Teardown of Apple's A6 Chip Reveals Manual Layout of Custom Dual-Core CPU

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iFixit and Chipworks have partnered on a teardown of the A6 system-on-a-chip, Apple's custom design that powers the iPhone 5. While several of the high-level details such as 1 GB of RAM and a dual-core CPU paired with triple-core graphics have already been shared, the teardown confirms all of these details with high-resolution images showing the various components of the chip.

Perhaps most notably, the custom ARM-based CPU developed by Apple for the A6 appears to have been manually laid out on the die, an expensive and time-consuming process but one that can offer greater efficiency than automatic layout.
- When compared to the rigid, efficient layout of the GPU cores directly below it, the layout of the ARM cores looks a little homespun--at first.

- Generally, logic blocks are automagically laid out with the use of advanced computer software. However, it looks like the ARM core blocks were laid out manually--as in, by hand.

- A manual layout will usually result in faster processing speeds, but it is much more expensive and time consuming.

- The manual layout of the ARM processors lends much credence to the rumor that Apple designed a custom processor of the same caliber as the all-new Cortex-A15, and it just might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years.



The report also takes a look into the die, where it confirms that the A6 is manufactured using Samsung's 32-nanometer HKMG process that was trialled earlier this year with the A5 that made its way into the third-generation Apple TV and the revised iPad 2.

Finally, iFixit and Chipworks took a look at a number of other chips from the iPhone 5, sharing die photos from Qualcomm's MDM9615M modem and RTR8600 RF transceiver, a Cirrus Logic audio amplifier chip, and Murata's Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module incorporating a chip from Broadcom with other components.

Article Link: Teardown of Apple's A6 Chip Reveals Manual Layout of Custom Dual-Core CPU
 

Tankmaze

macrumors 68000
Mar 7, 2012
1,651
264
so it's dual core, but can beat the shizz out of quad core phones. awesome !!
 

joeblough

macrumors 6502
Sep 30, 2006
371
192
well, it probably was not placed and routed by hand - there's way too many logic cells for that. it's clear that it was floorplanned by humans. but that's really not that uncommon. each logic block is assigned its own area and the placer is not allowed to place cells from a given block outside those bounds. if the design is partitioned right and each block communicates with the other blocks through flip-flops, this works really well.
 

Marzee

macrumors newbie
Sep 25, 2012
1
0
The other areas?

So what are the other areas, that aren't GPU, CPU, PLLs, etc?

Is half of the chip hardware noise reduction?
 

zhandri

Suspended
Sep 4, 2012
489
352
why didn't they give out all those amazing specs at the keynote? this is absolutely amazing! job(s) well done
 

FirePhantom

macrumors member
I love looking at die photos. Makes me proud to be human. Honestly, look at what our species has achieved. In less than 50 years we've shrunk the computing power of a whole warehouse of vacuum tubes into something so small we can't see the circuitry with our naked eyes.
 

akm3

macrumors 68020
Nov 15, 2007
2,252
279
why didn't they give out all those amazing specs at the keynote? this is absolutely amazing! job(s) well done
Because even when Apple is ahead in a specs game, it doesn't want to get into or encourage spec-whoring because it's a race they eventually can lose. They prefer to focus on what you can DO rather than how many more gigahertz or whatever it contain than their competitors.
 

Avatarshark

macrumors regular
Sep 22, 2012
176
9
The Digital Frontier
I love looking at die photos. Makes me proud to be human. Honestly, look at what our species has achieved. In less than 50 years we've shrunk the computing power of a whole warehouse of vacuum tubes into something so small we can't see the circuitry with our naked eyes.
And we haven't stopped yet. In less than 7 years we are primed to bring it down to 5 nm, even now the Intel chips are 22 nm. So a 75% decrease in7 years.
 

chrmjenkins

macrumors 603
Oct 29, 2007
5,322
154
CA
well, it probably was not placed and routed by hand - there's way too many logic cells for that. it's clear that it was floorplanned by humans. but that's really not that uncommon. each logic block is assigned its own area and the placer is not allowed to place cells from a given block outside those bounds. if the design is partitioned right and each block communicates with the other blocks through flip-flops, this works really well.
No, but repeated blocks like registers may have been routed by hand once and then repeated. Basically, they would have routed any of the critical path components necessary to hit their clocking/power targets.

So what are the other areas, that aren't GPU, CPU, PLLs, etc?

Is half of the chip hardware noise reduction?
I/O (mem hiearchy), I/O (ports), possibly some third party IP integrated into the core like the previous A5 and cirrus logic, power management and various other things.
 

KScottMyers

macrumors regular
Jul 17, 2009
237
2
Orlando, FL
And this is the type of thing that makes the iPhone so darn amazing. Seems Apple doesn't take a lot lot shortcuts in designing and engineering the best products out there.

Yet all the competitors will try to tell you otherwise. Just crazy.
 

gdesalvo@umail.

macrumors member
May 1, 2007
57
0
Apple innovation FTW! :D
Logistics, and manufactured by Samsung? Not apple, and the A15 core is a ARM design, not an Apple design. As for Innovation the Krait core does something very similar to the Apple A6 and was brought out to the market over 6 months ago. I'm not sure how this is any innovation on Apple's part. The iphone 6 only really has one new innovation it brings to the market...Apple Maps...and we all know how most people out there feel about it.
 

Geckotek

macrumors G3
Jul 22, 2008
8,556
84
NYC
Logistics, and manufactured by Samsung? Not apple, and the A15 core is a ARM design, not an Apple design. As for Innovation the Krait core does something very similar to the Apple A6 and was brought out to the market over 6 months ago. I'm not sure how this is any innovation on Apple's part. The iphone 6 only really has one new innovation it brings to the market...Apple Maps...and we all know how most people out there feel about it.
Did you even read the article? You do realize this isn't an A15 core, right?

You've seen the iPhone 6? You must have some super high clearance at Apple. :D

Edit: What device is using the Krait core? Do we have any benchmarks comparing the 2? The innovation in this design is the effort Apple went through to make it the most efficient and also most powerful mobile processor currently on the market.
 
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Zunjine

macrumors 6502a
Jun 26, 2009
715
0
Lazy? Boring? Un-innovative?

The more I learn about this new iPhone the more astonishing it seems. What a great piece of design and engineering.
 

chrmjenkins

macrumors 603
Oct 29, 2007
5,322
154
CA
Logistics, and manufactured by Samsung? Not apple, and the A15 core is a ARM design, not an Apple design. As for Innovation the Krait core does something very similar to the Apple A6 and was brought out to the market over 6 months ago. I'm not sure how this is any innovation on Apple's part. The iphone 6 only really has one new innovation it brings to the market...Apple Maps...and we all know how most people out there feel about it.
Troll on brother.
 

joeblough

macrumors 6502
Sep 30, 2006
371
192
No, but repeated blocks like registers may have been routed by hand once and then repeated. Basically, they would have routed any of the critical path components necessary to hit their clocking/power targets..
that's true, the datapaths could have been entirely done by hand but most likely the control logic is autoplaced and autorouted. regular structures are a lot easier to do by hand. having said that, the only things we laid out by hand were ddr3 memory interfaces but then again we never had such aggressive power requirements. block memories are always hand placed but that's kind of part of the floorplan.
 

gdesalvo@umail.

macrumors member
May 1, 2007
57
0
And we haven't stopped yet. In less than 7 years we are primed to bring it down to 5 nm, even now the Intel chips are 22 nm. So a 75% decrease in7 years.
Technically you could eventually scale down to 1.2nm or so as a physical limit, however it will be quite hard once we hit the sub 7-8nm to shrink further. There is a point where the cost of the chips will simply outweighs the benefit of the added density from a consumer standpoint...
 
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