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120133-apple_a4_chip_500.jpg


Given the new confirmation that Apple has acquired chip design firm Intrinsity, it's interesting to hear that Apple seems to already be using their technology in the iPad under the veil of the "Apple A4" processor. It was previously believed that P.A. Semi might have had a hand in designing the Apple A4 processor that was introduced alongside the iPad, but an IEEE Spectrum article disputes that belief.

According to market analyst Will Strauss, there is no doubt "it's only the Intrinsity folks who could have taken [the iPad's ARM Cortex A8] up to a gigahertz. Period." Strauss is referring to an X-ray examination of the A4 processor which revealed it was a Samsung-manufactured single core ARM Cortex A8 processor. According to Strauss, only Intrinsity could have achieved this for Apple. Now with confirmation of an Apple acquisition of the company, it seems almost certain.

In 2009, Intrinsity had announced a 1GHz "Hummingbird" processor which likely shares the same technology. It is believed that P.A. Semi simply didn't have enough time since their original acquisition to produce the technology for Apple.

The use of Intrinsity's Hummingbird processor technology in the iPad was postulated by forum member retroneo back in March. He even pinpointed the Samsung S5PC110 as the likely design basis for the upcoming iPhone processor. The S5PC110 is a similar 1GHz Cortex A8 processor with POWERVR SGX hardware built in.

Article Link: An Intrinsity Chip Powers the iPad and Apple's New A4 Processor
 

gnasher729

Suspended
Nov 25, 2005
17,980
5,552
"Such an effort is said ... to take billions of dollars". Who says that? Tell me who said it, and I can tell you that someone is a total idiot.
 
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vvebsta

macrumors 6502a
Sep 27, 2006
505
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this is great news. i hope the next iphone has a screaming fast processor
 
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baryon

macrumors 68040
Oct 3, 2009
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So this is a Samsung chip, which is actually an ARM A8 chip, which is actually an Intrinsity chip, which is actually an Apple A4 chip? Isn't that like... a tiny bit confusing? :D
 
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talkingfuture

macrumors 65816
Dec 4, 2008
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The back of beyond.
Ultimately this has to be better value for Apple than buying Arm. For a fraction of the price they have bought the company that can make Arm processors even better so they are protecting their own advantage over all the other companies that use the A8 processor.
 
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deconstruct60

macrumors G3
Mar 10, 2009
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So this is a Samsung chip, which is actually an ARM A8 chip, which is actually an Intrinsity chip, which is actually an Apple A4 chip? Isn't that like... a tiny bit confusing? :D

Essentially, Apple paid for all of the custom work to be done so they get to put their logo on the package. That was exactly what they were doing on the previous Phone/Touch chips only with somewhat less customization and hoopla. You also have to remember that Apple doesn't manufacture anything any more. It is going to be "somebody" who makes something is going to be a contributor in some fashion. Whether it is basic design elements or constraints on process implementation.
 
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Keness

macrumors member
Mar 14, 2003
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So this is a Samsung chip, which is actually an ARM A8 chip, which is actually an Intrinsity chip, which is actually an Apple A4 chip? Isn't that like... a tiny bit confusing? :D

That's how ARM rolls... ;) ARM chips come to life by a very different process than Intel's chips(for example). ARM doesn't make chips, they just design the core functionality. And then license that "core" to others, like Samsung and TI and Apple, among MANY others.

Those licensees can then "add to" that core to make a more complete chip. In the case of Samsung and TI, they "flesh out" the ARM core and then manufacture the chips themselves. However, in the case of Apple or Intrinsity or others, who don't physically manufacture chips themselves but just do the DESIGN portion of the "fleshing out" of the ARM core, Samsung et al also act as chip-builders-for-hire.

That's why although the OLD iPhone chips were Samsung ARM designs, the A4, despite also apparently being manufactured by Samsung, aren't "Samsung chips" in the same sense. Samsung is just building Apple's chips for them since Apple is fab-less.

Apple's ability to flesh-out the ARM core with ONLY what they need and not a single function extra is where their advantage comes/will come into play. Other chips, like the Snapdragon for example, may well have features in it that a particular manufacturer doesn't need. Those designs are intended to appeal to a large number of customers. A good example is that a huge number of final ARM-based designs include a resistive touchscreen controller on-chip. I'd bet the pre-A4 chips in the iPhones and iPod touches all have this feature sitting there as well. Unused, of course, since Apple doesn't use a resistive touchscreen.

It is confusing, but pretty cool. :)
 
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gathart

macrumors regular
Feb 10, 2009
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Can someone explain to me WHY this is good news? Aren't they basically saying that they put a second rate processor in iPhone/iPad but having NOW bought a ''better'' manufacturer so that future products will have the better chip?

Also the revival of apple was dependent on a lot of factors, one being that they outsourced the production of components. This let to competition and ultimately a better product - ipod etc.

So why is this good news?
 
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chatin

macrumors 6502a
May 27, 2005
908
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A is for ambiguity

Apple will continue to pay ARM for a license that allows improvements to the basic design. Not sure if ARM can then use this design and sell it to Android makers.
 
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wovel

macrumors 68000
Mar 15, 2010
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America(s)!
I don't understand.. How can Apple claim that the A4 was made "in-house", when it was actually a Samsung chip designed by Intrinsity?

I'm also wondering when the PA Semi people will actually make something :confused:

Well they own Intrinsity.. And Samsung manufactured it to their design. Seems fairly clear.
 
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johnboi1978

macrumors newbie
Dec 29, 2009
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I don't understand.. How can Apple claim that the A4 was made "in-house", when it was actually a Samsung chip designed by Intrinsity?

I'm also wondering when the PA Semi people will actually make something :confused:

Because its NOT a Samsung chip. Samsung is only the ones fabricating it cause Apple has no fab. Apple now owns Intrinsity, so anything they design is now Apple's. As for PA Semi, no one knows for sure that they didn't have a hand in it, but I'm sure Apple bought them for some purpose.
 
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Warbrain

macrumors 603
Jun 28, 2004
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Chicago, IL
Can someone explain to me WHY this is good news? Aren't they basically saying that they put a second rate processor in iPhone/iPad but having NOW bought a ''better'' manufacturer so that future products will have the better chip?

Also the revival of apple was dependent on a lot of factors, one being that they outsourced the production of components. This let to competition and ultimately a better product - ipod etc.

So why is this good news?

No, this is saying that they bought the company that made the great chip in the iPad that future products will be able to use as well as owning any designs made in the future by the company they bought.
 
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DrFreeman

macrumors member
Apr 9, 2010
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0
Some Notes

I don't understand.. How can Apple claim that the A4 was made "in-house", when it was actually a Samsung chip designed by Intrinsity?

I'm also wondering when the PA Semi people will actually make something :confused:

A4 is not a Samung chip. Samsung only fabricated the device, which is totally a different matter to designing a chip. All Samsung is given, under normal circumstances, is a layout file which will include a lot of colorful rectangular pathways connceting to one another. With each color refering to a different device layer.

Experienced chip designers may be able to guess the functioanlity of certain parts by just looking at the layout and the shapes but you can hardly get the full story that way.

Here two pictures of a designed circuit and a layout, not corresponding to one another.
NHCompleteLayout.gif

Cadence_Example_Page_html_7d426787.png


On the issue of Intrinsity, I am a bit confused as well. My guess is that they licensed some designs from them, then paid them to put the licensed designs on top of the ARM core and since they have paid them all the way, it is Apple's.
 
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louiek

macrumors 6502
Mar 7, 2006
342
57
Knutters Knoll, Melbourne
That's why although the OLD iPhone chips were Samsung ARM designs, the A4, despite also apparently being manufactured by Samsung, aren't "Samsung chips" in the same sense. Samsung is just building Apple's chips for them since Apple is fab-less.

I think you mean "fab-u-less".

This makes so much more sense than them buying ARM.
 
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wizard

macrumors 68040
May 29, 2003
3,854
571
It is business.

I don't understand.. How can Apple claim that the A4 was made "in-house",
In this case they purchased the house.
when it was actually a It os businessSamsung chip designed by Intrinsity?
Samsung runs a silicon foundry.

As to Intrinsity they didn't design the CPU. Atleast in the way I understand it, they sold the automation tools to build the A4. There is a lot of fudge factor there as they most likely worked closely with Apples engineers.
I'm also wondering when the PA Semi people will actually make something :confused:
It is very likely they where involved to some degree.

Realize though that this report is highly speculative. In fact some of it seems to be BS. There is likely to be very few people who know exactly how A4 was developed. It is safe to assume that there has been team work going on between various enities at Apple.

For me the big question is when will Apple come clean here. That is lift A4s shirt and show us the heaven there in. Honestly I'm very interested in more detail on A4. I want it from the horses mouth too as all of these third party comments are basically useless.


Dave.
 
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Nuvi

macrumors 65816
Feb 7, 2008
1,078
752
So, either way, Apple is still reliant on ARM processors (design). All their acquisitions do is dress those processors up.

Designing a chip from scratch and using it only for in-house products makes no sense in majority of consumer products. In order to make it profitable you are bound license the core design to third parties. Buying ARM wouldn't have changed a thing. In order for ARM to stay competitive they would have licensed their designs to third parties like they always have. Without the licensing the cost of designing the core processors would have been just too high and therefore not profitable to anyone.
 
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DudeDad

macrumors 6502a
Jul 16, 2009
714
307
Blah blah blah...cutting to the chase....my iPad is lightning fast...I really don't care if it's this chip or that chip or a Pringle or Gnome in there...it works, it's fast, it's amazing...(actually, if a Gnome is in there, I'd be a bit freaked out and would lock up the iPad at night...friggin' Gnomes)...
 
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kiljoy616

macrumors 68000
Apr 17, 2008
1,795
0
USA
Ultimately this has to be better value for Apple than buying Arm. For a fraction of the price they have bought the company that can make Arm processors even better so they are protecting their own advantage over all the other companies that use the A8 processor.

And the ARM on Apple will be know to perform above anyone else, win win.
 
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retroneo

macrumors 6502a
Apr 22, 2005
723
94
I don't understand.. How can Apple claim that the A4 was made "in-house", when it was actually a Samsung chip designed by Intrinsity?

I'm also wondering when the PA Semi people will actually make something :confused:

Well, Apple tends to think of their suppliers as themselves in the past. Think Balda's multitouch system, the CNC case manufacturer whose name escapes me and of course Foxconn and Quanta. It's Apple telling their suppliers what they want so it's perfectly legitimate to say it's theirs. A chef chooses the finest ingredients.

If Apple owns them, then even more so!

An unknown number of critical PA semi engineers left Apple after the acquisition and started Agnilux to work on rumored ARM-based server designs (which was just acquired by Google)

Have the SGX GPU's always been built in? If not, this would help explain how they were able to shrink things down onto that tiny ass logic board in the new iPhone.

Yes, the SGX and previously the MBX Lite have always been integrated in this series of Samsung processors.

Because its NOT a Samsung chip. Samsung is only the ones fabricating it cause Apple has no fab. Apple now owns Intrinsity, so anything they design is now Apple's. As for PA Semi, no one knows for sure that they didn't have a hand in it, but I'm sure Apple bought them for some purpose.

The Intrinsity magic involves redesigning timing critical parts of the CPU using "1-of-n domino logic" macros (imagine super fast shortcuts for the slowest operations) that truly speed it up. There's a reasonable amount written about how Hummingbird was designed to read up about if you're interested. EDIT: Get started with this: http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/04/apple-purchase-of-intrinsity-confirmed.ars

Intrinsity (Exponential back then) designed a sped up PowerPC in the past (which they didn't end up using), and ATI has used their technique under license for GPU designs.
 
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commander.data

macrumors 65816
Nov 10, 2006
1,022
113
http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/04/apple-purchase-of-intrinsity-confirmed.ars

Ars Technica said:
Given that Intrinsity and Samsung collaborated on Hummingbird, and that Samsung also has some SoC designs based on the core, it makes sense that A4 was fabbed on Samsung's 45nm SoC process. This means that Apple is basically just a typical Samsung foundry customer who mixed IP blocks from a number of different vendors, Samsung included, into a custom SoC design that Samsung now makes. Other customers could license those same blocks from Samsung (the Hummingbird "A8" CPU), Imagination Technologies (the PowerVR GPU), and others who haven't yet been disclosed, and make their own A4 competitor that would match the A4's performance and power efficiency profile quite closely. Once again, this means that Apple's edge with the iPad is not in the processor or the hardware, but in industrial design and software.
Because its NOT a Samsung chip. Samsung is only the ones fabricating it cause Apple has no fab. Apple now owns Intrinsity, so anything they design is now Apple's. As for PA Semi, no one knows for sure that they didn't have a hand in it, but I'm sure Apple bought them for some purpose.
That depends on whether the A4 is Hummingbird. If it is, then it was designed by Intrinsity and Samsung together and is available to anyone since as even the Macrumours article states the S5PC110 is a product that Samsung is advertising to customers.

For A4 to be unique, Apple and Intrinsity would have to design a Hummingbird competitor with Intrinsity's domino logic but without Samsung IP. Or Apple may have just licensed certain IP from Samsung since owning Intrinsity may make it sufficiently "in-house". There's really no way of knowing for sure unless Apple comments.
 
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