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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:28 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 mm. 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, 01:32 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, 01:33 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, 01:34 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, 01:34 PM   #5
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It makes sense when you combine both observations. Binned parts and new die shrink. Shake out the process and begin collecting parts for another device yet to be released. Shake out the manufacturing process. Even when the process is as good as it gets you will still have binned parts to supply ATV as needed and if you get lucky and don't get enough binned (defective) parts, you can use good ones and disregard the second core in software.

Interestingly this means there are "left handed", "right handed", and "ambedexterous" ATV's out there.

I guess the question is, what product gets the unbinned die shrunk chips?

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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:34 PM   #6
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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, 01:35 PM   #7
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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, 01:36 PM   #8
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So it would be more likely now that The new iphone will be an a5 variant than an a6? I was hoping for a nice new a15 dual core a6? Or is it too early for that???
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:37 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, 01:40 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Rocketman View Post
It makes sense when you combine both observations. Binned parts and new die shrink. Shake out the process and begin collecting parts for another device yet to be released. Shake out the manufacturing process. Even when the process is as good as it gets you will still have binned parts to supply ATV as needed and if you get lucky and don't get enough binned (defective) parts, you can use good ones and disregard the second core in software.

Interestingly this means there are "left handed", "right handed", and "ambedexterous" ATV's out there.

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Excellent point!
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:41 PM   #11
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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, 01:41 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Rocketman View Post
It makes sense when you combine both observations. Binned parts and new die shrink. Shake out the process and begin collecting parts for another device yet to be released. Shake out the manufacturing process. Even when the process is as good as it gets you will still have binned parts to supply ATV as needed and if you get lucky and don't get enough binned (defective) parts, you can use good ones and disregard the second core in software.

Interestingly this means there are "left handed", "right handed", and "ambedexterous" ATV's out there.

I guess the question is, what product gets the unbinned die shrunk chips?

Rocketman
Unbinned is an odd term, because all parts have "some" bin they go to. If you're asking which device gets the chips that are dual-core capable, I'd say none right now. Eventually, they'll start putting them in the 4S as a cost cutting measure (and continue to sell 4S when new iPhone comes out) I would imagine.

The interesting thing is that I don't think these are destined for a new product. Apple's limited mobile history doesn't show them putting out new chips just with overclocks. My guess is that is a stepping stone to a new A6, either with a quad core A9 CPU or next generation A15 core. Thus, this chip kills 3 birds with one stone: they get a cheaper chip to source for the AppleTV and they relatively low fab capacity is perfect for it, they have cost cutting for the iPhone 4S, and they prove out the process so they take less risk in making a new architecture chip for a next generation iDevice.

edit: oh and yay I get credited for the tip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nick_elt View Post
So it would be more likely now that The new iphone will be an a5 variant than an a6? I was hoping for a nice new a15 dual core a6? Or is it too early for that???
Keep in mind they could keep everything the same and bump the CPU to quad core and call that an A6 if they wanted. It's not too early for A15 though. Samsung is supposedly ramping up production on Exynos 5250 this quarter, which is a dual core A15 CPU, and on the very same process we're talking about here.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:41 PM   #13
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Test runs while gearing up for a smaller A5X?
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:45 PM   #14
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If this means battery in iPhone 5, I'm all for it.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:45 PM   #15
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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, 01:46 PM   #16
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If this means battery in iPhone 5, I'm all for it.
My sources close to Apple indeed indicate that the iPhone 5 will feature a battery!
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:47 PM   #17
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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, 01:47 PM   #18
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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, 01:49 PM   #19
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With Tim Cook at the helm I don't think Apple would be wasting time shrinking the A5 die for only one or even two products.

This chip is not going just into Apple TVs and maybe next gen ipods--it's also going into the iPhone 5.

I don't think Apple's going to upgrade the processor speed in the next iPhone. They're going to rely on the smaller a5 to offset the power drain from adding LTE and package it in a new form factor/new screen to make it compelling enough to buy.

My bet is no A5x or A6 in the next iPhone. It has happened before (iPhone to iPhone 3G)
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:50 PM   #20
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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, 01:51 PM   #21
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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, 01:52 PM   #22
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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, 01:55 PM   #23
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With Tim Cook at the helm I don't think Apple would be wasting time shrinking the A5 die for only one or even two products.

This chip is not going just into Apple TVs and maybe next gen ipods--it's also going into the iPhone 5.

I don't think Apple's going to upgrade the processor speed in the next iPhone. They're going to rely on the smaller a5 to offset the power drain from adding LTE and package it in a new form factor/new screen to make it compelling enough to buy.

My bet is no A5x or A6 in the next iPhone. It has happened before (iPhone to iPhone 3G)
But only once before. Apple has been very aggressive with their SoC plans, actually. Looking at this move, I don't think the AppleTV alone has the volume to justify a die-shrunk A5. So, you have two scenarios:

1) Shrunk A5 finds it way into 4S to cut costs and improve battery life. Next iPhone gets new chip.
2) Shrunk A5 finds it way into 4S to cut costs and improve battery life. Next iPhone gets same A5.

2) is very possible, but given Apple's aggressive track record, I'd imagine they would want to keep pushing the envelope and do something new. iOS 6 unveil will be a huge hint as to what to expect. If it does a lot of new, compute heavy things, a new CPU seems more likely to me. Of course, a lot of those special features may not be unveiled until the new iPhone is, as they would remain exclusive to it.

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Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
No, it would require a firmware (BIOS) hack, if the core wasn't hard disabled or non-functional.
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Last edited by chrmjenkins; Apr 11, 2012 at 02:00 PM.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:56 PM   #24
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high end soc's like the A5X will go to iPhone's and newest iPads

low end Chips like the A5 will go towards low end iPads, apple Tv's and iPod Touches.


simple as that.
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Old Apr 11, 2012, 01:56 PM   #25
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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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