6 processor, including the addition of a mysterious SRAM cell never seen in A-series silicon.

Continuing its comprehensive investigation of the new A7 SoC, which on Tuesday confirmed a 28nm manufacturing process, silicon experts at Chipworks are digging deeper into the processor’s major structures and overall design.

The firm notes in the report that the latest findings are currently just “best guesses,” as circuit extraction testing has not yet been performed to yield conclusive data.

Taking the caveat into consideration, one of the more interesting findings would be the “secure enclave” used for Touch ID fingerprint data storage that Apple discussed during the iPhone 5s reveal earlier this month.

Chipworks was unable to identify a given area it had noted, but guesses that a new SRAM cell located above the GPUs is a prime suspect as the rather large storage space is a new addition to the A-series lineup. Extrapolating the size of the memory block and comparing it with metrics of known technology, the firm estimates the SRAM module to have a density of about 3MB.

Moving to the CPU, the A7′s dual-core unit and accompanying memory, estimated at 1MB for L2 cache and 256KB for L1, takes up about 17 percent of the die area. Located across from the CPU setup is a quad-core GPU with shared logic, which accounts for 22 percent of on-die space.

A side-by-side comparison of the A7 and last year’s A6 show the chips’ CPUs do not share the same layout. The new A7 appears to be closer to a conventional automated design, which would be a departure from Apple’s most recent custom-architected A-series SoCs.

Aside from the above discoveries, the rest of the A7′s design appears to be carried over from the A6. Of note, the USB, LCD and camera interfaces are identical to those found in Apple’s A5, A6 and A6X chips.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Next-gen iPhone to see 31% speed improvement via A7 chip, will feature motion detection

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Date: Monday, August 26th, 2013, 06:27
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Processors, Rumor

If this report’s anything close to accurate, you’re going to like the speed of the next-gen iPhone.

Per a tweet sent by Fox News and citing inside sources, Clayton Morris claims the so-called “iPhone 5S” will be powered by an Apple-designed “A7″ system on a chip that is some 31 percent faster than the current A6 silicon used in the iPhone 5. In addition, mention of a totally new chip dedicated to “motion tracking” will be used to bring another layer of user interactivity to Apple’s flagship handset.

A 31 percent bump should be noticeable to future iPhone 5S owners in day-to-day use. It is unknown what metrics were being used as a basis, an important question given an applications processor’s architecture includes both the number-crunching CPUs and graphics driving GPUs.

It is largely unknown how Apple is managing to squeeze out the extra horsepower, though analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities noted in a recent report that a move to the ARMv8 architecture could yield a 20 percent increase in efficiency. In that same note to investors, Kuo speculates that Apple could offer 64-bit support in the A7, which would theoretically allow for greater speeds.

As for the motion tracking feature, Morris said in a follow-up tweet, “I’ve also heard there’s a separate chip devoted to motion tracking. Should be an interesting camera upgrade.” It would appear from the tweet’s wording that the unknown chip would be part of the iPhone’s camera package, perhaps as a special post processor.

Apple owns a number of patents regarding post processing techniques, including a few that interpolate camera sensor data for tasks other than outputting an image such as “gaze detection.” Some of these patents include a separate chip, usually disposed on the sensor module’s circuit board, to handle processing duties.

Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 5S at a special event on Sept. 10, possibly alongside a lower cost plastic handset dubbed the “iPhone 5C.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple, Samsung sign deal for Samsung to build A9 chips for 2015 iOS devices

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Date: Monday, July 15th, 2013, 07:21
Category: Hardware, iOS, Processors, Rumor

From friends to litigants to partners again…

Per MacRumors and the Korea Economic Daily, Apple and Samsung on Sunday officially signed an agreement that will see the two companies working together on future A-series chips for Apple’s iOS devices, with the deal specifically covering A9 chips based on a 14-nanometer process node starting in 2015. The claim comes just weeks after Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) confirmed a deal with Apple to begin producing A-series chips in 2014.

Samsung Electronics had supplied the AP [application processor] to Apple since 2007 but lost the contract to supply 20 nano AP A8 chips to Apple to Taiwan’s TSMC last year when it was engaged in patent disputes with Apple. Samsung Electronics developed state-of-the-art nanometer models ahead of its rival TSMC, regaining the order from Apple.

A previous report about Apple’s agreement with TSMC had indicated that it was a three-year deal covering not only Apple’s future A8 chip but also A9/A9X chips. Reports had indicated that Samsung would remain Apple’s primary supplier through next year as TSMC began ramping up its production.

As a result, it is unclear whether today’s deal will see both TSMC and Samsung producing A9 chips for Apple or if Apple has already shifted gears to return to Samsung as its primary supplier as part of its long-term roadmap.

Apple has reportedly been seeking to reduce its reliance on Samsung as a component supplier as the two companies have become fierce rivals in both the mobile marketplace and in the courtroom. The two companies have, however, continued working together in several areas, particularly where Samsung’s competitors in the component market are unable to match its technology, production capacity, or pricing.

The shift to TSMC for production of the high-profile main chips for Apple’s iOS devices had been viewed as breaking one of the most significant remaining ties between Apple and Samsung, but it appears that Samsung has been able to bring Apple back into the fold by leading the charge to 14-nm chips. With partnerships with both Samsung and TSMC, it appears that Apple should be well-positioned to take advantage of whichever company takes the lead in developing the latest technologies.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel cites possible 50% battery life improvement in upcoming MacBooks under Haswell architecture

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Date: Tuesday, May 28th, 2013, 06:45
Category: Hardware, MacBook, MacBook Pro, News, Processors

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What a difference a next-gen architecture can make.

According to PCWorld, Intel’s next-generation processor in Apple’s MacBook line could see 50 percent greater battery life thanks to the processors expected to go into them, according to Intel.

In a media briefing ahead of the launch of its Haswell processor platform, Intel chief Rani Borkar said that the chipmaker had designed the line with notebooks and tablets in mind. That focus on mobile devices led to dramatic increases in battery life, with 50 percent longer operation in normal use and extending idle and standby battery life by up to 20 times.

That could mean that battery life for future MacBooks — already near the top of the industry — will see considerable improvements. A 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro’s battery life could jump from about six hours and 15 minutes to Apple’s seven-hour estimate under normal use.

The Haswell line is the latest in the chip giant’s instruction set architecture. The rise of smartphones and tablets has hobbled the PC industry, the main source of Intel’s sales. Increasingly, consumers are opting for mobile devices rather than traditional computing form factors, and Intel has struggled to gain a foothold in the mobile device segment.

The Haswell line, then, is intended to address both traditional computers and tablets as well. Some components of the line have had their power consumption reduced to as low as 7W. Intel’s tablet-tailored offerings are said to offer better performance than non-Intel chipsets, but with comparable battery life.

Intel has been talking up the possibilities of the Haswell line for months ahead of its launch. Most recently, the chipmaker released a document showing that Haswell will double or triple graphics performance compared to previous models.

Apple’s expected refresh of its MacBook line of devices is widely expected to feature Intel’s latest and greatest processor set.

Currently, retailers are running low on supplies of some MacBooks, and many Apple observers expect the company to announce the next generation during the keynote of its Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel details specs for upcoming i7 “Haswell” processor

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Date: Thursday, May 2nd, 2013, 06:59
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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The next-gen stuff always looks pretty sexy…

Per AppleInsider and Engadget, a document released on Wednesday sheds some light on Intel’s forthcoming Core i7 processors, which will boast new integrated graphics silicon that promises to double or even triple performance compared to existing models.

Alongside a new iteration of the “Intel HD Graphics” series, dubbed HD 5000, Intel is introducing the “Iris” and “Iris Pro” tiers to its graphics lineup with Haswell, effectively creating a three-tier system for its upcoming Core i7 offerings. Apple is expected to use products from the newest family of processors when the company refreshes its Mac lineup later this year.

As is the case with every new generation of CPUs, there will be an across the board performance boost with the fourth-generation Core i7 chips. However, while previous generational changes brought only slight gains to Intel’s respective Ultrabook, notebook and desktop class lineups, Iris and Iris Pro will enjoy huge gains, in some cases showing threefold improvements.

The options start out with HD 5000 for 15W TDP (Thermal Design Power) U-series chips, and move to the new Iris graphics with 28W U-series silicon. Iris Pro, which uses embedded DRAM instead of shared system memory, promises to double the speed of current 47-55W H-series laptop processors. Most intriguing is a tripling in 3D rendering speeds for 65-84W R-series desktop CPUs.

According to Intel’s documentation, Iris Pro will also be available on certain M-series laptop and K-series desktop chips.

The 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air currently uses two U-series chips — a 17W dual-core Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor in its standard configuration and an optional Core i7 version. Apple uses M-series Core i5 and i7 chips for its MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro with Retina Display products.

Intel also detailed the three tiers’ feature sets, which support DirectX 11.1, OpenGL 4 and OpenCL 1.2. Display modes include “enhanced” 4K and 2K output and a 3-screen collage, which looks to eschew the need for a discrete graphics card for multi-panel setups.

Full specs, including those pertaining to non-graphics processing performance, are slated to be revealed , one day prior to the Computex Taipei trade show.

Recent Apple job postings allude to chip development effort in and around Florida

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Date: Tuesday, April 16th, 2013, 07:00
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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If you’re looking to design chips for Apple in sunny Florida, your dream may have come true.

Per 9to5Mac, Apple posted several job openings looking for both hardware and software engineers reveal that Apple is looking to begin its own chip development in Orlando, Florida.

Last week it was discovered that Apple is hiring software engineers to work on fingerprint technology at Authentec in Melbourne, Florida, which is about one hour south of the future site of the company’s development labs.

The job posting are interesting as Samsung, which works with Apple to develop the custom chips used in iPhones and iPads, continues to compete with Apple in the smartphone and tablet space.

Tim Cook mentioned last May that the engine that drives the iPhone was produced in Austin, Texas, which many believe pointed to Samsung’s chip development location.

The job listings range from ‘front end design management’ to ‘3D Graphics Micro-Architect’, all of which were posted in recent weeks.

Notably, the area is already populated with relevant talent as it is home to popular semiconductor company/Apple chip partner Qualcomm which may be the reason for the location.

Apple currently hosts a small office for its “Latin America General Manager” in Coral Gables, Florida, some five hours south of Orlando, Florida, illustrating the Cupertino-based company’s increasing presence in the Sunshine State.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Tom’s Hardware runs benchmark tests on Haswell prototype chip, finds modest performance gains for next-gen architecture

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Date: Wednesday, March 20th, 2013, 07:35
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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Intel’s new Haswell architecture is en route.

And its performance gains are about the same as those seen in the move from the Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge architectures.

A profile of a performance test of a prototype Core i7 Haswell chip by the mighty Tom’s Hardware suggests that it will offer a 7 percent to 13 percent performance gain over equivalent Ivy Bridge CPUs—a similar gain to that experienced with the move from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge.


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The integrated HD 4600 GPU experiences an impressive speed boost of almost 30 percent, but the website noted that this still won’t allow for comfortable gaming on HD monitors, so gamers will need discrete graphics chips.

While performance gains reached up to 75 percent in the case of some specific tasks, the gains for typical desktop applications are relatively modest.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Intel, Apple in negotiations for Intel to start making processors for iOS devices

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Date: Thursday, March 7th, 2013, 06:26
Category: Hardware, News, Processors, Rumor

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Maybe a really good partnership CAN live forever…

Per the Chicago Tribune, an anonymous source has cited that executives have over the past year discussed a possible partnership in which Intel’s foundries would be used to manufacture Apple-designed chips. A deal has not yet been reached, the source said.

This is not the first time rumors of an Apple-Intel partnership have cropped up. A report from May 2011 suggested that Intel showed interest in building Apple’s A4 and A5 SoCs, though no action was taken and the idea was apparently shelved as the so-called Ultrabook initiative gained momentum.

Intel is supposedly looking to shift its strategy as PC sales continue to slump as mobile devices, led by tablets like Apple’s iPad, continue to gobble up marketshare. The firm has been looking to expand its foundry business, most recently agreeing to fabricate silicon based on technology from chip maker Altera.

While an agreement to start production of ARM SoCs would likely undercut adoption of Intel’s own Atom mobile processor, the move might be necessary to keep pace with a quickly changing market. The report also speculates that Intel’s replacement for CEO Paul Otellini, who plans to retire in May, may further diversify the company’s contract operations in a bid to keep manufacturing facilities working at full capacity.

As for Apple, a move to Intel is easier to imagine, as the Mac lineup already runs on x86 processors. It has also been rumored that the company wants to distance itself from current A-series SoC manufacturer Samsung, with which it is ensnarled in a worldwide patent struggle. The Korean electronics giant is also Apple’s biggest competition in the mobile marketplace, with a variety of Android-based devices going jockeying for position against iOS products like the iPhone and iPad.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel shows off fourth-gen Core processor lineup at CES

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Date: Tuesday, January 8th, 2013, 08:48
Category: Hardware, Intel, News, Processors

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The cool stuff’s en route for this year.

Per AppleInsider, Intel on Monday demoed a number of upcoming processors set to hit market later this year, including low power versions of the company’s “Haswell” fourth-generation Core series CPUs slated to roll out in Apple’s inevitable 2013 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air refreshes.

While Apple wasn’t specifically mentioned in Intel’s keynote, which focused mainly on the chip maker’s push into smartphones and Ultrabooks, the processors outlined on Monday will likely be powering the MacBook lineup later this year.

According to the head of Intel’s PC client group, Kirk Skaugen, the fourth-gen Core family of processors are the first to be designed specifically for the Ultrabook initiative. The new silicon is said to bring the most significant battery life improvement in Intel history, with laptops using the CPUs boasting 9 to 13 hours of continuous on-the-go use.

“The 4th generation Core processors are the first Intel chips built from the ground up with the Ultrabook in mind,” Skaugen said. “We expect the tremendous advancements in lower-power Core processors, and the significant ramp of touch-based systems will lead to a significant new wave of convertible Ultrabooks and tablets that are thinner, lighter and, at the same time, have the performance required for more human-like interaction such as touch, voice and gesture controls.”

Intel is making a strong push for touch capabilities in this year’s thin-and-light lineup, requiring OEMs to include the functionality in return for “Ultrabook” branding. The company is also mandating that Ultrabook manufacturers incorporate Intel Wireless Display technology into 2013 machines, allowing users to view digital content on an HDTV.

As Apple does not participate in the Ultrabook initiative, a category believed to be a response to the MacBook Air, the Cupertino, Calif., company is not required to incorporate touchscreen tech into its laptop products. There have been no reports pointing toward multitouch capable MacBooks and industry sources claim Apple will merely debut refreshed units in June with existing designs.

Stay tuned for additional details

TSMC to replace Samsung as A6X chip manufacturer for upcoming iPad devices

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Date: Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013, 08:14
Category: Hardware, iPad, News, Processors

The company may not have the prettiest logo in the world, but they DO have a killer Apple contract that a lot of people in their industry would love to have.

Per channelnewsasia.com, after years of rumors, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is said to finally begin trial production of A6X chips for Apple’s fourth-generation iPad this quarter, further marginalizing Samsung’s role in Apple’s supply chain.

TSMC has been contracted to manufacture the A6X chip found in the latest iPad. A report published on Wednesday said trial production of the mobile chips will begin in the first quarter of the year.

Apple has long been rumored to be interested in switching its mobile chip manufacturing from Samsung to TSMC. The iPad maker, which was once Samsung’s biggest customer, has been looking to remove Samsung from its supply chain as the two companies are engaged in a number of patent infringement lawsuits around the world.

Recent reports had indicated that Apple planned to have TSMC begin producing mobile chips in 2013. But some reports pegged a late 2013 start date as more likely.

With the latest rumor pegging TSMC’s deal as only for trial production of the A6X, it’s still unclear exactly when TSMC-produced chips could begin appearing in Apple’s iOS devices. Currently, all of the mobile processors used in the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV are built by Samsung at its chip fabrication plant in Austin, Tex.

Switching its chip manufacturing from Samsung to TSMC is expected to be a complex transition that could take Apple as long as 18 months to complete.

Rumors that surfaced last month pegged TSMC has the most likely company behind a mysterious “Project Azalea” that numerous states are competing to win. The secretive project involves an unnamed semiconductor manufacturing company considering a new chip fabrication plant in four potential states: New York, California, Texas and Oregon.

The chip manufacturer behind the “Azalea” project is said to have ties to Apple, which has led numerous reports to suggest TSMC as the most likely company behind the mystery project. The states bidding for the contract have signed nondisclosure agreements, making the company unknown.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.