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Taking the tear-down to the microscopic level, UBM TechInsights concludes that Apple's A4 processor is manufactured by Samsung and will share a core with that company's next Android handset. The A4 is used in the iPad as well as the next-generation iPhone announced on Monday, and is generally considered to be the product of …

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"but still not very desirable."

It is extremely desirable in some circumstances. Nokia can achieve fantastic battery life with their symbian OS largely because the phone is not powering multiple chips.

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re "but still not very desirable"

However, that extra battery life comes at the cost of a great deal of additional software complexity.

The communications stack has real time requirements, so device drivers and other system components must never block for too long, etc. In addition, bugs or memory leaks in any system component can result in loss of communications functionality and require a reboot. It tends to favor devices with simpler and less complex user experiences.

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Still, the fact is...

I've nearly never (re-)booted my Symbian-powered phones in comparison to my Android and iPhone...

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Blimey

Blimey, for the 18 months I owned a N95 I rebooted almost every other day.

Maybe a slight exaggeration there, but if I wanted to actually *use* the satnav on the damn thing and be sure it actually knew where I was it seemed mandatory.

I kept it up to date with all the latest firmware updates etc. and was very pleased for the contract to finish.

That was my last nokia.

Have been very happy with my iphone since then, and have had to reboot it maybe twice in the last year?

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Article request

I'd be interested in a series of articles on mobile chip architecture.

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Good idea

I'd also be interested to read about how they manufacture them too

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Re: Article request

I want to know why I can't assemble an ARM-based PC. (Mini-ITX?) Maybe even a roll-your-own smartbook. With all the arm-friendly flavours of Linux out there, where's the DIY ARM community?

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Joke

Would you like to see that...

...through the round winodw, the square window or the arched window?

Skizz (showing just how old he is)

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Genesi "Efika MX" ARM A*.NEON SIMD

"Trevor_Pott

Re: Article request → # ↑

Posted Thursday 10th June 2010 09:12 GMT

In iPad's brain not so unique

I want to know why I can't assemble an ARM-based PC. (Mini-ITX?) Maybe even a roll-your-own smartbook. With all the arm-friendly flavours of Linux out there, where's the DIY ARM community?"

you really ant to look into the Genesi "Efika MX" ARM *currently single core) A8 NEON 128bit SIMD 800MHz SOC based PCB boards http://www.genesi-usa.com/

http://www.google.co.uk/search?rlz=1C1CHMZ_en-GBGB340GB355&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=efika+arm

and their http://www.powerdeveloper.org/ message boards http://www.efika.org/joomla/

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Re : Re: Article request

Lots on lots out there - depends on exactly what you want.

For example for ~$220

http://microcontrollershop.com/product_info.php?cPath=154_170_280&products_id=3588

or http://www.simtec.co.uk/products/EB2410ITX/

No experience of any of these I'm afraid

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I have been wanting to do something like this for ages.

A desktop ARM system based on the nVidia Tegra 250 would be very nice, indeed.

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@Chemist && @AC

Research into thi9s will occur! Thank you both very much!

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Joke

So...

"UBM TechInsights concludes that Apple's A4 processor is manufactured by Samsung..."

does this mean that Apple is planning on buying Samsung?

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Happy

This A8 likely has Intrinsity technology

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/happy_32.png

No, but Apple already did buy Intrinsity!

The A8 Core is likely improved by Intrinsity technology, Samsung announced almost a year ago they were working with them: http://www.samsung.com/us/business/semiconductor/newsView.do?news_id=1115

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Happy

No...but...

...Apple did buy Intrinsys whose Fast14 technology was reportedly used to power/frequency optimise the Cortex-A8 core used by Samsung in both SoCs. I wonder if that technology will be available to Samsung for their own parts *after* this acquisition?

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Jobs Horns

Can't have this!

You can't tell the fanboys that Steve didn't personally sprinkle powdered unicorn and pixie dust over his silicon to give the "ultra-special Apple A4 chip that Apple invented" its characteristic whiff of shiny wonderment they all anticipated when His Steveness strutted the stage in his, erm, stylish black top and unbelted, stonewashed jeans combo ("It's a messenger from the 1980s come to tell us something!"), and that it's really just Samsung joining the dots... and not even their dots! And now they'll be doing it for/with other people!

Cue over-rationalisation by fanboys as they try and insist that "Rubbing unicorn feathers against the chips made them better, please let this be true! Apple?!"

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@AC "Can't have this"

I'm guessing that you're bitter because you can't afford Apple kit, yes?

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Ahem

That's iUnicorn and iPixie and iStylishBlackTop and iJeans.

You don't need the 'His' either , it's iSteveness.

oh, and iFanbois

Get it right!

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Jobs Halo

Where the rubber meets the road.

Look Apple's A4 chip is ARM - everyone knows it. Apple (well a company Apple bought) did some nice integration on the A4, and Apple are very proud of the results. Bottom line; it's a nice chip, but hardly a revolution. It isn't even the most important component in the iPad (or iPhone 4).

The most important technology in there isn't strictly an Apple technology either. It's iOS. When Apple bought NeXT they got "OPENSTEP for Mach OS" quite simply the most advanced desktop operating system of the era. That has become Mac OS X, there is some pure "Mac" DNA in there, but not as much as you might expect. When Apple created the iPhone they took "Mac OS X" and "un-Mac'd" it, a totally new UI was created, most of the "Mac DNA" was removed, and the Multitasking was limited in the interests of power conservation, and user responsiveness (there always was Multitasking - iOS didn't extend this up to the applications apart from a "blessed few").

Where the iPad really succeeds isn't in "buzzword compliance", but what it is actually like to use. The immediacy of operation - the thing feels "smoking fast", even though that is largely an illusion. The UI flourishes, many will dismiss this as "eye candy", but often they do help to visually explain something (the "behind the bookshelf" animation is a great example, there is a huge model change in the application, but the animation makes that clear and understandable). But mostly it is about the quality of the applications, both the built in "Apple" ones, and the third party apps. This is largely a story about that "NeXT DNA", Cocoa and Cocoa Touch are direct decedents of the "OpenStep API" from OPENSTEP for Mach OS, it is these that are the real "killer feature" of iOS. What effect "Multitasking" as implemented in iOS 4 will have on the iPad isn't clear yet. However Apple's conservative decisions seem to suggest that the system will feel fast and vital as it does now. This is far more important than the exact nature of the chip.

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iOS

Funny, and I thought that OSX is based on a Mach micro kernel and BSD drivers and user-land (a.k.a. Darwin), with NextSTEP based user mode framework and API.

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WTF?

RE: Can't have this!

WTF are you on about?

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Anonymous Coward

AMIGA was the most advanced for the era Not your claimed OPENSTEP

that's pretty much bullshit "When Apple bought NeXT they got "OPENSTEP for Mach OS" quite simply the most advanced desktop operating system of the era." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenStep "The OpenStep API was created as the result of a 1993 collaboration between NeXT and Sun Microsystems, allowing this cut-down version of NeXT's NeXTSTEP operating system object layers to be run on Sun's Solaris operating system (more specifically, Solaris on SPARC-based hardware)."

at that time the AMIGA real-time OS was by far the most advanced Personal computer being on the market for 8 years already....

also the Amiga Unix "Commodore-Amiga, Inc., in 1990, did a full port of AT&T Unix System V Release 4 for the Amiga computer family (in addition to the proprietary AmigaOS shipping with these systems by default), informally known as Amix. Bundled with the Amiga 3000UX, Commodore's Unix was one of the first ports of SVR4 to the 68k architecture. The Amiga A3000UX model even got the attention of Sun Microsystems, though ultimately nothing came of it.[citation needed]

Unlike Apple's A/UX, Amiga Unix contained no compatibility layer to allow AmigaOS applications to run under Unix. With few native applications available to take advantage of the Amiga's significant multimedia capabilities, it failed to find a niche in the quite-competitive Unix workstation market of the early 1990s."

if Your going to make claims of the most advanced for the time, at least know what your talking about and learn your real history far better.

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Linux

Mindless Apple elitism

> I'm guessing that you're bitter because you can't afford Apple kit, yes?

I can afford an iPad (for the wife) and I still got an Archos5 on top of that.

Ragging on iDevices has nothing to do with "being poor".

A PMP with 500G and the ability to play my media center files is so cool...

I got some minis I dumped for ION boxes too.

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AMIGA was the most advanced for the era

at that time the AMIGA real-time OS was by far the most advanced Personal computer being on the market for 8 years already....

Ah, Amiga OS, otherwise known as TRIPOS, written at Cambridge Uni (UK)

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Go

Cant wait to see that!

Wow i seriously cant wait to see how ios4 and android 2.2 get on side by side. I will be disappointed if froyo doesnt wipe the floor with it!

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Linux

Nevermind the CPU, what about the GPU?

The GPU is key here. The biggest thing going on on these devices will be gaming and video. That means you need a good GPU and explicit support for what the user might want to do. That means that your device needs to accomodate things like mpeg2, divx and strange h264 files.

This is what separates the men from the boys.

My Archos5 plays DVD rips and stuff transcoded for use on the big TV. It plays this stuff just as well as an iPhone plays the few limited things it can handle.

OTOH, it chokes on 1080i ATSC recordings and 720p HDPVR/EyeTVHD recordings.

Someone else could cook up an OpenGL torture test but the idea is the same.

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Not just graphics

Apple's big pushes (well, in Appleland anyway) of Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL are primarily about getting developers to produce code that can be dynamically and automatically scheduled by the OS across such CPUs and GPUs as are available. I'd guess that stuff is either on the iPhone or is iPhone bound.

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Go

No big secret

GCD and OpenCL is already slated for iOS 4. And yes, it will make for some very interesting applications, audio applications being the obvious category here.

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Anonymous Coward

Apple and Samsung?

Apple buying Samsung is an Interesting thought, but off the top of my head I can't help thinking Apple aren't big enough to sensibly buy Samsung (who, like a lot of companies out there, have a finger in a lot of pies, and not just volume consumer electronics). Anybody care to confirm or correct that?

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Samsung vs Apple

Samsung is 40th on the 2009 Fortune 500 Global list with 110350 million US in revenue and 5027 million US in profit. Apple is 253rd with 32479 million in revenue and 4834 million in profit.

According to Wikipedia (admittedly not quite as reliable a source) Samsung is the world's largest conglomerate.

I don't think it's too likely that Apple will buy Samsung any time soon.

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many pies = many departments

Apple would likely not be interested in the bit of Samsung which builds excavators.

Should the price be right, the bit of Samsung making chips (not the tattie kind) might be spun off - although this could apply to any potential purchaser, not just Apple.

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True enough, but...

Samsung Semiconductor division still has a revenue of 17827 million US (2009 figure, from Gartner.com), and is the second biggest producer after Intel. Still a bit too big for Apple, methinks.

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ARM Cortex A8

The ARM reference design is used in a lot of processors, so that's not surprising. What's of real interest is what's different. The GPU, and other hardware makes a lot more of a difference.

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Happy

What a lame name

"S5PC110A01" ?

compared to Apple's "A4"

Apple always keeps it simple and elegant. :)

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Anonymous Coward

Have you tried...

Have you tried doing an Internet search for "Apple A4"? Is it helpful?

Have you tried something similar with a part number like Samsung's?

Now which one is simple and elegant?

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Coat

"iOS"

Where does Cisco come into this?

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ios

like most trademarks apple sees and wants for itself, cisco ios will no doubt disappear from existance (and probably history books) very quickly.

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cisco licensed it to apple

here's the link: http://blogs.cisco.com/news/comments/cisco_and_apple_agreement_on_ios_trademark/

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So?

Most people licence core designs from ARM.

All that is unique about the A4 chip is that Apple can include all the things they need, so there's no wastage on the chip and no need for lots of external chips and buses.

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Grenade

Wow

Does that mean it will soon be possible to upgrade an iPhone to run Android?

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Done.

This is already possible. I'm not sure I'd call it an "upgrade" - YMMV. But I don't think supports everything in the iPhone, and it doesn't exactly work wonders for the battery. I'm told you soon start to realise that Apple's original system software is rather underrated.

But sure, you can.

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Battery issues

The problem with the battery life isn't a result of the choice of OS its drivers.

Try running windoes in safe mode, performance is crap and battery on your laptop will be dead in an hour. If someone wrote the full hardware drivers for android we might actually see a real comparison.

Another thing you might consider is Android actually has a proper multitasking scheme, which inevitably will chew up battery.

Would be nice to be able to boot iOS and Android on both Apple and other native android devices using the ARM A8 based processors.

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Anonymous Coward

Android

So an Android phone is better because it is following Apple's lead? Is that the spin I am reading in these comments?? This sounds just like Microsoft's spin regarding Windows after previously asserting that GUIs were not necessary and that DOS was all anyone needed for "real computing".

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Jobs Halo

Different.

Actually Android and iOS are very different beasts when it comes to "apps". The iOS runs "native code" with a runtime support system, like the Mac. Android runs "apps" written in Java language (that is the code LOOKS like Java) on a custom VM (hence it isn't Java). The VM is called Dalvik, and it provides abstraction between the "app" and the processor. Apps written for Android don't run directly on the phone at all, so you could build an Android phone on a totally different CPU architecture and the "apps" should run just fine.

Apple's solution is more subtle, by specifying you can only write in Objective-C, and only on Apple's compiler, IF they wanted to build an iPhone with a different processor they need only add this as a build option in Xcode and tell developers to "check the box" to get the "apps" to run on the new CPU. This works for Apple because they build the whole widget, they can do this. It also recognises that actually compatibility is a moving target, new OS versions often mean code changes for developers. Apple's system might not be as technically clever as Google's but does provide them with all the facilities they need.

This also shows why Apple can be a bit "prissy" about how the "apps" on the iPhone are built.

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ecomonies of scale?

in terms of not having to spend 1000s of man-years designing another core, yes, but it has nothing to do with manufacturing since the whole CPU/GPU/whatever package is a system on a chip, so Apple and Samsung will get their chips from separate dies. Though they may well be coming from the same fab. The desktop is a different physical architecture so using Intel did gain cost savings in manufacturing scale over PPC.

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Confused...

Is this tear-down the first public confirmation that the iPad's A4 contains an ARM A8? The noise over the last few months was that the A4 was based on the PA Semi design, which would have made the A4 Power Architecture-based, not ARM-based. It looks like Apple have instead used the Intrinsity technology - a beefed-up 1GHz ARM Cortex A8, which was already being manufactured at Samsung.

This would explain why the PA Semi engineers have jumped ship for Google - did Apple buy them and dump the technology? Apple bought PA two years ago, and Intrinsity a couple of months ago - from memory, PA was about $250M, and Intrinsity ~$150M.

Apple have a 9% stake in Imagination, so it would make sense if the iPad was using an Imagination SGX GPU. On the other hand, it might just use an ARM Mali. That would almost certainly be cheaper than an SGX with a multiple-core discount from ARM. I don't think this is likely, though, given that Intrinsity only (I think) worked on processor cores, and Apple was already using Imagination.

Buying Samsung, BTW, would be crazy. This might save Apple $20 on the build price, but they'd then be locked into one manufacturing fab, which makes no sense for a fabless company. Not as crazy as buying ARM, though - that would save them about 5c in royalties.

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and I understand why

There was never any suggestion that Apple would be using a PowerPC design for the A4 - there are really good reasons why ARM is such a successful design in the mobile space - mostly related to power consumption.

It's worth remembering here that Apple is also a significant ARM shareholder.

As for the similarities between the dies, this is no surprise. What one licenses from ARM is either a soft-IPCore (essentially a net-list of gates and their connections) or a hard-IPcore (the soft-core optimized for a particular fabrication process). If Apple is getting Samsung to build the part, licensing the implementation for their fab process makes total sense, and probably the only realistic way of getting to market quickly.

What is of much greater interest is the differences in the surrounding logic and the level of integration.

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@AC

From what I've seen (Ok, Wikipedia) Intrinsity implemented the core in dynamic logic. To do that, they'd have needed a technology licence, which gives them the source code (that's the other sort of licence from ARM; much more expensive). They almost certainly did the layout/floorplan shown in the photos themselves. All this is potentially a major headache for Samsung, since Apple now appears to own everything.

I think Bill Ray may have got the wrong end of the stick - the fact that the A4 contains an ARM implementation doesn't make it any less Apple's property. Samsung will have a pre-existing agreement with Intrinsity/Apple to use the core, so it might conceivably appear in an Android handset, but I can't see any way that Apple will agree to let them have future versions. My bet is that Samsung will move on, and quickly.

On shareholding - I may be wrong, but I don't think Apple is still a significant ARM shareholder. They did have over 10% a couple of years ago, but they're not listed at ARM's website any more. They were co-founders of ARM, of course.

On low power - power is essentially a function of (1) clock speed, (2) supply voltage, (3) leakage, (4) low-level design (ie. clock gating and your EDA tools), and (5) technology. (4) and (5) are down to Intrinsity, and not ARM. (1) and (2) go as fV^2. f is 1GHz, which means lot of power. However, this chip is apparently on 45nm, so V will be very low, which will offset the high operating frequency. On the other hand, leakage will be high at 45nm. Smart software can also help to reduce power consumption. The architecture of the processor - the bit that ARM did - is not actually that significant.

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Anonymous Coward

Missing the point...

What the images appear to show is that the "A4" and Samsung specific part share identical floorplans and are thus probably exactly the same hardened Cortex A8 core.

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Chips and all that Jazz

I'm not surprised by this. In fact, it's right thing to do.

I worked in chip design back in the 1990's, when 0.5 micon CMOS and Gallium Arsenide came into being. With such a small feature size a lot more logic gates could be integrated onto the chip (or die to use the correct terminology).

With so many logic gates available, the complexity of the logic circuits increased hugely, the traditional idea of creating the design from scratch, designing every aspect of the circuit would result in very long design cycles,,so something was needed. And hence was born,SoC, system on chip.

The idea was simple, have a predefined logic circuit that the designers could buy from another company, pay a license fee and incoporate into their design.

These were termed macro's. Two types existed. Hard macros and soft macros.

The soft macros were just the logic design, the netlist specifying how all the logic gates where connected. The hard macros contained this,but also contained physical placement information and routing information. The macro would be represented as a rectangle in the chip design tools, the position of the logic gates within that rectangle/within the macro were defined and the electrical routing tracks connecting the gates together was also predefined and incorporated.

The chips had to go through a design cycle of: design the circuit, create test data, simulate it, place and route the chip, re-simulate, send the design off to the manufacturing facilities (Fabs - wafer fabs) for engineering samples to be produced and performance evaluated.

The soft macro had to have its logic gates placed and routed and therefore its performance was not well defined at the pre-layout logic simulation phase. The design could be placed and routed and not deliver enough performance, and hence an iterative development cycle could result.

The hard macro had the advantage that it had already been placed and routed, and was delivered as an entity from the vendor with timing characterised, specified.

in the 1990's simple devices, UARTs and basic 8 bit microprocessors existed as macros.

Since then I imagine the entire field took off.

Manufacturing of chips is another interesting subject in its own right. If anyone's interested I can describe how things were done years ago, it will be very similar today, but they use different materials particularly for the metal interconnect layers on the devices.

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