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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:28 PM   #1
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Apple TV's A5 Chip Includes Surprise Die Shrink to 32nm [Updated: Same Chip Found in iPad 2]




While the new 1080p-capable Apple TV has been available for nearly a month, Chipworks has now gotten around to tearing down the device's custom A5 system-on-a-chip, discovering with some surprise that the chip is actually a new design from Apple using a die shrink from the 45-nm process used in the A5 of the iPhone 4S to a new 32-nm process. The teardown also reveals what many had suspected: that the "single-core" A5 advertised by Apple for the new Apple TV is actually a standard dual-core chip with one of its cores disabled.
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The new A5 processor die is not a single core processor, but contains a dual core processor. Either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts. Parts binning is a common process in semiconductors where devices are segregated (binned) based on meeting a subset of the overall requirements, in this case they could disable the "bad" core, this increases the usable die per wafer, lowering the cost.
As for the die shrink on the Apple TV's A5, the development raises question about why Apple made the investment in such changes to the A5 for a relatively low volume device like the Apple TV. Despite the benefits of a die shrink, the cost of implementing it for the Apple TV alone would not be inconsequential.

Dual ARM cores from iPhone 4S A5 chip (left) and Apple TV A5 chip (right)
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The new A5 measures nearly 41% smaller than its predecessor, coming in at 69.6 mm². Process shrinking not only reduce costs by fitting more dies on a wafer, but it also improves performance and lowers power consumption. This is a very complex chip for a relatively low volume part (for Apple); one would think they have greater plans for this new A5 variant.
Even the A5X used in the new iPad is manufactured using 45-nm processes, making the Apple TV the company's first iOS device to move to the smaller and more efficient 32-nm process.

Update: Chipworks has now updated its report to note that the 32-nm A5 is also showing up in the latest models of the iPad 2. The observation makes it clear that Apple is using the lower-volume models as a testing ground for the more efficient 32-nm processes, with fully-functional dual-core chips landing in the iPad 2 while the Apple TV receives single-core chips with either one core intentionally disabled or one defective core.

(Thanks, @anexanhume!)

Article Link: Apple TV's A5 Chip Includes Surprise Die Shrink to 32nm [Updated: Same Chip Found in iPad 2]
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:32 PM   #2
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Really* new iPod touch, anyone?

* real, as in more than a "paint job".
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:33 PM   #3
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Yep..maybe iPod Touch, smaller iPad, new Remote for iTV...who knows.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:34 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Yvan256 View Post
Really* new iPod touch, anyone?

* real, as in more than a "paint job".
Yep.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:41 PM   #5
rumplestiltskin
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Good idea

This is actually a great idea. Get production started on a new chip that you expect to have some issues; then use the marginal parts (one core working) in a device that only really -needs- one core until you get the bugs ironed out. Once yields are high enough you can (as others have opined) use it in the next iPod Touch or whatever...and why not as an upgrade to this AppleTV? "We've got two cores!"

Smart. Tim Cook is earning his salary. The best supply-chain manager...ever.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 05:12 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by rumplestiltskin View Post
This is actually a great idea. Get production started on a new chip that you expect to have some issues; then use the marginal parts (one core working) in a device that only really -needs- one core until you get the bugs ironed out. Once yields are high enough you can (as others have opined) use it in the next iPod Touch or whatever...and why not as an upgrade to this AppleTV? "We've got two cores!"

Smart. Tim Cook is earning his salary. The best supply-chain manager...ever.
Hey! I paid for an AppleTV with two fully-functioning cores. If they're only going to allow me the use of one core, then I want half my money back. I think it's time for a class-action suit accusing Apple of cheating innocent consumers by giving them binned components. So what if AppleTV works perfectly. This is a matter of principle. Everyone better check all their Apple devices to see if all processor cores are enabled at all times.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 05:18 PM   #7
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Wait, so my brand new Apple TV 3 is made of scrap components??
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:34 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Yvan256 View Post
Really* new iPod touch, anyone?

* real, as in more than a "paint job".
Haha, not until the sales go down.

Notice how minimal the upgrades to the Touch have been since Zune went away? It may not have sold as well, but it definitely made Apple upgrade more often.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:37 PM   #9
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Haha, not until the sales go down.

Notice how minimal the upgrades to the Touch have been since Zune went away? It may not have sold as well, but it definitely made Apple upgrade more often.
Yeah. It seems like everyone out there wants to make an 'iPhone killer' and an 'iPad killer' but hardly anyone cares about even making an iPod competitor, even.

I find it hard to understand. How many kids with iPod touches are going to eventually move on to iPhones just because it's the path of least resistance? I seriously don't understand the lack of phone-less Android devices.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:47 PM   #10
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Yeah. It seems like everyone out there wants to make an 'iPhone killer' and an 'iPad killer' but hardly anyone cares about even making an iPod competitor, even.

I find it hard to understand. How many kids with iPod touches are going to eventually move on to iPhones just because it's the path of least resistance? I seriously don't understand the lack of phone-less Android devices.
I've been saying this for a while now. I'd love an Android player to mess around with or a Windows Phone 7 OS player. I think the lack of them is that the cost wouldnt be cheap enough to beat the iPod touch. The iPod seriously needs some competition, its been far too long.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:06 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Small White Car View Post
Yeah. It seems like everyone out there wants to make an 'iPhone killer' and an 'iPad killer' but hardly anyone cares about even making an iPod competitor, even.

I find it hard to understand. How many kids with iPod touches are going to eventually move on to iPhones just because it's the path of least resistance? I seriously don't understand the lack of phone-less Android devices.
Isn't that exactly the niche Kindle Fire is targeting?

I've always said it's closer to the touch than anything else from apple, and I suspect those are the sales it will most effect. Apple has let the touch coast for a while now but now it has some actual competition, so hopefully they'll make it competitive again.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:09 PM   #12
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My theory is that these new A5s are ultimately destined for 6th generation iPhone. Bad yields (one bad core) are being used on Apple TV. Good yields are being stockpiled for new iPhone.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:14 PM   #13
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Isn't that exactly the niche Kindle Fire is targeting?

I've always said it's closer to the touch than anything else from apple, and I suspect those are the sales it will most effect. Apple has let the touch coast for a while now but now it has some actual competition, so hopefully they'll make it competitive again.
A little bit, but it's not exactly pocketable. Honestly, a 10 year old would want an iPod more than a Kindle, I think. Smaller really is better for that exact demographic.

And even if it IS targeting them, that's what...1 device? There are dozens and dozens of devices going after the iPad. The imbalance is still very lopsided.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:20 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Small White Car View Post
Yeah. It seems like everyone out there wants to make an 'iPhone killer' and an 'iPad killer' but hardly anyone cares about even making an iPod competitor, even.

I find it hard to understand. How many kids with iPod touches are going to eventually move on to iPhones just because it's the path of least resistance? I seriously don't understand the lack of phone-less Android devices.
Samsung's Galaxy Player comes close with GPS and an FM radio over the Touch. Then again in the $200-300 range there enough Android phone options to choose from. You are stuck on Gingerbread for the majority of them though.

2012 is going to be interesting with more budget dual core options , A15, and Tegra 3+/4. Maybe Google and vendors can get more ICS hardware before 5.0 is out.


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Originally Posted by chrmjenkins View Post
AMD didn't with the 6950's, hence a lot of 6950's unlocked to become 6970's.
I guess they did not fuse them on die but only in BIOS. It was a popular trend when they first came out with few bad results. Maybe a few extra degrees Celsius or watts that AMD did not want to send to the HD 6790 line.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:35 PM   #15
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Sounds like a perfect way to test the new process: in a relatively low-volume product where even a part that's 50% defective can be used.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:45 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Yvan256 View Post
Really* new iPod touch, anyone?

* real, as in more than a "paint job".
Please put 128GB in it. PLEASE! I have a 5th gen ipod from 2005 that has 60GB. My current ipod touch has 64GB. 7 years and all we get is a 4GB bump. Come on Apple!
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:47 PM   #17
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Please put 128GB in it. PLEASE! I have a 5th gen ipod from 2005 that has 60GB. My current ipod touch has 64GB. 7 years and all we get is a 4GB bump. Come on Apple!
You're comparing flash and magnetic media. Completely different.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:50 PM   #18
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Anandtech has a good short article explaining this

http://www.anandtech.com/show/5740/a...ed-dualcore-a5
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:51 PM   #19
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New chip in lower cost iPad 2:
http://www.anandtech.com/show/5742/a...a5-s5l8942-soc
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:52 PM   #20
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Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 02:56 PM   #21
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Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
For what purpose? So you can play movies twice as fast?
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:01 PM   #22
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Looks like this is for the "new" iPad2 and any possible mini iPad along with the ATV.
A new Touch would likely get it also. I would not assume that this is going into the new iPhone although it could go into the 4s.
This new A5 seems to be made for cost cutting and power saving. I think the iPhone will get the A6
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:15 PM   #23
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Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
Its possible but unlikely. Usually the fab will blow fuses/laser gates that disable the CPU. This is very common in GPUs where they not only test new parts on new processes but derive a lot of submodels from a single part by disabling functional units.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 03:30 PM   #24
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Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
What purpose would there be even if it was possible? the Apple TV doesn't do anything remotely close to needing dual core. What do you want to do, play 4 movies at the same time?
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 05:49 PM   #25
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Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
No.


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Originally Posted by nick_elt View Post
Is there any major advantages of using a 32nm a5 over a cheaper 40nm one in a tv? After all it is plugged into the mains and there will be a huge amount of real estate behind the panel.
They are practicing to build chips using the improved process. In the first round of chips a significant number has only one working core. So they build these chips, figure out what goes wrong, and keep improving. And by using the chip in the Apple TV first, they reduce the risk. They can always use single core 40 nm chips if the 32 nm chips don't work out.

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