Apple TV's A5 Chip Includes Surprise Die Shrink to 32nm [Updated: Same Chip Found in iPad 2]

Discussion in ' News Discussion' started by MacRumors, Apr 11, 2012.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    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.
    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)
    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]
  2. Yvan256 macrumors 601

    Jul 5, 2004
    Really* new iPod touch, anyone?

    * real, as in more than a "paint job". ;)
  3. Ryth macrumors 65816

    Apr 21, 2011
    Yep..maybe iPod Touch, smaller iPad, new Remote for iTV...who knows.
  4. mr.steevo macrumors 65816


    Jul 21, 2004
  5. Rocketman macrumors 603


    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. :D

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

  6. Konrad9 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 23, 2012
    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.
  7. ilkhan4 macrumors newbie

    Sep 28, 2009
    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.
  8. nick_elt macrumors 68000


    Oct 28, 2011
    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???
  9. Small White Car macrumors G4

    Small White Car

    Aug 29, 2006
    Washington DC
    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.
  10. appsforkids macrumors member

    Apr 7, 2012
    Excellent point!
  11. rumplestiltskin macrumors regular

    Apr 12, 2006
    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.
  12. chrmjenkins macrumors 603


    Oct 29, 2007
    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.

    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.
  13. jlc1978 macrumors 68000


    Aug 14, 2009
    Test runs while gearing up for a smaller A5X?
  14. Quicklite macrumors regular

    Dec 1, 2011
    If this means battery in iPhone 5, I'm all for it. :)
  15. MaxGravy macrumors member


    Jul 24, 2011
    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!
  16. bse3 macrumors member

    Dec 27, 2011
    My sources close to Apple indeed indicate that the iPhone 5 will feature a battery!
  17. Dustman macrumors 65816


    Apr 17, 2007
    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.
  18. chrmjenkins macrumors 603


    Oct 29, 2007
    You're comparing flash and magnetic media. Completely different.
  19. topicolo macrumors 68000


    Jun 4, 2002
    Ottawa, ON
    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)
  20. bobborries macrumors member


    Jul 22, 2006
    Los Angeles
    Double the speed for Apps

    Could a software hack turn the 2nd processor on in the Apple TV?
  21. chrmjenkins, Apr 11, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2012

    chrmjenkins macrumors 603


    Oct 29, 2007
    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.

    No, it would require a firmware (BIOS) hack, if the core wasn't hard disabled or non-functional.
  22. easy4lif macrumors regular


    Mar 31, 2005
    Southbay CA
    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.
  23. Small White Car macrumors G4

    Small White Car

    Aug 29, 2006
    Washington DC
    For what purpose? So you can play movies twice as fast?

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